Snippets From Wears Valley

The road below the cabin dipped alarmingly. So sudden was this drop that it felt like rolling down a playground slide in tar. This road then led us on a serpentine drive up and down the mountains, past burnt-out trees, skeletal and stripped enough that it was a surprise they were standing at all. Half-built cabins too. A reminder that all it takes is a wildfire for every effort of man to be laid to waste (but here we are, creatures of toil and industry). The green was so very green, the hills with their stubbles of bluish-green startling, the sky thick with batches of clouds who could not make up their mind if they wanted to stay or go. Some settled atop the peaks to catch a breath before they dissolved into tears. The fancy of the clouds. In the Smoky Mountains, you will find that there is no guarantee. The rain clouds, they gather upon your heads in a jiffy. Before you think of the shortest swear, they let loose, and when they do, you’d better find a roof of some sort.

Before I get ahead of myself, we found ourselves in Wears Valley that runs parallel to the Smoky Mountains. Once a theater of squabbles between the Cherokee tribes and the first European settlers, and named for a Revolutionary War veteran, Samuel Wear.

It was an idyllic place. Isolated farms composed of old log houses and barns and sheds, mom-and-pop groceries with old biddies behind the till pointing out to basic tuck shops for tasty sandwiches and local fare, modest chapels and churches, mountain stores where they sell local concoctions of jams and jellies. Just an outpost of the old Appalachian culture with autumnal hoards of pumpkins and squashes as harbingers of this ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ that is finally upon us.

20180908_162402.jpg

20180908_163053.jpg

20180908_162952.jpg

20180908_163600.jpg

20180908_164028.jpg

20180908_164322.jpg

20180908_164447.jpg

20180908_164646.jpg

20180908_170246.jpg

 

2018-09-08 05.03.25 1.jpg

20180908_164840.jpg

20180908_164933.jpg

20180908_165937.jpg

Salem

Way before we drove into Salem, part of the hyphenated metropolis of Winston-Salem, my mind had travelled before my body. It had daydreamed about The Salem of the witch trials. The prospect of chancing upon stories of witchcraft, swirled in my thoughts, of the detail being in the devil just as in the case of the Pendle Hill witches of Lancaster. Could the famed Lancastrian occultists have given their Salem counterparts a run for their money, who knows (it’s such tosh anyway).

In Salem the absence of the bad girls were notable. Where were they? Adi shrugged, saying: “I was hardly interested in the history of any place before you came into life, was I?” Yeah Watson, we should have headed to New England.You might be an an ace at the memory game, but my mind is a sieve, dear reader. On an important aside, there are 26 Salems in the US.

Salem of North Carolina did not have the witches of its Massachusetts namesake, but it had the Moravians. Good old people of the faith with a solid moral compass, whose single men and women lived in the Single Brothers House and the Single Sisters House, respectively. The staid nature of their lives must have been challenged by the wilderness of North Carolina in which they found themselves when they arrived here in 1766, all the way from Pennsylvania. I think of them as adventurers who built a town from nothing, because there was no Winston then. It was just Salem.

After we had left behind the tall official buildings in Winston and its modern high street along with its brick town hall, it was as if we crossed an invisible wall into another time. Old clapboard houses, brick and dark timber-framed houses turned up along a leafy street, signs of tradesmen hanging from the eaves of some.

All of this linked to an event from the early 1400s. Years before Martin Luther, there was Jan Hus in Bohemia who daring to challenge the practices of the Roman Catholic Church was naturally burnt at the stake. His followers, who called themselves the Unity of Brethren, left the land and travelled to Saxony (Germany). Some took off to England. The rest of the Moravians, as they were called in England, moved to the New World.

Now the pity is that we had to vamoose. Our end game was a secluded cabin up in the Great Smoky Mountains. Tennessee was a four-hour drive from Winston-Salem, including stops. More if you slept in a McDonald’s car park after the torpor induced by a locally brewed ale from Salem (we are hard-pressed to pass up on liquid gold). As a result, we did not have time to wander into the living history museum of Old Salem, where they have tradesmen going about their various trades, for the sake of the curious visitor. Bakers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, gunsmiths, carpenters operate within the walls of Old Salem, in a bid to forget the modern world.

What we had instead was a gander at the charming architecture around us, thinking that this was the kind of town we should have seen bathed in the warm glow of gas lamps. Met a woman sauntering down the road in her old Germanic dress of embroidered bodice and waistcoat, long skirt and pinafore, her hair masked in a white cap. Somewhere from afar the clip-clop clip-clop sounds of a horse carriage reaching our ears in the tranquility of the night.

However, it was not too bad, what we ended up with. Actually no, it was nothing less than an esoteric triumph. Pumpkin muffins (oh yes, I have had my headstart on autumn) slathered (a touch too) greedily with honey butter, and a scrummy pecan pie, following Adi’s un-Moravian meal of beef burger and mine of a traditional chicken pie smothered in a thick broth. All ravished at a historic tavern where George Washington had dined during his tour of the Southern states in the spring of 1791.

