NYC Vibes On Halloween Weekend

Ah the throb of life in New York City. The lights, the people, the sidewalk bars brimming with the jolly many, the medley of bizarre costumes. Welcome to a night of gargantuan proportions. On one hand there were these strange airy-fairy creatures roaming around town — my pick of them all was a Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI zombie couple in their coiffed off-white wigs standing at a bistro on the sidewalk. And at the other end of the spectrum were boys and girls in tuxes and ball gowns, straight out of Gossip Girl, climbing up the steps of the New York Public Library with noses in the air, heads held high.

The night was alive and we were heading with the keenness of a precision-guided missile to the ramen-laden embrace of Wagamama in the Flatiron. On our mind were its chilli squids because boy have we missed ’em. In a mall in Milton Keynes, for example, on a superbly grey day in England we ended up going back twice to Wagamama for lunch and dinner — because we were not satisfied with just two servings of chilli squids at one go. We went back for more – for dinner – and the guy who had served us in the afternoon was confounded. ‘You Really like Wagamama, eh?’ he said. No shit, Sherlock.

Wagamama kept us going – because as with London, NYC can work your quads in a way not even a stairmaster can.

We had started the day at the New York Public Library because I had to return my books and renew my membership card. But as it turns out, my name came to my rescue. My usual practice is to come up with a nom de guerre for Starbucks and for those I know would struggle to figure out my name. One of my neighbours, a guy had told me sagely a while ago on an evening of purple hues and barbecue that I should not bother changing it. He had added: ‘Let them try and get it. Don’t change your name to suit anybody.’ Well at a library you cannot deal in any kind of pseudonyms, can you, with the State ID and all that thrown into the mixture? The woman at the check-out desk took a look at my name and said, ‘The same name as the writer! How do you pronounce it?’ She tried it on her tongue a few times till she got it. So yes, Arundhati Roy, the woman with magic in her pen, worked her fame and what happened was that even though the card is allotted for three months to anyone outside the county of NY and has to be renewed regularly, I got it for three years. I wanted to hug her.

With a halo of happiness hanging around me, I headed towards Central Park with Adi. There was such beauty in the air there even though the colours were not pronounced. A guy lay back on the grass and read a book, leaves wafted all around us like we were on the sets of a film, it was poetic, the charm of the evening…a golden retriever was commanded repeatedly by its master to sit and meet a little girl. His name was Jasper, the dog’s that is…Jasper refused to sit down. Yeah Jasper, you are not some performing clown. At the ice rink, Adi spotted a young boy of about 8 or so who skated like a ballet dancer, moving his arms oh so fluidly in tandem with the easy gliding of his feet clad in roller skates…we were transfixed by the prowess within that little body. Then the odd sight of a  bride who was in the midst of a photo shoot with her man in a denim jacket and Stetson hat.

Later we sauntered down Fifth Avenue, wandering in and out of stores. We entered Bergdorf Goodman where women with botox-ed, grim faces piled up boxes of expensive shoes like it was their birthright…Adi was determined to buy me a pair of Manolo Blahniks, so I had to don silk stockings and slip my feet into a pair of lace boots with stiletto heels so high that I thought I would keel over the moment I stood on them. Much to his disappointment, I returned them perfunctorily, sighed over a pair of fuchsia pink booties adorned with zardozi on the cuffs and heels. There is a photo of them below that I caught at the display window. The booties are a result of a collaboration between Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi and Christian Louboutin. Now Sabyasachi makes me proud as my home-town boy from Calcutta because his design sensibility is special. He does not pretend. He uses his roots and folklores and the result are designs that make you swoon. The prices do too. I dropped it all like a hot potato and headed outside, an annoyed Adi at my heels because my beloved wants to pamper me for my upcoming birthday. It made my heart swell with love because the thought is all that counts, is it not? This husband of mine is a gem. Yes, I should spare you the camp notes. But really, I was overwhelmed and I chose to indulge instead in a few stunning winter dresses from Zara with silhouettes and sleeves that made the heart trill.

Then we bought financiers, brownies and bread from this beautiful boulangerie and when we reached Wagamama, the delectable crunch of the squids sprinkled with shichimi, a Japanese chilli pepper mixture, and a huge bowl of ramen hit the right notes. Then home and pastries. Later wine to soak it all up.

And now I shall go pack my stuff for we head out to Worcester in a while. Toodles.

