Scrambled August


Just like scrambled eggs, yes. Clouds of disintegrated thoughts and distended grump.

August was to be the year of our Spanish road trip. An epic journey lasting nearly three weeks to mark the year of my fortieth birthday. This would be the time we would have been sat making endless lists, marking places on the map, totting up a rough budget for the trip, looking up our hotel stays all over again and thrilling at the thought of basking in the view of the Andalucian mountains, desolate sierras dotted with pueblos blancos, the roll call of limestone villages that turn up perched upon the high mountain roads and clifftops like whitewashed visions.

We would have found seats in a small corner cafe in some town of exquisite medieval beauty and breakfasted like kings on plates of crisp churros and dark chocolate, and I would have shut my eyes to savour the pure pleasure that jets through the body when you have fried dough at your disposal, and a meal you have paid a measly four euros for.

A litany of would-haves.

A litany of memories from the winter of 2016 when we had an apartment in Barcelona, a hotel in Malaga, and later in Madrid, because Adi had an ongoing project in Spain. An entire February spent taking trains by myself at dawn, of roaming the atmospheric alleys of cities and towns that made me feel like I was walking the pages of a book not yet written, seeing cities with strangers, and returning bone-tired to Adi, who along with his colleagues would meet me at night for dinner — the Spanish eat so terribly late.

Sticking to my customary dinner-by-seven routine, I used to meet my husband and co. for post-prandial drinks. They meanwhile ordered up meat-heavy dinners that made my stomach churn, especially at the sight of rare-done meat, blood oozing from thick slabs of steak. Our Spanish friend was in charge of picking dishes for the night from menus everywhere, and I marvelled at his ability to put away all that meat. Loved seeing the passion with which he fell upon his plate of food, for no matter what our likes and dislikes, when it comes to our gustatory preferences, what matters is the singular passion for good food. Be it vegetarian, non-vegetarian, vegan or fruitarian, raw food or paleo. What matters to me ultimately is the way your eyes light up when you see a plate of food, see the world in a grain of food, to riff bravely on Blake.

Adventuring and misadventuring, I swooned over the moorish beauty of Malaga, walking all over town under the hot midday sun till the legs screamed in protest and I almost missed the train to Madrid because I had been ambitious enough to slog up its hills to the castle called Gibralfaro. There was Granada, the old lanes and bylanes of which I sighed over with a German woman, Sonja.

In Girona, I thought I was in another time and place, stood upon Emperor Charlemagne’s walls and staring at rows of cypresses guarding cathedrals and monasteries. I must have been.

The molten silver waves lapping up the deserted beach near the castle of Altafulla in ancient Tarragona. The haunting Islamic-Gothic loveliness of Zaragoza, the magnificent standalone Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, utterly charming Madrid where I walked in the footsteps of Hemingway, and then Barcelona naturally. With a start I realise, I have not written posts on some of these wonderful places and I intend to remedy this oversight in the next few posts.

After exploring all of these places on my own, I was delighted when Adi and I walked the streets of Ronda and Mijas together. It felt complete.

So, this was to be our summer of seeing places that live in my memory. Old for me, new for Adi. And I was bloody keen on him looking at them through my eyes, me looking at them through his, gaining fresh perspectives. I am gutted at the falling through of our plans, but there is no self-pity, mind you. I cannot, will not stand for it.

No, I am not your dealer of self-pity, wallowing in that self-absorbing emotion which gets you nowhere. I am simply your dealer of words, looking for a way out of discontented moments through a flapping horde of moods and memories.

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When sat in a churreria, talk less, scoff more. Easy, when alone.
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Slipping in a cheeky one of me from a cerveceria in Madrid. The waiter insisted on taking it, with the Hemingway poster that he took off the wall. He was, I imagine, amused by my enthusiasm at bagging this dark corner seat where the author once sat and drank beer while people watching.
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Fav hangout in Madrid
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The Epicurean Pleasures of Lucca

In the town of Lucca, a Tuscan secret of sorts, we cooked with a chef in his palazzo (as I already waffled on in my earlier post). It was an intimate gathering of eight. Each one of us different personalities. Strung together by a common thread of curiosity, and if I may add cheekily, a passion for Prosecco. The point of this informal conclave was to figure out the theorem of Italian cooking. How do simple ingredients come together and produce an intense play of flavours? Wherein every morsel creates mini explosions in the taste buds, makes you close your eyes, smack your lips in appreciation, and reach out for more.

The chef, Giuseppe, who was the shepherd of this Prosecco-swigging lot, was born in an olive oil press in a Tuscan valley. He was part of a professional kitchen till he realised that the tension of cooking so far outweighed its pleasures. Giuseppe hit upon the fine idea of organising cooking classes within the comforts of his own home. His wife, who he met through these classes (which leads you to question if life is more than a mere string of coincidences), is a crackerjack at setting up a dining table fit for the queen. You can see how at the very beginning. It would be fair for me to to say for all that we were overcome by this glamorous apartment we found ourselves in, in a grand old palazzo within the medieval city walls of Lucca.

Beneath the blue skies of that hot summer’s day, we went shopping for the ingredients, before we entered the kitchen. As a child, I used to head out everyday for groceries with my father. Naturally, I take great pleasure in this sensory ritual of combing through fresh produce.