2018-09-08 06.01.49 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.27.06 1.jpg

20180908_181244.jpg

2018-09-08 05.27.05 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.29.02 1.jpg

20180908_215250.jpg

20180908_181130.jpg

20180908_182549.jpg

20180908_182111.jpg

20180908_182457.jpg

20180908_182403.jpg

2018-09-08 06.31.45 1.jpg

20180908_180911.jpg

2018-09-08 05.26.48 1.jpg

P077-7-529.jpg

2018-09-08 05.27.03 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.27.04 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.27.00 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.26.59 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.26.53 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.26.55 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.26.52 2.jpg

2018-09-08 05.26.52 1.jpg

The Colours are Gold & Black at Winston-Salem

My connection to the southern town of Winston-Salem in North Carolina is my husband. He lived and studied in this sweet sleepy place, laid out by a cigarette baron and his philanthropic wife. It is the town where they till late handed out cigarettes for free in offices, even at the university that the same baron funded in the mid-1800s. Shocking? Hell yeah, but you see how the world has changed for the better, even though we might carp about it from time to time.

In more ways than one, the story of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine Reynolds is intertwined with the story of this institution that is sprawled over 300 acres of the couples’ property. Wake Forest University where Adi completed his masters in business administration. Three golden years of his life, he maintains, because it is here that he sprouted wings. He was living away from home for the first time, making friends who would last him a lifetime, meeting people from diverse cultures and professions. Truck drivers, military officers, biologists …you get the drift. It was suddenly so that he discovered the irresistible tug of living life on his own terms, inculcating the lesson of independence which we all need and prize at some point in life.

Eight years after passing out, he found himself back upon the rolling campus of his university, exactly a week ago. I do not need to spell out what he was experiencing because we all have our own bank of emotions to tap into. The kinds that well up our throats palpably upon return to beloved places that have been part and parcel of the formative years of our lives.

On a toasty hot Sunday, we were walking around its massive grounds. Adi taking me with pride to his familiar stomping grounds. The beautiful brick buildings built with flourishes of of colonial architecture; the ash trees in the compound draped in toilet paper, a beloved and curious tradition, the students refer to as ‘Rolling the Quad’, and in which they find self-worth in ‘tossing like a boss’; the photogenic chapel with its green steeple reaching for the skies where personalities such as Dr. Martin King Luther Jr., and former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, delivered discourses and addresses, to what I imagine to packed audiences, and which years and years later hosted Adi and his batch’s hooding ceremony; the cafeteria where Adi grabbed lunch, when the cook would rustle him up an indulgent plate of aglio e olio, it not being part of the menu. The black and gold colours of the school. It was rather a heady rush for my sweetheart.

Such were our rambles made of last Sunday. Peppered by a surplus of stories and memories.

All because hundreds of years ago, the power couple of their day, the Reynolds induced the college that Wake Forest once was, before it was elevated to university status, to move to Winston-Salem from a bucolic little town called Wake Forest a 100 miles away.

As it drizzles away this soggy Sunday, I think of this son of a tobacco farmer from Virginia who moved to Winston (then Winston and Salem were separate towns), innovated packaged cigarettes because at the time men were used to rolling their own tobacco, married Katharine Smith of Mount Airy, and used her sound business acumen to cement the fortunes of his tobacco company. Directed by her goodwill, R.J. allowed himself to be channelled into acts of goodness about town. And hundreds of years later, there was my husband and his band of friends, touched by the legacy of this man whose grandson went on to become an anti-smoking activist for a smoke-free America.

Isn’t life just the most fascinating and amusing business, made up as it is of emotions, of beginnings and ends, of ends and beginnings, wrapped in boxes of paradox?

2018-09-08 09.58.20 1.jpg
Meeting Adi’s friends from Wake Forest University. A warm and fantastic lot, with wives and tiny tots now. Thanks Heidi and Sachin for making us so comfortable in your beautiful home, and Bharath and Jyothi, for the splendid night of drinking and reminiscing at your place, with a generous amount of buttery popcorn and stirring debates. I don’t know why we did not take more photographs that night except for this dull, dark one.
the trio.jpg
When three friends meet after 8 long years at the cool dark bar of one.
2018-09-09 01.26.56 1.jpg
The town of Winston dominated by the tallest building in town at 100 North Main Street
20180908_215426.jpg
Winston-Salem
20180908_220358.jpg
Winston is the home of BB&T Bank
20180908_220734.jpg
The day was enveloped by dramatic clouds. The cloud-catcher in me was mesmerised.
20180908_175837.jpg
Wait Chapel

2018-09-08 05.29.22 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.29.14 1.jpg
The Wake Forest Logo — and in the backdrop is Hearn Plaza
2018-09-08 05.29.15 1.jpg
Wandering through the many corridors of the various buildings

2018-09-09 01.27.01 1.jpg

2018-09-08 05.29.07 1.jpg
At the former building for business studies where he sat imbibing lessons that were life changing
Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
Adi’s former home in Wake Forest that he shared with his friend, Sachin.
2018-09-09 01.26.59 1.jpg
Stories abound here. The most prominent being of a woman who washed her car in the shortest of shorts on weekends. I could picture the boys’ faces.
Processed with VSCO with  preset
When the years come rushing back, because let’s face it, there is no joy like letting nostalgia wash over you with abandon, and awe at the changes that time does wreak.