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It Was One of Those Days

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.

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Just Another Day

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.

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Leaves, Bushy Tails and Witches

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.

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Of Sunny Days and Silver Bays

Silver Bay was salve for the soul. It showed up in hues of ombre, startling us with the marked tones of silver along the shore, otherworldly in its beauty.  I particularly liked the sound of it on the tongue for there is something mellifluous about it. It was a splendid day that – when beneath a mellow afternoon sun we walked past sprawling Victorian mansions, old gymnasiums and boathouses and small stone churches peeping out through the vast spread of greens rolling down into a few tennis and basketball courts. It was imperative that we messed around the basketball court, lobbing the ball around and shooting it through the hoops, Adi dribbling the ball away from me so often that I made pouting faces and harumphs and then finally left him to it. It was a delightful little hamlet on Lake George just as the other one called Bolton Landing which had enough pumpkins to feed an entire town, pretty cottages, old shops selling antique and Adirondack chairs, cider donuts and where I came close to confiscating the most perfect Garfield I have ever seen on a little girl with pigtails. Yet I had to think twice because the store I detected her and Garfield in was so stuffed to the gills that when I did a little jig to the music playing on what sounded like an old, old radio, the wooden floors shook alarmingly and porcelain cups and mugs rattled to make Adi glare at me in alarm.

I cannot bypass Lake George in the Adirondacks, said to be the birthplace of the original concept of the American vacation when a preacher from Boston in the 19th century touted the idea of returning to nature as an escape from the trammels of city living. So the wealthy built their summer homes here — a collection of beautiful log cabins in the woods, a scene completed by the accoutrement of boats and fishing gear — along the glistening lake with the burnished hills across it. There is the reconstructed fort there where the Huron tribes massacred British soldiers in the mid-1700s – so it is inevitably host to ghosts and what not.

The drive around this part of the Adirondacks was filled with such sceneries of peace that even though we reached home that day after a fantastic pile-up on the road which took hours to clear up, we had the indescribable beauty of the day to see us through.

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Lake George
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Log cabins by Lake George

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Hills on the way to the town of Hague

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Bolton Landing
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Antique stores in Bolton Landing

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Into Silver Bay

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Silver Bay

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Burnt-Out Ends of Autumnal Days

The day we saw Lake Placid it was dreary so that I wanted to have a go at the miserable veil of grey above our heads, release the vivid blue that teased us once awhile as we started on our drive from Saratoga Springs. The dying embers of brilliant reds, flaming oranges, pinks, lime yellows they might have been but how they shone even under leaden skies. Fall foliage in the boreal landscape of the Adirondacks had peaked and we watched it slowly disintegrate before the eyes.

Skeletal bodies of trees showed up in neat rows conjuring up the image of someone who had taken time to strip them bare methodically in a linear manner. The stray red leaf which clung to a bald tree as if to challenge the bluster of the wind, the leaves flying above the road gathered up in fistfuls by the wind to coil up, then unravel suddenly upon the windscreen, rows and rows of spiky spruce, pines, beeches on either side of the roads. At places where we stopped by creeks to gather leaves and photographs, also to feel the cool sting of the air, sprigs of hemlock showed up like starbursts in white.

Bobcats, beaver bats, muskrat, flying squirrels and black bears are said to roam the forests of the great park that is the Adirondacks. But all promises of wildlife were foregone because that is what happens when you owl it into the wee hours of the morning (with alcohol). It crosses out any prospects of hiking. Yet you do not want to miss out on the promise of hills, hamlets, log cabins and brooks… At a fuel station, I bought French Vanilla cappuccino, took a sip, and proceeded to empty it into the bin outside. Wastage. Utter shit. Unhappy Adi.

But look, I pointed out to him before he could gather steam, a golden head peeping out from the back of a big (I should probably stop saying big with reference to anything in America) pick-up truck. A golden retriever with pretty curly locks and hair softer than mine looked at us with her head cocked up in the completely winning way that only dogs can. She had a joyful time licking us while her old human friend, a farmer, came around the car to hold forth on with her ill-concealed pride. That she chases chipmunks around her house up in the wilds of the Adirondacks because you see she is possessive about the human and the homestead. That she also refuses to let him step out alone to the farm. She has got to be overseeing things from the back of the truck, you see.