There we were, picking up focaccia at a feted bakery in town, culling sweet ancient bread called buccellato from old pasticcerias, examining yellow courgette flowers in grocery shops, tomatoes plump and small, red, green and yellow and sighing over their glossy beauty. More sighs later when we sunk our teeth into their luscious ripeness. The tomatoes burst with liquid beauty in our mouths, along with rounds of fresh mozzarella and basil, rocket leaves drizzled with briskly whisked balsamic and olive oil. We swooned over focaccia, oily and salty, crusty and yet soft inside. Mopped up fresh olive oil with our breads, la scarpetta, after smothering the focaccia with generous lashes of olive oil. Hey, there was no shame there. The most hardened keto advocates would have been driven into unashamed scoffing of bread. I can guarantee you that. Noshing on young and old pecorino cheeses with honey and fig relish.

Then we chopped and cooked, picking up on the chef’s earnest homilies on bread, rice, and olive oil, and left the palazzo, rich with stories, our stomachs lined with enough food, rivers of olive oil and red wine running through our veins — and maybe a scant knowledge of the workings of a Tuscan kitchen.

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At one of the oldest pasticceria in Lucca, Taddeucci, to pick up Buccellato. The bakery goes back to the year 1881. Buccellato in Lucca is bought fresh daily from this bakery, because if you have not bought it from here, you are a sad twat. 
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Buccellato, the crusty breakfast bread studded with raisins and aniseed.
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Gaping at the longest ream of focaccia at Forno a Vapore Amadeo Giusti in Lucca.
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Chef Giuseppe. This is for you, Caroline.
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Beefsteak tomatoes
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Pepperoncini, the dried version of which we bought greedily.
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 San Marzano tomatoes
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Pomodoro Pizza. Tomatoes from Firenze (Florence).
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Small red tomatoes on vines and vibrant green tomatoes.
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Courgette blossoms
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Inside the tranquil palazzo
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To the work stations
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But not before we are armed with endlessly flowing Prosecco.
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Cheese with fresh honey and fig relish
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My delighted love


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The many stages that went into cooking a soul-pleasing lunch.
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All-important task of chopping and slicing tomatoes.
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He bagged the courgette blossoms.
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Spooning out Gnudi (which means as it looks, a kind of naked ravioli). This is a Tuscan dumpling dish made of spinach and ricotta, and slipped into homemade tomato sauce.
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Feast your eyes on that lusty tomato sauce and tell me you do not want it right away.
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To the beautifully laid out, thin and long wooden table.
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Pumpkin and courgette blossoms, baked and gobbled. 
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Gnudi, served with fragrant risotto that is cooked with carnaroli, not arborio. The Tuscans sniff at the mention of arborio like it’s dog food.
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Thick Italian custard and berries, to be soaked up with buccellato.
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Nothing says it like plates licked clean and glasses of robust reds held up with cheshire-cat grins at the end of a long-drawn lunch. Limoncello at the very end to make sure that no one went home with a clear head.


To the New Season and the Past

Autumn has stolen in this year even before we could feel the sting of summer here on the East Coast. Sure the heat was blistering for a couple of weeks, but then it rained like the heavens were brimming, and could not, would not indeed, hold it in. The skies would darken and thicken with mushrooming clouds and there was pure drama in the build-up. When it pelted down, it was even more joyous, except if you were caught outside in the perishing rain.

The year has sped by in a string of house guests. Mid-August we travelled for 16 days straight, when we felt the sting of summer in Italy and Croatia alright. Yet what bliss! The mind and body screamed in unison, “We are not going back anywhere”. Eventually, we got back, but the head and heart refuse to leave behind the space they have nested in, in these beautiful lands.

In Tuscan country, we woke up to the sight of dreamy hills and dark cypresses with their ramrod backs, high above a town called Barga. Pastries and croissants for elevenses. After, we seasoned our souls with bread and olive oil so green that you could smell the grass in it. Demolished bowls of aglio e olio and grilled veggies drizzled with more olive oil. Learnt to cook creamy ricotta dumplings called gnudi; discovered that risotto in Tuscany is made with carnaroli, never Arborio, which is considered pedestrian; and used courgette blossoms for baked dishes. All at the palazzo of an Italian chef who was easy on the eye.

At the chef’s magazine-ready interiors, we met people from Glasgow, Sydney and California, became a family for a noon, having cooked together and exchanged stories, all washed down with endless bottles of Prosecco, then Chianti, Brunello and limoncello.

When you travel, the essence of it is formed of these stories culled from strangers. Different people, different stories, bundles of shared laughter, moments of frothy joy. Some things are priceless.

Two were American ex-military officers, one of whom might be in his 60s but has shifted to the Tuscan town of Lucca to start life afresh there. The other was hopped up about growing courgette blossoms and ways of distinguishing a male blossom from a female. Their genuine passion for food and life was endearing. My favourite was Uncle Bill, as we referred to him. He taught me the Italian expression, fare la scarpetta. It is the custom of mopping up your plate (any extra sauce, oil) with bread. I have been indulging in fare la scarpetta  ever since. The Australian woman was old and ballsy. She had just arrived in Tuscany after hiking along The Path of the Gods on the Amalfi coast. Next was a possible backpacking adventure with her son. The rest were a family, a couple and their young daughter from Glasgow. The woman bore such an uncanny resemblance to Liz Hurley that I could not help comment upon it. Overhearing this natter, her husband warned in his lovely Scottish burr, “OKAY, no more Prosecco for you.”

With this bunch of people, and the chef, we shopped for fresh tomatoes and courgette blossoms in a local grocery store where the sight of the variety of pomodoro, plump and juicy, was a feast for the eyes. The produce was so fresh that the dishes we cooked tasted like no other. Then hopping over to an old bakery for some tasty bread, we sighted the longest slab of focaccia we have ever seen, in Lucca. It was 16-feet long. Epicurean explorations do feed the soul besides an ever-ready gut. We gobbled the focaccia later at the palazzo with plenty of extra virgin olive oil. I think I can hold a discourse on just bread now.