Of a Life Lived in the Limelight and its Loss

I am hardly ever starstruck. I would have been as a child, but as I grew up and my career path veered into journalism, meeting actors, sportstars and politicians, interviewing them on a regular basis, I lost that thing about looking up to anybody. Do you know what I mean? You see the people behind the personalities. Well, sort of. You see through one’s carefully cultivated veneer at any rate. But there are a few exceptions and one of them has been lost to us today. Who knows if Anthony Bourdain was a tortured soul. The man was certainly an urban poet.

I have never had the fortune of meeting him, but in the year 2008, which seems like some time ago, when I was 28 years old, when I had not yet met Adi, when life was a whirl of covering fashion shows, meeting chefs, and furiously digging for stories to produce at edit meetings, I did get to interview him through e-mail. Now I know how measly that seems. An e-mail interview, hah. But for someone who has always been an icon for me, a badass one, I was in the clouds. I wrote a small piece on this modern-day philosopher who took us places the way no one else did. The man who maintained this that “Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: To know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom… is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

I always had this secret notion that I would meet him. Someday. Somewhere. The world is unbelievably small and you never know who you meet around the corner. Do you have a small list of people you would really want to meet in real life, no matter how terribly it might dash your perceptions of the individual? Leonard Cohen was on my list. That never happened and it appears this shall not too.

The news made me think of an English professor when I was studying literature in college. He analysed the works of authors and poets like no one ever had for me. He was an odd one, this professor. But he was bloody passionate about English literature. If you think about it, it is the quirky ones who make an impact upon you. The disturbed souls. They know how to rent your thoughts, make you think of new things. Anyway, we were studying Somerset Maugham’s short story, The Lotus Eaters. In it the protagonist is a British bank manager who decides to control the fag end of his life after living it to the fullest on the island of Capri. It is a distressing story.

When we had arrived at the end of the story, the professor looked at his small batch of students and said on a sombre note, ‘From the day that we are born to the day we die, we have no control over anything. Have you thought about it that death is the only control we have over our lives? That we can choose when and how we end it. It is like writing your own end.’

I thought of him today morning when I got the news about Bourdain. Am I justifying the act of taking one’s own life? Hell no. But I cannot help empathising and this sorrow that wells up at the thought of one having to snuff out one’s own existence, as if not being in this world is the only way one can be.

So I can only say this, RIP Mr. Bourdain. You shall be missed.

 

 

Guest Post: Traditional Dubai

Hello guys, welcome to a guest post from Neha who blogs at Dubaiwikia

Dubai, the capital of glitz and glamour has a charming traditional side to it which brings to mind its transformation from a pearl diving and fishing village to the cosmopolitan giant it is now. Dubai’s history, along with that of the UAE, goes back for millennia. The city has a rich culture and a richer background which forms a tapestry of traditional jewels that adds to Dubai’s charm. Here are glimpses of Dubai’s traditional elements. You’ll see from them that the pearl-diving village still exists, underneath the glamorous layers.

Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood

Al Fahidi Historical neighborhood.jpg

The Bastikaya Quarter, or old Dubai, in Bur Dubai is Dubai’s oldest neighbourhood, built by Persian merchants in the 19th century, who named it Bastak, after a town in Iran. The Persian merchants were attracted to Dubai owing to the relaxed trade tariffs. This picturesque heritage neighbourhood has quaint lanes, sandstone buildings, and wind towers, an old but effective form of air conditioning. While in the Bastikaya Quarter, be sure to learn a bit more about Dubai’s history at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Visit the Dubai Museum, the Arabic Tea Garden, and other places of note.

Al-Fahidi Museum

Al Fahidi Museum.jpg

The Dubai museum occupies the old Al Fahidi fort which dates back to 1800. The front rooms showcase old weaponry, and various utensils that were used in Dubai from historical times. In a corner of the museum is a traditional “Sarasti hut” which is topped by a burlap wind tower. This is the sort of structure where Dubai’s past generations lived. The walls of this hut are made of palm fronds which allows plenty of air circulation.

Explore the museum’s underground displays which showcase traditional Emirati and Bedouin life. There are several rooms with life-size mannequins and dioramas that showcase every aspect of traditional Emirati life including prayer, traditional clothing, games, camels, falconry and local architecture.

The Dubai Creek

Dubai Creek.jpg

The Dubai Creek is a deep seawater inlet which was used as a main trading route at one point. The creek runs through the heart of the city, splitting Dubai into Bur Dubai and Deira. Along the sides of the creek are modern hotels, restaurants, office buildings and old sandstone dwellings and wind towers as well apart from bustling souqs.

Souks in Dubai

Souks in Dubai.jpg

Souqs are traditional Arabian markets. There’s a souq on either side of the Dubai Creek – one on the Deira side and one on the Bur Dubai side. The gold souk is located at Bur Dubai. At this old market you’ll see traditional storefronts selling 24 carat gold, along with rubies, diamonds, emeralds and other gemstones, all decoratively arranged in windows. The gold price here is much cheaper than elsewhere in the world, as it is tax-free.

The narrow and colourful spice markets in Bur Dubai declare their wares from a distance when the delicious smell hits your nostrils. Follow the exotic aromas to the traditional open stalls selling cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, saffron, and a myriad other spices.