That is how we reached Lake Placid which was placid but dismally grey — like Nessie would emerge from those depths if she could be persuaded to abandon her watery home in the Scottish Highlands for the Adirondacks. The village was chock full of people. Touristy. But our plan is to return for a hike there beneath blue skies. We ended up at the hamlet of Keene nearby where many hikes start, where beautiful lodges with wraparound porches sit next to gentle brooks and where rustic log cabins double up as tastefully done-up boutiques. Be prepared to find moose heads (very Abercrombie & Fitch) and stuffed black bears staring back at you solemnly — the eyes of the latter will follow you around.

There are photos below taken in motion, some blurred, some not perfect but in the mood of the moment in the land named for the Algonquin tribes who resided in the area. Their neighbours, the Mohawks, derogatorily called them Adirondacks which translates into ‘barkeaters’. Now I do not care much for eating barks though I do care for that sumptuous sap they yield and I do care for the cafe in Keene that serves the fluffiest chocolate muffins I have ever seen – they are as big as the fist of a wrestler – and beautiful life-giving loaves of bread and also the most delicious chocolate cookie chips that I have ever chomped on. Crisp buttery edges and a soft crumbly middle, chocolate oozing out in rich gooey pockets. And then Adi who had a cheshire cat grin as he proclaimed, ‘Glutsy’s on a roll,’ and later with a few bites and a hangdog look, declared it reason enough.

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Saratoga Springs

In Saratoga Springs, a town of immense loveliness that is the doorway to the massif of the Adirondacks, we met its many affable locals. The jockey I had met the previous night at the bourban bar turned up at another bar where we sat for dinner on Saturday evening after a day of driving around the Adirondacks. We hugged like long-lost friends and Adi was stumped. ‘Who was that?’ he asked, as we sat down to pop-rock numbers played by a live band and watched a large group of women take over the dance floor. It looked like a baby shower where the men had been relegated to another table. Looking at those men who were as hulking as lumberjacks, tattooed arms and baseball caps, you would not believe that they would do namby pamby shit like dancing. Oh boy, but they did and how they did.

Later after we had snacked in Esperanto, a hole-in-the-wall affair, on a local speciality called the doughboy, a kind of stuffed puff pastry-cum-calzone, we passed by the bourbon bar where the bouncer stepped out and asked if we were going to return the evening after for BM’s birthday drinks. He had promised BM a pitcher of free drink you see. ‘No, there is the thing about the drive back home,’ we said.

On Sunday morning we had a glimpse of Saratoga Springs during the day, with its leafy promenades, grand hotels, stylish hat shops where the array of hats and fascinators make your heart plop with pleasure and then the sight of blonde hippies who have probably made their millions, so they lounge about town wearing khakis and spiritual amulets and relax with dog-eared books at coffee shops that declare that you shall experience death by coffee, my friend. Now I shall take a breath after that woefully lengthy chatter and point out that there is that independent bookstore too — Northshire Books, which I had come across in the town of Mancester in Vermont previously and lost my heart to. Adi gave into bambi eyes and bought me a beautifully bound tome of Virginia Woolf which shall always now remind me of the beauty of the day. Pristine blue skies, yellow leaves rolling across the pavement and gathering in bunches along their furrows, the scent of coffee in the air, golden retrievers with fine hair and ample bodies extracting bagels from their masters …

Saratoga Springs has an European air about it — in the way of living that it exudes. When Dutch and British colonists took over the area from the original Mahican tribe who lived there, it was developed into a spa town of great fame because public bath houses were anyway being promoted in the country by a doctor in the 19th century. Old brick buildings and stone churches, people sitting outdoors and chilling with wine in the dappled shade of tall trees, horses in stone everywhere because it is now a town known for its race meets every summer when the glitterati descend upon the town in droves and drive the prices of hotel rooms up to $400 a night – a piece of information rendered by my jockey friend. In a vintage store selling home decor and boutique-ish clothes, I met a beautiful Native American woman with chiselled jaws. There was a fair bit of admiring each other so that the woman standing behind her arranging wraps and shawls turned around and chipped in, in that American way, ‘Oh my god you guys! You should exchange numbers already. I sense a friendship here.’ It succeeded in cutting though the conversation like a scythe as we got down to brass tacks. Pay and exit. Much to Adi’s amusement because he had wanted us to get done already and get going with the morning.