Tuscany was a revelation. Its beauty unsurpassed and added to by the warmth of the Italians. For beauty is an aura of goodness and nothing less than that. Like the young biker couple who made a pit-stop like us along a vineyard for photos, plucked plenty of grapes, and insisted we share. The old couple we met near the Maremma region, who shared their bounty of freshly plucked berries with us.

The generous quantities of bread and pasta had to be worked off, unless we intended to come back, two rotund individuals who would not fit into our plane seats. It worked out to our advantage then that we almost always found ourselves trudging to these towns built by the ancient Etruscans upon tuff hills. Towns threatened by erosion, but somehow clinging on for dear life.

If you look at the featured photo, it is of Civita de Bagnoregio, a tufa town two hours away from Rome and still in the Lazio region of Italy. It is a fantastic town shooting for the skies from its perch upon a column of tuff. Locals call it the dying town. A big chunk of it has already collapsed into the Valle dei Callanchi (Valley of the Badlands) that is its dramatic backdrop and only about 8 people live there now. Along with a colony of cats.

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Civita de Bagnoregio

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Valle dei Callanchi

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Limestone houses of Civita

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From its centuries old church

That’s my return from the land of silence. See how my mouth shoots off. Naturally, I have got to leave the Balkans for another post. It is time for me to sign off, but not before I point out that this is why I have been missing out on the blogging world and its news. Your news. I will catch up by and by and see how life has been unfurling at your end.

Love and peace for the season of flaming beauty.

Paris: The Last Edition

As I sit in the American Airlines Flagship Lounge, bound for Calcutta, with my mug of cappuccino and book (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), I thought of my last update on Adi and mine few days in Paris. This seems a time as good as any to finally send this post going. Paris seems a world away even though it was just a few months ago.

Another year seems to have brought a new home our way. We just finished moving apartments in the same building. Our bodies are sore, but our souls are satisfied. It comes with the territory I suppose. Where would the pleasure be if we did not have to put in this back-breaking work. After all, man is made of pain and pleasure.

Back to that time when we walked the streets of Paris and swooned at its eternal beauty. There was the afternoon when we met Lulu. It was golden. Apart from that the fact that we had a soft bundle of canine loveliness to bury our faces into. At Les Invalides, a guard shushed me with a smile. Even remonstrations in French sound chic. I saw the reason for it soon. There was a funeral cortege issuing from one of the doors.

We had a gander at the Luxembourg gardens that is somewhere between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter. Its sylvan beauty sat within a not-too-overwhelming radius. The waters in the fountain gleamed on that cold winter’s day with unerring beauty. The dappled sunlight, the bronzed sculptures of Greek gods and actors, the bare bones of swaying trees, and the soft breeze. It was one of those moments that you appreciated the effortless artistry of nature, the presence of your beloved, and the loveliness of life in one of the grandest cities in this world.

A white-haired man turned up with his two sons and decided that they wanted a photograph to be taken of them in front of the Medici Fountain. We obliged. He directed his sons to pick up the chairs around us. I thought, now for a grand photo shoot and a hell lot of creativity. What did they do? They simply plonked themselves on the chairs in front of that strip of water. That’s all. A comedown of sorts. But then remember The Hollow Men? This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang. More of a whimper.

A boulevard from the garden eventually led us to the Latin Quarter. The Pantheon with its grandeur and then the quiet hum of life in and around the Sorbonne. People sat in the shadow of the Pantheon braving the cold wind, and meanwhile, we came upon a British pub in the quiet lanes of the quarter. A pint of ale for Adi, a coffee for me. And then,  back on the road. For that is the one great love affair in life. The road.


Windswept on the banks of the Seine
Art Nouveau lamps and my handsome fella on Pont Alexandre III
The Seine beneath a sea of clouds
Pont Alexandre III
La Tour Eiffel from the gardens of Les Invalides
Les Invalides
Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Nutty tart at a café in the Saint Germain district
Drama of light and shadow 
Jardin du Luxembourg
The 17th-century Luxembourg Palace and its grounds were inspired by the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens in Florence because Queen Marie de Medici was from that Italian city of unparalleled architecture and beauty.
The Medici Fountain
The Pantheon shows up in the backdrop of Jardin du Luxembourg


The Pantheon
In the shadows of the Pantheon
The Latin Quarter
A pint at a British pub in the Latin Quarter
Lofty scenes. Fountain of Saint Sulpice.
Scene captured at The Church of Saint Sulpice where you had met Lulu earlier. Looking at this man who was so oblivious to the passage of time and people, I thought to myself, there should always be time to sit, shut your eyes awhile, to bathe in the liquid warmth of the winter sun. If there isn’t time or the intent, you realise with a shock, why, you are not in Paris!


Upstairs, Downstairs in Paris

Sheets of rain came pouring down the morning we stood in a queue to enter the network of tunnels, better known as the Catacombs, deep beneath the enchanted city of Paris. Down there, the enchantment wears off a smidge. There has to be balance after all, or you would be in danger of becoming inured to the beauty of that old city. The queue for the Catacombs was long and our patience short, e’en though we were armed with a sturdy umbrella from the boutique hotel we had just shifted into, from The Grand Hotel.

I have always been curious about them, ossuaries. There are 40 such houses of bones scattered around the world, in England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Siberia, the Czech Republic…yet I had not been to a single one.

Before you exclaim, ‘oh how macabre’, there is nothing macabre about death. It is a natural counterpart of life, after all. When the cemeteries started to get overcrowded, it was inevitable that ossuaries cropped up as a response to the need of the times — they were chambers dedicated to the preservation of the skeletal remains of the departed.