On the Deira side, you’ll find stalls selling carpets, Arabian clothing and pashmina shawls. You’ll find some gold souqs there too, but not as many as in the Bur Dubai side. You can set up a quick bargain for any item you wish to buy from any of the souqs, something you cannot do at Dubai’s posh malls.

Heritage Village

Heritage Village Dubai.jpg

The Heritage Village is a reproduction of an old Bedouin village. It’s an attempt to showcase the way life used to be before oil was discovered and the world changed. Here you can witness traditional palm-leaf huts and wind towers being built from scratch. Wander around the replicated village and admire the handicrafts and woven articles made by the women. It’s a fine place to pick up some souvenirs. Be sure to observe the falconer’s ability to train and control his falcons at the Heritage Village – it’s a treat!

The Dubai Desert

Dubai Desert.jpg

The most ancient and most enduring aspect of Dubai and the UAE is its desert. The desert has been around for millennia, shaping the lives of the people of the Middle East. Sign up for a desert safari to truly appreciate the beauty of the mysterious, mystical red sand dunes. Even if you’re not into desert adventure sports, take a tripod and camera and capture some great sunsets or sunrises. The desert safari comes with typical Arabian entertainment such as the Tanura dance show and bellydancing, so it’s a good way to get to know the region’s culture as well.

The Dhow Harbour

Dhow Harbour.jpg

Don’t miss a visit to the old dhow harbour, where you can see old dhows lined up for repair and renovated dhows all decked up for cruises on the creek and on Dubai Marina. Observe the traditional methods of ship building that are still being followed. Dhows have been built in Dubai for many thousands of years. Today, dhows are being used not just for trading and fishing, but for recreational pursuits. If you’re in Dubai during May, be sure to catch the Al Ghaffal Traditional 60ft Dhow Race. Enjoy the emirate’s rich maritime heritage by signing up for a dhow cruise.

Dhow Cruise Dubai

Dhow Cruise Dubai.JPG

You can sign up for a dhow cruise of the Dubai Creek or Dubai Marina. The piece de resistance in either case is the beautifully renovated and decorated dhow, done up in beautiful glass with gold accents. The dhow, when fully lit up, makes for a festive sight on Dubai’s waters. Enjoy the pleasant atmosphere, on-board entertainment, and a wonderful Emirati vegetarian and non-vegetarian buffet dinner on board. On the Creek, you’ll pass by the old town, Sheikh Saeed’s house which is the birthplace of Sheikh Saeed, the Dubai Golf Club, and several major landmarks including a distant view of the Burj Khalifa. If you’re taking the dhow cruise on the Dubai Marina, then you’ll see the Burj Al Arab and the Atlantis hotel along with the Palm Islands close up. You’ll also get to enjoy close up views of the super yachts moored at the Dubai Marina, the yachts that cost millions of dollars.

While modern Dubai’s distractions are great to see and admire, it is Dubai’s traditional aspects that actually feed the visitor’s soul. Don’t ignore what your soul demands. Take a trip down the lane of history and make good use of your time in Dubai by learning the story behind its stupendous success. Learn about the grit of the Emirati, the vision, the determination and the nerve to keep trying. Be sure to spend time at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to know more about Dubai’s origins.

The Sassy Winter Spirit of Budapest

I overheard a conversation at a Christmas stall in Bryant Park in the first couple of weeks in December last year. No darling, I do not make it my business to stand around people earwigging, but in this case I was hovering near a stall of fairy lights wondering if it was the owner who was gabbling rather animatedly with another woman about the dilemma between choosing Budapest and Prague. I was tempted to squeak in with my two bits about both but it seemed then that the other woman had a handle on the situation. She noted: ‘For me, it is Budapest.’ Those five words settle Adi and mine emotions when you mention the Hungarian capital that throbs with youth and energy. Actually make it three since we were there in the winter of 2016 with our friend Vee who we had met during the hike to Pulpit Rock.

Vee is a chilled-out guy who lives and works in London managing the wealth of millionaries, smokes cigars and lives life to the hilt with his plethora of Russian girlfriends. The feminist would want to pack him a wallop for carrying on about the quality of women in various parts of the world but the guy is good at heart and a seasoned traveller. Poor Vee was enthusiastic about travelling with us to Budapest but then he found himself there with us and I suspect that he wanted to beat himself up over his commitment to the cause. You will know the why and wherefore of it soon.

On an early morning in December, a few days before Christmas, the three of us landed in Budapest. I was disconcerted. A frosty sight greeted my bleary eyes when I peeped out of the cab. There is a shot of it in the post I updated on The Little Corner Apartment, the cosy nook in the Jewish Quarter that Adi and I stayed in for the duration of our stay. Later, when we walked to Vee’s hotel about 15 minutes away from our apartment, we had a measure of the day-time temperatures that averaged -3°C. With wind chill, it stood at -8°C. We quickly scarfed down that crisp sweet bread called Kürtőskalács (important to note: you can pronounce it, just keep at it) with glasses of hot mulled wine. Cinnamon, allspice berries, cardamom, star anise, mace, ah how those wonderful spices hit the right notes as we stared at a mob practising Tai chi on the pavements outside the hip Jewish Quarter and wondered why.  We revelled in festive Christmas sights that made our nerves hum with pleasure even as we tried to deal with the importance of going numb with cold. It so happened that without an ounce of planning we had adopted a ritual that would stand us (for the most part) in good stead. Drinking, eating and walking, repeated all through the day and night.