Now there is a special aspect of this town that it would be amiss of me not to mention. In Saratoga Springs is a retreat for artists and writers called Yaddo. It offers residencies to the creative community. So if you show up with a valid proof of the fact that you are indeed busy writing/creating something, you shall receive half a year of stay with every kind of expense taken care of by Yaddo. The name is a curious one, you might wonder. One of the children of Katrina Trask, who started the community, indulged in neologism, rhyming the word with Shadow and hence Yaddo. The story of Katrina Trask is heart-aching. She had married a Wall Street banker, Spencer Trask, in the late 1800s. Their four children died early and then her husband died in a freak accident on a train. A life of trials and tribulations that is reflected in one of her poems:

‘Beyond the bourn of mortal death and birth,
Two lovers—parted sorrowing on earth—
Met in the land of dim and ghostly space.
Wondering, he gazed on her illumined face:
“Alone you bear the burden now,” he said,
“Of bondage; mine is ended,—I am dead.”
With rapturous note of victory, she cried,
“The Lord of Life be praised! I, too, have died.” ‘

Yet how her legacy lives on in the 400-acre estate in the spirit of the matter that your days there will be all about the heart and soul poured into the affair of making art.

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The Saratogan Night Out

It is a dull day and I have a sore throat and I can see my sprightly neighbour do his bushy-tailed dance on the cable wires hanging outside the apartment. This squirrel scurries up and down the wires everyday. The first day I saw him I was worried. Was he stuck up there — trying to figure a way back to the sprawling greens across the road? But  sometimes you need to hear your thoughts out loud before you can fathom the ridiculous nature of them. Now having redone the apartment this morning feeling the call of hygge, having put away some extraneous details and arranged the leaves of autumn to lie artlessly around, some pine cones too, I have lit a candle which smells delicately of eucalyptus and mint. Good enough for me as I set out to write. I wanted to take you further into the heart of the beautiful Cornish villages in Britain till I felt the urge to tell you about my weekend which was eventful for someone who likes to huddle in a couch with a book or binge watch shows on the telly.

I was going to do just that — read Diana Gabaldon and swoon with comfort food ordered up in my hotel room this weekend – when Adi would hear none of it. I could not be sitting alone in a hotel room on a Friday night and he be partying. Woeful by any measure, he declared. We had driven up to the former spa town of Saratoga Springs in New York which is home to Adi’s boss. Now Boss Man has decided to fly the nest of his present firm for greener pastures. His colleagues naturally grew misty-eyed and threw a fond farewell party at a dimly-lit taproom that was the picture of distressed chic. Exposed brick walls, textured ceiling, Edison bulbs, sepia-toned photos hung upon the walls, the hubble-bubble of men and women.

As the evening matured with alcohol, cheese and laughter, it turned out that I would be the only woman in a group of five men because the female colleague decided to (intelligently enough) leave early. Over red wine, platters of salami, manchego and blue cheese, I was learning about the kind of life I have only read about and gleaned from conversations with a Swedish chef who I had interviewed a few years ago in a hip Shoreditch restaurant in London. The chef lives in the wild inaccessible forests of the province of Jämtland in Sweden, forages for vegetables, lichen and berries, and hunts every piece of meat he puts out on the menu. Naturally he has been acing lists of foodies who have taken the trouble of reaching his outpost in the great outdoors. I would like to experience it except for the thought of a cow’s substantial femur being sawed out before my eyes as live theatre and the prospect of being presented with the contents of the marrow — makes the bones judder. Not Adi’s though. He has stressed over and over again that he is up for it.

To get back to the evening at hand, one of Adi’s colleagues shares a similar outlook of life as the Swedish chef. This guy lives on a remote piece of land, about 300 acres of it under his ownership, in the woods near the Canadian border. There where towns by the name of Bombay turn up, named for ‘Indian princesses’ who migrated there from the city of Bombay in India, and where his neighbours are Native Americans in a reservation noted for gambling (here he interjected the conversation with, ‘one of my friends from the tribe was arrested lately for driving around the area with $500,000 stashed into the car’) — this chap lives off the land. He hunts for big game and fishes in the lake nearby to put food on the plate for his family of two toddlers and wife. He showed me a photo of the wife proudly holding aloft a fish that must have spanned 4ft. at the least.