Paris sits above quarries of limestone and gypsum. In Lutetia, that is old Paris, the Romans used the stones to build their bathhouses and arenas. The Parisians carried on with quarrying underground, and naturally, the outcome is a honeycomb of tunnels in the bowels of the city. They are said to extend for 200 miles, most of them uncharted, but the adventurous few known as cataphiles, make regular inroads into the tunnels through hidden entrances, ventilation shafts and manholes. There are underground cinema theatres, murals and setups for raves. The gendarmerie stumbled upon a cinema and restaurant of sorts somewhere beneath the 16th arrondissement a few years ago. They also found a note that instructed them to not try and find these cataphiles.

I am not a cataphile, but I do profess to have a fascination for the underground. There was that subterranean wine cellar in Southbank where I once sat with my cousin drinking wine to beat the heat outside. Its dimly lit chambers a salve to the senses on that bright and hot summer’s day in London. The underground salt cellars in Krakow were a revelation. The allure of the underground lies in the sense of mystery it evokes, perhaps in the suggestion of more; a strange intoxication that stems from the possibility of disregarding rules, because to begin with, strictly there are no rules down there. Also, for the most part, you leave the world well above you.

Back at the public entrance to the Catacombs’ in the 14th arrondissement, a grizzled, grumpy man, seemingly overcome with ennui, checked our tickets and let us in. Then five stories of winding staircase, a dizzying exercise if you did not stop because there were people at your heels, and voila, you were in the Catacombs.

“Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort” (Halt, this is the empire of death), read the words at the top of the entrance before you found yourself walking through long galleries, eye goggling at the sight of skulls, tibias and femurs stacked together, and rather neatly, from ceiling to  floor. Some arranged in heart-shaped patterns. Those were old, old bones. Some dating back to thousands of years. You would hardly know which bone belonged to whom. There in death’s chambers, we were witness to a strange equality. Aristocrats and beggars lay stacked together. Many famous figures from the French Revolution too, when bodies were buried directly in the Catacombs.

True, it was the history of a city preserved in tangible terms, in a dimly-lit and quiet affair, but after walking through the remains of some 6 million dead in those tunnels, it was refreshing to come back above to the land of the living, to appreciate the flow of life around us.

Oh but there is such poetry in simply living!

Cimetière des Innocents. Towards the latter half of the 18th century, bodies were transferred from the cemeteries to the quarries. It started with Les Innocents, the oldest burial ground in Paris, where there was such dearth of space that thousands of bodies were being piled into a pit, some not even properly buried. 
The Catacombs where it is said King Charles X threw clandestine parties and musicians played  Chopin and Camille Saint-Saens. Bizarre.
Neatly stacked skeletal remains. Who knows, one of these might belong to Robespierre or Rabelais. Where there were gaps in the stacks, you knew people had happened. Bones here are often stolen. Again, bizarre.
Seeking comfort and quiche in a café in Montmartre
The elegance of mansions in the 9th arrondissement. At Place Saint-Georges.
Place Saint-Georges. The fountain at the centre, where horses would stop for a drink, is topped by the bust of a 19th-century Parisian illustrator, Paul Gavarni.
Théâtre Saint- Georges 
In the shadow of old churches
Beauty is always everywhere around you, in Paris.


Style, in the 9th arrondissement
Somewhere in the 2nd arrondissement
Near Bastille
The 16th-century Gothic church of Saint-Eustache in the 1st arrondissement
The constant flow of people in the 1st arrondissement



Christmas markets
Vintage shops and dreadlocks
Back in Le Marais
And tada, when Juliette became American.

The Hilltop Neighbourhood of Paris

In Paris, I was part of Bresson’s world. Only here, I was the one behind the camera, a silent witness to the flow of people on the streets, making way for the natural synthesis of scenes to happen to the camera. Each corner I turned around, there was a frame lying in wait. On the streets of Paris, as you know, the frames are numerous. You are hard-pressed to let go of any. Such as on the noon before we walked to Montmartre – when we sat in a tiny, packed café to a meal of succulent roast chicken, fries and red wine.

At the café’s counter, a man sat perched upon a barstool, a French Bulldog in attendance. Now, as all examples of his species go, this bulldog was undeniably ugly. Clownish bat ears, bow legs, flat face, bulging eyes. But what he had in spades was determination. He must have a bite off the table behind him, just laid with food. Naturally, he went and stood, a pugnacious little fellow, at the foot of the table. The man eating at that table turned around to let his displeasure be obvious to the bulldog’s human who cast a sheepish smile and muttered,  ‘Jack non, non’  in reproval. He tightened Jack’s leash around the leg of his barstool. But this Jack, he was a trooper. He wormed his way back to the table a few times, till his man friend used his foot to wedge Jack’s face against the counter. Picture Jack then. A sorrowful expression on his face, the least he could demand was discretion.

I clicked a photo of him accordingly, discreetly, while imparting sagacious words to this oddball, ‘Life never came with a promise to be fair, Jack’.

In the lengthening shadows of that cold and blustery noon, we carried on to Montmartre, making pit stops at small boutiques along cobbled streets. The rigours of daily life in the metro unfolded along us. Men loaded and unloaded vans.

Montmartre turned out to be divested of the summer crowds. It was easier to lend your mind to the reason it is called ‘the Mount of the Martyr’. The martyr in question is Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris. This patron saint was decapitated by the Romans because, much to the alarm of the Roman priests, he was gaining followers rapidly. When I saw his statue, it seemed like he had his hands over his ears, but actually the man was holding his own head. The legend is that he was beheaded by a bored Roman soldier. But the saint did not give up. He picked up his head and continued walking to the top of the hill. Eventually, he dropped dead and his head rolled till it reached a spot where the Basilica of Saint Denis was built.