We jump-started the routine at a café called Bouchon where couched within its warm mahogany tones, we tried out Hungarian red wines with fillets of rolled chicken and wild boar. At the end of the meal the waiter passed me a folded paper. Eeh, a note expressing amour? Even better, a hand-written recipe for the rolled chicken I had so admired.

IMG_20170109_140252_832.jpg

97baad05c9e74d9dbd80d20ae4010395.jpeg
Street Tai Chi in progress
IMG_20161219_192709.jpg
Jewish Quarter
IMG_20161220_123613.jpg
Jewish Quarter
IMG_20161221_182951_005.jpg
St. Stephen Cathedral (Szent Istvan Bazilika)

IMG_20161220_180245_783.jpg

IMG_20161221_181752_818.jpg

IMG_20161221_181059_003.jpg
Wild boar and potato croquettes
IMG_20161221_181149_635.jpg
Rolled and stuffed chicken served with an apple and plum salad
IMG_20161220_123801.jpg
Heroes’ Square (Hősök Tere). Here there are statues of the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes, the Magyars, at the time of their arrival to the Carpathian Basin in 895 AD. Here there also figures statues of national leaders and the tomb of the unknown soldier.
IMG_20161220_135754_794.jpg
Vajdahunyad Castle 
IMG_20161220_130603.jpg
In the grounds of the castle 
IMG_20161220_141050_597.jpg
Vajdahunyad Castle was originally built out of wood and cardboard by the architect in 1896 commemorating a thousand years since the medieval Magyars had first settled on the plains of Pannonia.
IMG_20161220_124715.jpg
Then they found that its blend of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Romanesque architecture appealed to the public, so it was rebuilt in stone.

IMG_20161220_125101.jpg

IMG_20161220_124425.jpg
Adi tests the water of a spring near the castle
IMG_20161219_183923.jpg
Shots of Pálinka, traditional fruit brandy, became our go-to everyday
IMG_20161220_123226.jpg
A Ukrainian stone-carrier ship that is a bustling concert venue now
IMG_20170214_184801_355.jpg
Enough wine in my veins 
IMG_20161220_123301
The jazz outfit from NYC that had us grooving
IMG_20161220_180816_989.jpg
Christmas markets

IMG_20161221_183754_839.jpg

IMG_20161220_193101_323.jpg
Deep fried Hungarian bread. Lángos. The guys were so surprised at the sight of it that they left me to finish it all by myself.
IMG_20170109_140657_577.jpg
Hot mulled wine
IMG_20161220_180558_300.jpg
Christmas markets at Deák Ferenc tér
IMG_20170109_140540_043.jpg
 Deák Ferenc tér
IMG_20170109_140609_001.jpg
“If my Valentine you won’t be,
I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

 

Night Streets of Rome

It was the morning of Christmas eve when I wrote this but life right now is caught in a tornado of socialising in Delhi where the days are pleasant and the sun is ripe with mellow beauty. The skies are blue and I am getting a few sunrises into my kitty as I head out for early morning runs with the cool wind in my hair. Here I feel the need for four stomachs as I did in Rome (as I always do) for my mother-in-law has been rustling up feasts every day for meals at home, you see. Time at hand is a bit tight so I thought I would share some clips of the night lights of Rome. The Christmas spirit there is all over the city and quietly cemented by the elegance of its ancient Corinthian columns, the cupolas and domes and clock towers.

We drank plenty of wine, munched on bruschetta, pizza, cacio e pepe and aglio e olio pastas, walked arm-in-arm down the streets so softly lit, the old buildings casting half shadows, the occasional pair of lovers around the corner caught in a passionate embrace, men zipping down the cobbled streets of the alleys on Vespas with alarming speed and recklessness, the Carabinieri posted everywhere with their rifles and enough male beauty to make you go ooh. We sat with a fashion designer friend of mine and her half-Italian prince, drank into the night with stories of faraway places and times, and it felt heady, all those stories with sips of prosecco.

An Italian artist from Florence possibly got Rome in a heartbeat when he noted sometime in the 14th century that it is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning. Because that is what it does for us, produce the yearning to walk its cobbled streets for a long, long time till you want to walk it no more. But how can that even be?

On that note of wistfulness, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas with plenty of mulled wine and Christmas cake and roasts, and I also raise a glass of wine, a deep ruby, to you from my end.

Christmas tree on Spanish Steps
Us
Spanish Steps
Piazza di Spagna
Festive shop windows

Blessed Virgin Mary stands atop the Column of the Immaculate Conception

Carousel on Piazza Navona

Piazza di Trevi
Trevi Fountain

Rubino, the Maremma sheepdog
Pepperoni pizza
Bruschetta
Chocolate cake

Man plays with fire on Piazza Navona
Operatic singer at the Temple of Hadrian
Corinthian columns of The Temple of Hadrian
Off the Ponte Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant’Angelo

Malmö

The road from Copenhagen to Malmö is charmed. In just a matter of 186 Swedish Krona (20 Euros) and 40 minutes, we were in another country, and more importantly we were on the Øresund Bridge, synonymous with the Scandinavian crime show, The Broen (The Bridge). There was heightened anticipation thrown into the mix though it is a matter of some relief that you are not stopped by the discovery of a body, cut in half, lying on the bridge (here I refer to The Broen, so calm down and keep your hair on). The bridge is impressive on its own without the need for added drama for it is the longest road-and-rail bridge in Europe linking up the cities of Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmö in Sweden that lie on either side of the Øresund strait.