Every bit of food is accounted for and nothing is wasted. In the last week or two he has been out hunting moose, but they are elusive creatures and live high on the mountains, usually it is just deer. His grandfather liked hunting for bears because he liked bear meat. All I could think of was:

A sweet, innocent, harmless, leaf-eating, doe-eyed little deer. … Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water… BAM! A fucking bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son of a bitch who shot you was wearing?’ The Marisa Tomei monologue in the rip-roaring My Cousin Vinny. Yes, you got it.

BM reached out for his hunting colleague’s neck and patted it saying sardonically, ‘You are meeting the quintessential redneck.’ In this world where we obsess over politically correct terms, our friend from the woods was least bothered by any of it. He was just quietly confident about the kind of life he leads. ‘I eat what I kill, I know where my food comes from and I do not hunt for pleasure,’ he told me simply.

Later after two glasses brimming with red wine, I was ready to call it a night. But when you are with the guys, you gotta develops guts of steel, and do what the men do. Drink. We tripped down to a bourbon bar. I drank endless glasses of water – so much so that the two bartenders ended up replacing my glass as soon as they saw me without one — and the men luxuriated with their measures of golden bourbon. There I heard the life stories of the male bartender with the silver nose stud and of the tattooed initials of his little boy who had died early of an infection, the female bartender who can do just about four shots of tequila in a night, watched people enter the loo in twos, an irate bearded bouncer hot on their tail, and had my forearms examined by a jockey to determine if I had the makings of a horsewoman…evidently not.

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Chasing Pasties and Pubs in Looe

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.

River Looe
East and West Looe on either side of the river
The cottage that was ours that Easter




Nelson, the one-eyed seal


Pub fish pie 





For you, Jen


Pasty tasting
The only one who had a good swim in the icy waters of the sea






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.

To Daphne’s Fowey

The Cornish landscape in my mind is branded with swashbuckling smugglers, hidden coves, stormy seas and vast swathes of moors, ever since I got sucked into the vortex of Daphne du Maurier’s world. How tales of smuggling fill the imagination with romantic connotations.

Time has a habit of standing still in England’s south western county of Cornwall. The towns and villages retain a vibe of simplicity. This is how it must have been in the old days, you think, as you hear stories of fishing and smuggling that go hand in hand with the narrow, cobbled lanes of these hilly outposts of the Cornish southeast quarter.

Yet the picture was bleak during the 18th century when an economic crisis had Britain in its grips because it was fighting the American War of Independence, and in the scheme of things, taxes were at an all-time high in the country. Quality salt, key to preserving pilchards in the fishing communities of Cornwall, and which was imported from Brittany and Spain was taxed heavily. Three hundred miles from Westminster, the scene was ripe for smuggling. It turned into a way of life for an entire community — vicars and teachers included.

A sparkling summer’s day of ice cream, coffee and a soul-satisfying breakfast in a café in Fowey was the perfect foil to my daydreams on a bank holiday weekend in 2015. Adi and I were on a four-day break with friends in the traditional fishing town of Looe near Fowey, putting up in a Victorian cottage, which is matter for another post.

Fowey itself is a picture painted with coves, old-fashioned country cottages trailing up and down steep roads, country churches and smart boutiques where prices make the eyebrows touch the scalp. We trawled the length and breadth of it, mooching around bookshops, (me) sighing over pretty ornaments in shops and Adi conveniently turning a deaf ear to those sighs. Nearby is the picturesque Readymoney Cove above which sits a former coach house. Daphne had sought refuge there during WWII to sort out her messed up life. You see, her husband was away at war setting up the country’s first airborne division, while she was taken in by a couple in Hertfordshire. But the fly in the ointment was Daphne herself. She was caught in an embrace with the husband of her hostess. Stories of unbearable loneliness, turbulent emotions, heartache…

Later after we had explored its nook and corners, we sat by the harbour. The waters hypnotised us under the mellow rays of the afternoon sun. Dangling my legs from the brick walls of the old harbour, I watched the machinations of ancient Fowey – bold gulls swooping across the estuary while wailing above our heads – as pretty coloured boats chugged in. And I thought of the young Daphne whose whitewashed cottage stood across the river. The 19-year-old who had noted fervently in her diary: ‘All I want is to be at Fowey. Nothing and no one else.’

The pretty turquoise roofs and spires of Truro on the way to Fowey
Curious residents of villages around Truro
Fowey Parish Church
To Readymoney Cove 
The harbour



Daphne’s cottage across the estuary. The one with the bright blue door.