The neighbourhood of Montmartre looks decidedly posh with its old churches and chapels, a line-up of chic bistros and pavement drinkers, boulangeries like Alexine where the cheese & nut breads, not to forget the tarts, are guaranteed to drive you into a frenzy.

You would almost forget that this was the Paris of broke artists; of walled gardens; of poorly-lit garretts cluttered with easels, redolent of turpentine and paint; of artists’ communes frequented Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani; of drunken brawls, idealistic talk and angst-ridden thoughts spewed at guinguettes (outdoor taverns-cumdance halls); slow waltzes to the tune of the accordion. And gradually the paths drifting down to the louche neighbourhood of Pigalle which the surrealist André Breton described as “diamantiferous mud”. A notorious collection of seedy nightclubs, erotic museum, porn theatres offering peep shows and what not, to the iconic cabaret of the Moulin Rouge.

If you would come with me, we could walk the leafy, loopy alleys of the 18th arrondissement together, skim through street art, take breaks at intimate little cafés, and break the silence once in a while to wonder about the Montmartre that has been left behind.

At Café Gourmand
Townhouses of Paris
Graffiti by an artist called Jae Ray Mie
One of the métro entrances designed by French architect Hector Guimard at Pigalle.
Art Nouveau beauty of the Pigalle métro with its sinuous design and ornate lamp posts. Could this be a taste of Paris from the turn of the last century?
Boutiques on Rue Houdon
Obsession with cinema on Rue Houdon
Hip little boutiques with charming objects such as…
…this coffee cup that I ended up with
And sheep that I did resist
Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre
On Rue des Abbesses
Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, built on the lines of the Art Nouveau style.
Rue Germain Pilon named after a 16th century French sculptor. Don’t you love these steps that typically climb past old townhouses with jalousie windows, some slathered in ivy?
Corner bistros
The passion for cheese
More corner bistros 
Ambient restaurants in the quarter
The queue for a baguette is not to be messed with. Alexine.
Street leading uphill to Café Le Moulin de la Galette 
A 17th century windmill, the subject of paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh and Pissarro.
Steps to Sacré-Coeur
Adolf Hitler stood on the terrace sometime in June 1940, and he declared to his entourage that it was the dream of his life to be permitted to see Paris. His friend and architect Albert Speer had recorded about the visit in his memoirs. “Wasn’t Paris beautiful?” Hitler had asked Speer. “But Berlin must be far more beautiful. When we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow”.
He is said to have looked behind him at the Sacré-Coeur and utter a single word. “Appalling”.
Inside the Sacré-Cœur
Rue du Mont Cenis in the village that leads to the Basilica of Saint Denis 
Rue du Mont Cenis 
The medieval grandeur of the Basilica of Saint Denis
Place du Tertre, of the caricaturists and painters 
Place du Tertre
The 12th century Church of St. Peter of Montmartre
Saint Denis inside the church 
Lookers-on in alleys
Le Passe-Muraille/The Passer Through Walls. The French writer Marcel Aymé wrote a short novel titled “Le Passe-Muraille”. In it, an office worker who lives in Montmartre discovers one night that he has the power to pass through walls. At the end of the story, he also happens to be permanently stuck in a wall. This wall is French sculptor Jean Marais’s dedication to the story in front of Aymé’s house.
Cobbled streets that end in windmills
Montmartre has a vineyard which might not make the finest of vino, but wines it does produce.
The dishevelled studio of an artist
The hangout of artists, writers and painters in the 19th century. Think Picasso, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet.
Once dusk gathers, Montmartre’s allure intensifies.
La Maison Rose
Picasso was a regular at this cabaret. He is known to have paid for every meal with a drawing. The proprietor was curious — why would the artist not put his signature on the pieces? Whereupon Picasso noted: “That’s because I only want to buy lunch, not your whole restaurant”. 
Miniscule cafés as remnants of vintage Paris. La Petit Moulin.
The red windmill, a symbol of fin de siècle Paris, and the birthplace of the can-can.

Love, Loaf and Hugo

If you asked a Parisian, what love is, he would thwack you with the golden loaf in his hand, and say, ‘Why, it is this, you numskull?!’ Here you would roll your eyes, and say, ‘Oh com’on, the baguette is such an overworked stereotype!’ Yet every time we stepped out on the streets of the city, there it was. A slender baton of crusty goodness staring back at us, tucked within the elbow of the old man in the long overcoat and beret, or sticking out of the tote of the young woman as she walked ahead of us. We even saw an old lady nibbling at the end of hers — probably best to have it fresh even before the day has waned. Lest the Parisian forgot this essential chunk of his daily diet, they have a Bread Observatory in Paris. It trots out the daily reminder, “Cou cou, tu as pris le pain?” (“Hello, did you pick up the bread?”). Now if that is not love, my darling, you tell me what love is. If you need further proof, just head to the nearest boulangerie. Finding yourself in a queue is an inevitability.

If we are talking about love, I would have to pipe in about the walrus with his fantastic pair of long, white tusks and grey, fluffy beard. My eyes fell upon this thing of rare, portly beauty in the window of a boutique, whereupon the batting of my eyelids made my husband acquiesce grudgingly. So that now this walrus sits pretty at home with my family of stuffed animals. This love however was eclipsed by far when we came across an elderly woman in the shadows of the Church of Saint-Sulpice. She was old but chic, in just the way an average Parisian is (must be the baguette). Even to walk their dogs, Parisians dress well. This lady was out with her 6-month old Cocker Spaniel pup, Lulu, who was the belle of the ball I thought, till I realised that Lulu was a tiny male with velvet soft curls. The love that shone in the woman’s eyes for her Lulu was palpable and touching enough that it remains in my mind as a radiant moment wrapped up in the soft sunshine of a December noon.