The bus was stopped at the Swedish toll booth by Swedish cops for on-the-spot checks, a young German Shepherd in their tow who sniffed his way most judiciously around the various bags stowed into the luggage compartment and the passengers. The idea is to ferret out drugs – we were travelling from Copenhagen, home to that druggie-hippie haven called Christiania . The skyline of Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, was marked by The Turning Torso, a building that looks like it has been twisted along its length quite thoroughly, and the brainchild of the famed Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. I had seen his work previously in Venice in the form of a stone and glass bridge, and later The Oculus in Manhattan. The man knows how to boggle the mind.

For some perspective, Malmö is a formerly fortified Hanseatic port that traces its roots to the year 1272. Yet my three points of joy in the old town square had nothing to do with its history.

The first was a shoe shop, the signage of which read Crockett and Jones. What? Shoes from Northampton in Malmö? There we were in the shop staring lustily at these beautiful shoes crafted in leather, the finest stitches in place (with prices to match), from a brand that was started by two heavily moustachioed men — a certain Charles Jones had got together with his brother-in-law James Crockett “to encourage young men of good character in the towns of Northampton and Coventry to set up business on their own”.  The tall Swede inside the shop held up a pair and said: “They come from Northampton, an English town known for its shoes.”

That is travelling in a nutshell for you. You never know what lies around the corner.

The second instalment of my thrills was in acquiring a box of Summerbird chocolates. A Scandinavian chocolatier brand pompously priced but hey when a piece of chocolate is made from Trinitario cocoa beans, it wins all arguments. There are three noble species of cocoa beans – the rare Criollo, the common Forastero, and then Trinitario, which is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero and a blend that brings together the best of both beans.

Now, it is important that you picture a blustery, frigid day when we walked across the three squares in the city. You would then be able to imagine the indescribable pleasure that surged through us as we clapped eyes upon the most wonderful coffee shops I have ever seen. Their warm interiors called out to me, “come, child come”. The coffee shops in Sweden are a coffee lover’s dream. Warm wooden interiors, white walls for contrast, books stacked by the dozen into shelves, antique yellow lighting. It builds up a snug atmosphere where to give in to the Swedish coffee culture of fika — a break that demands a cup of coffee and a slice of cake — becomes a must.

There’s a self-respecting strain of passion for coffee in the country. For one, their historical customs records bear testimony to the fact that the first batch of coffee was shipped into the country in 1685. But it was King Karl XII who sparked the trend of drinking coffee in the 18th century when he returned to Sweden from Turkey with a Turkish coffee kettle. Coffee in those days however was an expensive drink but who could stop the bon ton when there was a statement to be made. I wonder what Karl XII would have made of these coffee shops. Would he have given up all thoughts of conquering far flung countries and just given into slices of chunky cake and a cuppa?

Stepping out of our coffee haven, we spotted the equestrian bronze statue of King Karl X in the middle of Stortorget, Malmö’s Big Square. He was Karl XII’s grandfather and an illustrious figure in his own right who had wrested the city’s freedom from Denmark. A city that is marked today by the contrast between its present through futuristic buildings and the old through structures of great beauty such as the castle, a commandant’s house and the Rådhus, its 16th-century City Hall that is featured in the lead photo of this post. Later, we headed into its 19th century railway station, refugees crammed into its every nook and corner, waiting to take the train to Lund.

2017-12-12 03.46.58 1.jpg
A blurred view of the Øresund Bridge
IMG_5285.JPG
The Øresund Strait
2017-12-12 03.46.57 1.jpg
On the Øresund
2017-12-12 03.46.57 2.jpg
The Swedish toll booth on the way to Malmö

2017-12-12 03.46.56 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.46.56 2.jpg

2017-12-12 03.46.55 1.jpg

IMG_5302.JPG

2017-12-12 03.35.44 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.35.46 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.46.54 2.jpg

2017-12-12 03.35.40 1.jpg
A group of musicians

2017-12-12 03.35.39 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.46.54 1.jpg
Crockett & Jones
2017-12-12 03.35.39 2.jpg
Summerbird chocolates
2017-12-12 03.35.41 1.jpg
Stortorget, the big square in the city
20151109_113904.jpg
The statue of King Karl X in Stortorget

2017-12-12 03.46.52 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.35.47 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.46.52 2.jpg

2017-12-12 03.46.51 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.35.45 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.35.42 1.jpg

2017-12-12 03.35.46 2.jpg
The railway station 
2017-12-12 03.35.43 2.jpg
Skånetrafiken commuter trains
2017-12-12 03.35.43 1.jpg
The coffeeshop inside the Malmö railway station
2017-12-12 03.35.44 2.jpg
Do you see what I mean? On days I imagine myself tucked in a corner in one of these coffee shops of Malmö, absorbed in a juicy crime thriller along with nibbles of cake.

 

Copenhagen

Life is not life without a polar bear on the piano, another on the guitar and a third on the violin. That is unless you find yourself in Copenhagen on a frigid November weekend staring at three benign polar bears playing music (because it is the food of life, dear knucklehead) to drown out the chattering of your teeth. It was 2015, I was going to turn 35, and my husband had decided that it had to be in a nation that declares itself the happiest in the world.

There we were in a smart city, where the people are smart enough to reduce their carbon footprints by cycling everywhere, the bars and cafes straight out of the pages of slick magazines, where not a speck of rubbish dots the streets… heck, even the streetlights are smart – yet in that smartest of all smart cities, the shower of our hotel room was not quite so sharp. I had expected something akin to the technologically advanced loos of Southeast Asia, but no this idjit here, it sprayed water all over the bathroom. We changed rooms thrice in the matter of a morning which meant that we cadged up a whole lot of bonus points. You can never have enough points if you rely on them as much as we do.

After we had found our point of reference in the city, the Magasin mall at Kongens Nytorv, we walked around the city doing almost nothing touristy. That would include not visiting the 19th century amusement park, Tivoli, or entering the palaces and castles. Not eating bugs at Noma for a fortune. I would like to point out here that The Little Mermaid is poof, bloody underwhelming. Instead we walked and walked, taking it all in. The turquoise towers and spires, girls on skateboards swishing by, bikes just about everywhere and then those trendy bike carts, hip cafes and brewpubs in working class districts such as Nørrebro, the business district of Ørestad with architectural marvels like the Black Diamond Library…During the course of these rambles about town, I loved looking up because oh those vintage street lamps, dangling from wires above the streets like pretty earrings.

In Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront, where Hans Christian Andersen lived during the 1800s and where old townhouses in peppy colours line the canal, people queued up for boat rides. We queued up for piping hot churros and chocolate at Rajissimo, a chain of cafés in Copenhagen which serves homemade ice-cream, coffees, waffles, basically all kinds of fried dough, and tells you ‘to be good to yourself’. Who am I to bypass such wisdom on an icy evening?

After, we sat outside by the canal at one of the old bars, wrapped ourselves in blankets kept outside on the chairs and sipped on chilled draft beer. When we moved inside to try out more varieties of local beers, three giggly girls who manned the bar shared stories with us of the curiously oriental décor of the bar. In Nyhavn, on the evening of my birthday, we also almost entered a strip bar mistaking it to be a Chinese restaurant.

The one touristy thing to do in Copenhagen which is quite unmissable is the Carlsberg Beer Factory. Its brewery dates back to the year 1847 when the founder J C Jacobsen, a Danish industrialist and philanthropist, started brewing beer using new scientific methods in the Carlsberg laboratory.

The story of the Jacobsens is worth exploring and you will also find yourself quaffing free pints of icy beer apart from gaping at the brewery’s astonishing collection of beer bottles, apparently the world’s largest, numbering about 16,600 different kinds. The numbers might have gone up. They are vintage beer bottles, hundreds of years old. I spotted Thomas Hardy’s Ale, said to be produced only once a year and first made in 1968 to commemorate Hardy who spoke of a strong Dorchester beer that would be “the most beautiful colour an artist could possibly desire, as bright as an autumn sunset.”

Now Carlsberg’s ambassadors are tall and muscular. Jutland horses who are part of the staff. Louise and Laura, Jern and Oda Brit…they have names labelled outside their stables with their lineage — their far (father) and mor (mother) listed out too — for they have stellar genes. They could easily play the role of warhorses for which they were originally bred but they have made the switch to tamely carry beer around the city in old carts during special occasions.

A dream birthday trip that included a helluva spat when I stomped off to see The Little Mermaid by myself. Now I wonder what we fought about but I remember taking the train by myself to the Langelinie Promenade and caught her photo thus on a dull rainy evening when the bent of my mind did not allow me to be partial to an insipid little mermaid waiting for her prince to show up.

20151109_103827.jpg
Copenhagen airport
20151109_102142.jpg
Sights from a Danish bus window

20151109_102020.jpg

20151109_101443.jpg

20151109_101632.jpg
The castles and palaces of Copenhagen 
20151108_121629.jpg
The hotel room that is worthy of a mention because it earned us points and an upgrade

20151108_144650.jpg

20151108_143106.jpg

20151108_142839.jpg

20151108_144044.jpg

20151108_143349.jpg

20151108_150007.jpg

20151108_150202.jpg

20151108_151224.jpg

20151108_152651.jpg

20151108_152454.jpg

2017-12-07 12.16.02 1.jpg

20151108_162120.jpg
Nyhavn
2017-12-07 12.16.01 1.jpg
‘It’s bloody cold. Can we just go inside?’
20151108_170514.jpg
In a Nyhavn bar