Be as it is may that we were in the 6th arrondissement when we met Lulu, I would actually like to whisk you into the 3rd and 4th arrondissements where lie the Marais quarter of Paris.

Charm and amour co-exist in Le Marais like an old married couple. What were marshes (hence Marais) in the early times, from land left over when a branch of the Seine dried up, is de rigueur today. But let me also describe to you how the day built up to lend itself to the laidback beauty of Le Marais.

We reached Le Marais after time spent dawdling at Shakespeare and Company, rifling through ancient books written by unknown authors, sniffing the scent of those old books (that’s how love smells), buying wedges of cheese from a Christmas market outside the Notre Dame, looking up dusty music covers and magazines that the line-up of Bouquinistes in their big fur hats and heavy coats sell along the Seine.

Twilight was gathering around us. Bang in the middle of a bridge — I believe it was the Pont Saint-Louis — a man sat playing his piano. The cadence of his music conjured up an ethereal quality to the evening when in the half light of it we stood by the bridge, a soft and cold breeze caressing us, lights glimmering across the Seine in the grand old buildings of Paris. It seemed fitting that we should walk into Le Marais right after, the afternotes of the performance playing in our heads as an amuse bouche of sorts.

Le Marais is timeless. Here there was no trace of Haussman’s wide boulevards and neoclassical facades. Here you still found a chunk of the old Paris, the narrow winding streets and medieval house fronts, interspersed by Jewish delis, tea salons, herb shops and hat shops, hole-in-the-wall curiosity shops, art galleries, hip bars and boutiques. There remains the impossible grandness of the city hall (Hôtel de Ville), and the opulence of the private townhouses, or hôtel particulier, which were built for aristocrats during the 17th century. Now, it would be entirely amiss of me not to take you to the oldest planned square of the city, Place des Vosges, that sits within the Marais quarter. Not only do I have memories of buying a beautiful blue cloche from an old man there in the autumn of 2016, but because it is also the location of one of my favourite museums. Maison de Victor Hugo — where I dragged Adi because a) it is free, and, b) it feeds the imagination to see how a writer of means lived in the 19th century.

Before I go, I wanted to draw your attention to that pair of aged nuns. They are hobbling across a cobbled courtyard and will gradually disappear into the shadows of the temple. Faith awaits them. And, did you notice the bride-to-be? She is trying on her wedding dress, looking a bit unsure. Then she catches your eye and casts a brilliant smile. All’s well there. As for the baker behind the till and his goodies displayed in the window, the less said the better. There lies defeat in the faces of endless slices of gateaux. It has been a fair amount of gawking and walking, so if your feet perchance feel worn, dear reader, take a cue from Hugo who had famously observed that to loaf is Parisian — and pause for that carafe of wine in one of those cafés where they serve enough popcorn to make it worth your while.

These winding streets lead to baroque churches
The 17th century Church of Saint Sulpice
Rear portion of the church
Place Saint-Sulpice and its church of the mismatched towers. You will probably know it better if I mentioned Da Vinci Code. It was shot here.


A golden ball of fur charging towards her human 
Meet Lulu
Shakespeare and Company
Cohen. Amour.
Photobombed at the Notre Dame. It’s inescapable.
Bouquinistes along the Seine
My love and the Notre Dame
Busy crossings
The Seine
 Île Saint-Louis



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 Le Marais


















Hôtel de Ville






Mr. Basu’s at Le Grand Hotel, Paris

The city was shrouded in mist that afternoon we landed in Paris. The cold was not blistering, but you know what happens after a 10-hour flight. Bleary-eyed and shivery, you are properly keyed up for a deep sleep. That’s all. All those plans of showering and taking the city by storm? A big, fat zero.

The flight from JFK had taken us into Frankfurt for a three-hour layover. We discovered a private sleeping pod, but at the tail end of our wait. The irony of it: shattering. There you were desperate for some shut-eye and (huzzah!) you located a comfortable bed in the privacy of a cabin. Ding! went the announcement for boarding. Hardly any time to nod off on the flight from Frankfurt to Paris. So, all you could do was slip into this delicious dream, consumed by the desire for a bed. Soft sheets. Fluffy pillows. Plump duvet to burrow into. Then, oblivion.

A 20-minute cab ride brought me closer to my the object of my dreams.

The InterContinental Paris Le Grand was part of our other anniversary indulgence, in the heart of the 9th arrondissement. Just for two nights, but enough to make the most of a stay conjured by the hoarding of hotel points. When we reached the hotel, I had to crane my neck to take in the view of its old facade. It was the colour of cream, a part of it masked by scaffolding. Neat rows of French windows, slatted louvres, those charming wrought-iron balconies atypical of Paris, and carved stone for a touch of opulence. I was sold. Even the most hardened commie would be — except that he would conceal it beneath a careful veneer of contempt. As if to complete the picture, at the porch stood a vintage motorcycle with a sidecar. Manning it was a guy in khaki with sunnies even on that bleak day. He reminded me of an Indian actor who used to arrive punctually late at press conferences,  concealing a pair of bloodshot eyes and a predilection for cocaine behind large sunglasses.