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

2017-12-07 12.16.00 2.jpg

20151109_183718.jpg
A birthday night dinner

2017-12-07 12.16.00 1.jpg

2017-12-07 12.04.32 2.jpg
Carlsberg Brewery

2017-12-07 12.04.32 1.jpg

2017-12-07 12.04.31 2.jpg

20151110_150534.jpg

20151110_150813.jpg
J.C.’s son Carl Jacobsen
20151110_150702.jpg
Carl Jacobsen at work in his lab
20151110_150657.jpg
Carl Jacobsen and his crew at the brewery
20151110_153615.jpg
The Carlsberg gardens reveal the Jacobsens’ enthusiasm for art
20151110_154113.jpg
French sculptor François Jouffroy’s ‘The First Secret’ (1839)
2017-12-07 12.04.30 2.jpg
The brewery’s collection of beer bottles

2017-12-07 12.04.31 1.jpg

2017-12-07 12.04.29 2.jpg

2017-12-07 12.04.30 1.jpg

2017-12-07 12.04.29 1.jpg

2017-12-07 12.15.57 2.jpg
Deserted train stations in the Ørestad district
2017-12-07 12.15.58 2.jpg
In the Ørestad
20151109_164427.jpg
A blurred bit of The Black Diamond in Ørestad
20151109_165008.jpg
Magasin du Nord on the grand old square of Kongens Nytorv
20151110_170427.jpg
The Little Mermaid
20151108_144440.jpg
Three musicians 

 

Christiania in Whispers

Two years ago for my birthday, Adi booked us on a flight to ultra hip and modernist Copenhagen. The emphasis in the Scandinavian city — where everything is cutting edge, where nothing is stick-in-the-mud or capable of inducing ennui — is on going green. Cycling is the national mantra, hotels and restaurants are overwhelmingly environment friendly, organic food and beer is de rigueur. There hygge is embraced by bringing the outside into the inside — inexpensive, cosy elements which transform the interiors with an intimate and warm touch at once. It is just fitting that there should be a green quarter in this city. Truly green.

Christiania. Utter it and you are usually faced with ecstatic reactions. A cousin sister-in-law of mine calls it the land of ‘sweet air’. Her friend had gifted her a piece of land in Freetown Christiania. Another chap, one of our building residents and a Sheldon lookalike, went into raptures. ‘Isn’t it just wonderful?’ he asked us with a gleam in his eyes as we chugged on bottles of beer on our terrace a few months ago. My reaction was a piteous ‘erm’.

On that shivery November day in 2015, beneath a sky that was a dome of soulless grey, we took the metro to the Freetown of Christiania. After we had passed a few whimsical statues, cyclists clad in coats and beanies, and a church with a serpentine spire wrought in gold it seemed, we entered the bohemian quarter. A sign announced, ‘Now you are leaving the EU’.

Beyond the gates stand a district which was once a military base. Abandoned in the ’70s, it was taken over by hippies and declared as an autonomous neighbourhood, where lay the beginnings of a self-governed and self-sustained society. The Danish government of the day granted it the status of a ‘social experiment’ and therefore exempt from taxes. The buildings inside are shabby but inhabited. As proof, you spot pairs of mud-coated tiny and big wellies propped up outside the worn-out doors.

Only bikes ply within the neighbourhood. It is a car-free zone, you see. Badass graffitis pop up on the walls of old barracks, a cafe or two shows up, pop-up markets sell hippie paraphernalia, and then there’s the stretch of Pusher Street where cannabis is rife in the air. From behind wooden kiosks smothered in camouflage nettings, a guy in dreadlocks whispered, ‘Brother, you smoke?’ I whispered to Adi, awed by the public nature of it, ‘Does he mean hash, baby?’ And the fellow whispered again, ‘Yes, he does’. A game of Chinese Whispers.

I had grand plans. That I would document it all on my phone. Capture Christiania in stills. But the signage at the start of Pusher Street declared ‘no photos’ because ‘buying and selling hash is still illegal’ (right), and my beloved, who lives by the rulebook, confiscated my phone right away. I sulked and stomped, wheedling in phases to extract my phone, but he would not budge. ‘Rather me than some druggie,’ he said. Organic vegetable stores, decrepit but colourful house fronts, yoga studios, a boutique or two, bikes, a lake, a tiny temple with a miniature goddess, muddy tracks… in my field of vision it unravelled rather like a post apocalyptic scene. Soon the heavens burst above our heads. We ran through the mud-caked paths in Christiania soaked to our skin, feeling grimy and the urge for a hot shower to slough off the veneer of slovenliness. Later we sat in a bakery on Dronningensgade and comforted our soggy selves with flaky bites of stuffed pastry and pizza.

I am not its biggest fan but the notion of Christiania is unconventional. Anything that bucks conventions is a winner in my books – the fact that there can be an alternate way of living and a place where no one owns private land is intriguing. Like my cousin sis-in-law, you too can own a share of this hippy haven. But it does not make you a stakeholder in the property or allow you voting rights. It is symbolic — a donation to the cause of the people of Christiania who are buying the 85-acre land from the government in parts. Also, there is the strange dichotomy of it – within the paradigm of a strictly law-abiding city, it is incomprehensible that Bohemia might prevail, but exist it does and with an avant-garde flair.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

2017-12-02 12.33.25 2.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.24 2.jpg

20151110_115156.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.23 2.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.10 2.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.18 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.17 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.12 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.15 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.15 2.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.11 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.14 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.11 2.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.22 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.09 1.jpg

2017-12-02 12.33.08 1.jpg