Inside the hotel, we were checked in with supreme efficiency, and at that point of time all that mattered was the bed. The room turned out to be a cosy affair, in the manner of those little pieds-à-terre that they show in the old movies, yet sumptuous in reds and burgundies, a hint of bordello chic. Beneath heavy old drapes, were gossamer white drapes fluttering in the cold breeze as we peeked out of our teeny-weeny balcony to exult at the somewhat ethereal sight of the Eiffel Tower wreathed in mist. A bottle of Champagne had been deposited in our room at some point of time, but I had long passed out. Delicious was that slumber, and by the time I woke up  I realised we had slept a hefty four hours.

That evening when we dressed up and headed out of the hotel — before which we peeked at the Eiffel Tower again, this time to catch its hourly shimmering aura — it felt like we were in a dream. Not a bubbly-infused dream, but one sparked off by the very air of the city we were in. The kind of city that makes you gush. Such as I did when I uttered repeatedly to Adi, ‘We’re in Paris! We’re in Paris!’

It must have been the air. It was enchanted.


The Grand was a couple of minutes walk from the Palais Garnier, the iconic opera house of Paris, and so we were ambling past the opera, down the cobbled boulevards of Haussman, bedecked in fairy lights and flamboyant shop windows, mannequins in beautiful dresses and shoes, staring at splendid old squares topped off by gigantic columns, senses reeling at the beauty all around us.

No matter how many times you find yourself in Paris, you are dazed by the elegance of it.

Dinner was at a Moroccan restaurant where an old man in his neatly pressed suit served us Moroccan wine along with snacks of olives and carrots braised in turmeric and cumin. The wine was red and mellow, the carrots spicy. There was lamb tagine, a whole lot of kebabs and couscous, along with more red wine on the house, pressed upon us by the old man with the benevolent smile and wicked sense of humour.

Ah, it was a fine evening that, when we sauntered back to the hotel on the wings of red wine and romance. It was as if we could have only more and the hotel was a big part of this experience. The French empress of the day — that would be the year 1862 — while inaugurating it, had exclaimed that it made her think of home. ‘I feel like I am in Compiègne or Fontainebleau,’ she had remarked. That’s the thing about heritage hotels, they are a window into a world that you will never see, just imagine. To me, it was a window into the world of Josephine Baker, Sarah Bernhardt, Marlene Dietrich…, all of whom liked to be seen at the hotel. I could see why. Its old operatic ballroom was a vision in itself.

The Café de la Paix was yet another visual feast, with its large potted plants, as if to recreate a garden within a café, frescoed and gilded to the hilt. There had sat the likes of Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant, and where people were known to be drawn from all around the globe…’Dark diplomats from Martinique, pale Rastas from Peru/An Englishman from Bloomsbury, a Yank from Kalamazoo;/A poet from Montmartre’s heights, a dapper little Jap’ … as Robert Service noted in his poem, ‘The Absinthe Drinkers’.

For has it not been ever said that all the world one day

Will pass in pilgrimage before the Cafe de la Paix?’

(It is a delightful poem, if you are keen to take a gander at it.)

A quick note on the title. A receptionist at the Grand Hotel addressed Adi as Mr. Basu — the room was booked in my name. I startled that man by folding my hands in a ‘namaste’ gesture. And I said, ‘Why that is the best thing I have heard in a long time!’ For a few seconds, he had consternation writ large upon his face. Had he said anything wrong? ‘No, absolutely not,’ I assured him. You see, Basu is my surname. It has cleaved to my person so long that I could not envision being without it. Not to make a defining statement of any sort, just because it is my identity. Naturally, once in a while, when Adi is alluded to as Mr. Basu, fizzy bubbles of joy rise up my chest. 

Flughafen Frankfurt am Main
Le Grand Hotel
Inside our room
A dash of Eiffel Tower 
An excuse of a balcony is welcome too
A cross-section of the 9th arrondissement from our balcon
The ballroom
Café de la Paix


Dark-panelled old bars
Palais Garnier
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Column at Place Vendôme 
Place Vendôme 
Streets of Paris
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Le Maroc
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The Moroccan way to unwind, in Paris



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You know who’s got one of the best quotes on Paris. Victor Hugo. “He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic.
Nothing is more sublime.”


A Day in Lund

As far as university towns go, traipsing around them in Europe awakes in me the urge to go back to a life as a student. Now that is stating something. The day I finished labouring over science in high school, which only drove me into the arms of my original love, English literature, I was doing fifty jigs a minute. And, that day that I held my first paycheck in the offices of the Times of India: Exquisite. I was empowered. By the control I had over my own life. I had left the world of studying and loathsome exams behind.

Yet finding myself in university towns like Leuven or Lund, makes me rethink my stance.

The beauty of the Skåne region in southern Sweden had started revealing itself when we took the train from Malmö to Lund. A flat countryside stretched out alongside the train tracks, patchworked by farms, forests, lakes and manors. As these plethora of scenes rushed by us, even on that bleak day in winter, it turned out to be a scenic journey. At the end of it waited Lund of the quaint cottages and cobbled alleys. It reminded us of pottering about Bruges, the Belgian town famed for its veneer of fairy-tale loveliness. It was as cold if less blustery than Bruges.

In this second oldest university town in Sweden, students bicycled upon uneven cobbled lanes, couples sat in intimate cafes, medieval timber-framed houses flanked the narrow roads. Occasionally bright pops of yellow and green on the facades introduced a startling element of colour. The leafy parks still held on to the flaming hues of autumn. The university buildings, the old library, churches big and small, ignited the imagination.

Again we ambled around in Lund, no particular activity in mind because we can be random like that apart from being touristy at times, peeping into store windows, spotting bakeries with wonderful breads that glowed like golden sirens and enterprising cakes (one was themed The Backstreet Boys, the mouths of all five boys, dressed in very blue suits, gaping open as if somebody had threatened to slap them for belting out overtly cheesy numbers). There, shivering in the frigid November air, we broke out into terrible renditions of As long as you love me, Adi teasing me because I (am so ashamed to admit) fancied them as a teenager. Which girl did not? My husband insists, cheesy ones like me. Blonde locks, exposed chests, all-white suits, synchronised dancing…open the gates of heaven. That display window was proof. I was not alone in my teenage fervour.

The conclusion to our traipsing around town was struck in the shadows of the Lund cathedral, a behemoth in weathered stone, beneath dismal skies. This cathedral that stood as a paean to Lund’s historical status, for it was the religious capital of Scandinavia once. That is how we found ourselves charmed by one of Europe’s oldest towns, where we were for a short while, in a time bubble with a giant troll called Finn sitting somewhere in the crypt of the cathedral for sparkling company.

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Granite and Gallurese

It is but providence that we winded up in the Gallura region. Parul and I had laid our hands upon one of those travel deals that threw in a four-day stay at a resort and the cheapest flight they could source with Ryan Air. The rider to the deal was that this resort was in Olbia, far away from the southern parts which we wanted to see, and Adi was thunderstruck by our impulsiveness at not checking anything before booking our island holiday. My friend and I were both non-drivers, you see. On an island where everything is dependent upon your own mode of conveyance, this was not a happy chance.

We were furiously making calls to Sardinia in the next few days, Parul and I, and overshot our initial budget by far when we had to fall upon the services of a tour guide. The reward was friendship. And a marvellous girly holiday we had not anticipated. It was on the first day in Orgosolo, when for a photo, Enza threw herself upon the rim of a large stone fireplace and decided to show the pudge on her waist to make good the claim that she needed to banish it — that I knew we had found gold. Her candour was refreshing. Her cousin Giampi was equally enthusiastic when it came to posing for photos, so we ended up with enough shots of us too. We needed us in our albums, they said.

The Gallura lives up to the meaning of its name which means stony area. Granite hills tower over you upon roads that twist and turn before find their way to a jagged coastline made up of islets and rock cliffs. Rocks which emerge in shapes that make you think of elephants, bears, witches and mushrooms, rocks which are shaped by the fury of the Mistral that blows throughout the year in Sardinia, but is an exhibitionist  during spring and winter. We had caught the best of it.

With the wind in our hair on a miserably cold, foggy morning we set out for the hills. They were shrouded in a blanket of white that day, imparting the landscape with an other-worldly atmosphere. We stopped for croissant and coffee at an artists’ village surrounded by monolithic granite hills (which looked more like gigantic boulders) and emerald green woods.

San Pantaleo is a fetching village built around a piazzetta, surrounded by a church and a few oleander trees. It started life in the late 1800s. By the 1960s, artists had started making inroads into it, living in traditional low stone cottages lovingly restored. They set up galleries and they worked with folk traditions that centered around ceramics, woodwork and wrought iron. It is the kind of place where you expect locals to sell homemade batches of honey, cheese and jams and indulge in lengthy conversations because there lifestyle is laidback and elegant. Even though it is not too far away from the flashy haunt of the rich and famous, the Costa Smeralda.

Near this village is a nuragic archaeological site. Since I have been banging on about the presence of mysterious nuraghi around the island, I thought I should put in a few words about the Tomba dei Giganti (Tomb of the Giants). If you want to dip your feet into mystery and antiquity, it is an interesting visit. It made me reflect upon the very impermanence of everything, how we humans never stop to think about it in our arrogant assumption that things should not decay or change, that they should not make way for another civilisation.

Later, we did a short hike above the camping village of Capo d’Orso, climbing slimy rocks and gaping at the way the wind had carved and chiselled granite, like a master sculptor if you will, and the way the granite rocks punctured the incredibly green landscape, while jagged rocks spread their talons along the coastline. It was a peaceful moment that, rendered romantic by Enza pressing kisses upon her partner’s face and murmuring words of endearment into his ears. I can still hear them, those two words of affection, amore mio, uttered over and over with the wonderful cadence of an Italian.

It goes with the mood of today. It is the birthday of a being who once lit up my life with love and happiness, Tuktuk.

Dawn when we left the Olbia Geovillage in the medieval town of Olbia
Olbia Geovillage, a resort populated by plenty of old tourists who were there for breakfasts, R&R and games of tennis.
The sprawling grounds of the resort
Nooks and corners of the resort
The shrouded hills of Sardinia in that spring of 2015
Granite hills and San Pantaleo
Restored cottages in San Pantaleo


The piazzetta



San Pantaleo café
Never one to ignore croissants 


A Native American with his elaborate headdress stands guard inside the café in San Pantaleo
Stuffed wild boar and unlabelled wine bottles make for strange partners 


Mushroom-shaped rocks protrude from hills of granite
The Tomb of the Giants was not built for the giants eh. Just saying. It goes back to as far as 2000 BC. The 100-foot tall carved rock marks the entrance to the burial chamber.
The Nuraghe people clearly believed in another realm. They had a passageway for the spirits through that low doorway.
The truncated cone of a stone fortress of sorts that is the Nuraghe, in and around which in huts the tribes must have lived.
Current inhabitants of Nuraghe la Prisgiona


The hike above Capo D’orso
Blurred us, on the hike that was of moderate intensity



Hello you, wonderful witch
Bear Rock
Giampi, Enza, Enza’s fiance Claudio and Parul
Palau and the coastline