December

I have been gone long. But at the back of my mind has been this constant hum, “don’t be a numpty, get back to the blog already!” So the days have passed while I have been thinking of making a return, but words seem strangely sparse nowadays. Do you know what I mean? I think you do. I might meet you and talk endlessly, as is my wont, but when it comes to blogging, I feel like a dried-up well.

An endless litany of days just merge into the other, though I do not imply that I am discontented. Sure I have my wobbles (like any of us), but I have never looked more inward than now, to keep my soul invigorated. In all of this nature has made the biggest difference. I have found great comfort in watching the machinations of the birds that haunt the bay here. The season has brought about its customary visitors – flocks of Canada geese that honk in the evenings as they fly home, wherever that is, in perfect formations; the ring-billed gulls who perch themselves on the walls unafraid, even as one jogs by; the Snow Goose that looks picture perfect; the male mallards with their glistening green heads and the females with their speckled brown plumage; the cutesy Buffleheads that bob in couples on the waters. I have learnt to tell the young ring-billed gulls from the mature ones, by virtue of their plumage. Maybe because I have poring over Audubon’s wonderfully detailed field guide.

Meanwhile a snow storm in the last two days has coated my world pristine white. It has brought such a spark of joy. So what if I find myself slipping on the ice that has formed in the tracks on the park or sinking deep into the snow as I try to get to the many snowmen that have cropped up around us. Everyone is out there, sledding down the gentle slopes in the park, making the most of the landscape bathed in snow. We all need what we can get to tide us over this odd year, isn’t it?

I have been recharging myself through art. Watercolours and charcoal drawings. I have also started an etsy store: www.etsy.com/shop/Artbybasu?ref=seller-platform-mcnav. I hawk my wares on it. That apart I have been working on going the self-publishing route with my book. It is daunting and involves loads of research, but at least I have some control over the process. One needs control where one can find it, don’t you think? Anyway, I hope to get back to blogging more regularly, now that I have gingerly made my way back here, and catch up with my feed. Needless to say, but I shall put it out nonetheless, I have missed you all.

To you my lovelies, I send the brilliance of snow and oodles of love from Bayonne. Off I go to demolish some quiches and making December count.

Broodings of a Grey Day

Some days the best thing you can do is go for a long run. The mind trots along with you, and well, by the time you have decided to call it a day and arrived home, you feel brand new. Nothing can dull the edge of an endorphin rush.

On other days, you stretch, stretch, stretch. A spot of gentle yoga to make you feel lissome.

And then, there are special days. When you gobble down cookies you have baked and admire your own handiwork. For, there is a time for everything. Isn’t that what they say? Right, so this be the time for oat cookies, and if you are in the business of details, laced with butter, chunks of espresso chocolate, demerara sugar, cranberries and sea salt.

Now, sat with a crime novel, I feel a bit like an elephant. A contented elephant, if I should have to point out. Guilt can come knocking another day.

So yes, instead of being outside and feeling the cold breeze stir up the cells, I am tucked cosily beneath my duvet, distracted by nothing in particular from this gripping novel, staring at the church steeple and the bland grey skies time and again, idly wondering when the park shall be mine again.

You see, the park, my park, as I call it bossily, happens to be a county park. Sometime ago, it was decreed shut by order of the governor of New Jersey. This means it is completely off bounds, for all of us. Yet, some have decided that this is the time they shall sneak into the taped-off stretches to stroll, jog, and walk their dogs. This also means that the copper is on his daily rounds, patrolling the park, bearing down upon this errant lot, his wrath released upon them through loudspeakers.

In the last few days, pounding the pavement alongside the park, staring dreamily at the water that sparkles bewitchingly in the bay across the greens, I have been startled a few times to hear people admonished so. Steely words ringing through the air. “Get off the park immediately. The park has been sealed for a reason.” For some reason, it puts me in mind of Mr. Goon and his spectacular “clear orfs”. You must know who I refer to. I miss Mr. Goon. I am feeling a bit random and meh, if you will.

Anyhow, I have a new haunt now. Forty blocks down from where we live, is a small park by the bay where across a slipway boats are launched into the waters, and where baits cast into the waters, a couple of anglers wait for hours on wooden decks. I have adopted this park for me own. It stays so empty that when I first came across it, I felt it was the town’s well-kept secret. But yesterday, lopping down to it, I was startled. It being a day flooded by stellar sunshine, beautiful and liquid, people had arrived in droves.

Answering the siren call of the sunny evening, couples sat on benches snacking on sandwiches, girls and boys ran enthusiastically around the tracks, and families played all sorts of bat-and-ball games on the massive stretch of green. All in all, one big joyride. And certifiably strange for the first few minutes, you know. Like a preview of what the world was like before a certain virus came calling upon us. 

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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.

On the Trail of Bonny River Towns

Summer has come in with a show of jazz hands. The days are hot, and the nights so lovely and soft, filled with breezes of pure delight and fireflies that twinkle and dim like their very lives depend upon it. The gentle warmth in the air has as if unlocked the ridiculously sweet fragrance of the Sweetgum trees in the park. Every night as I walk through the maze of tall trees, a strong scent cocoons the senses in the quiet of the night. A skunk skulks around in the dark and I look warily at its quivering fan of a tail. Would not do to spoil the peace of the night.

Which reminds me of the other evening when a friend accompanied me on my nightly walks. She shrieked hard at the sight of a skunk. I do not know who was more startled – the skunk or I.

Summer is the time to potter around and we have been doing so on weekends —  seeking the solitude of the small towns that flank the mighty Delaware. The river that the Lenape Indians called Lenapewihittuk. It means rapid river of the Lenapes. But I have found it to be a remarkably serene river for the most part. To pick your way slowly along the Delaware is to pave the way for bluish green hills and rolling farmlands (how they make me sick for the British countryside) which land you in the middle of surprisingly photogenic towns nesting along the river. Perhaps you remember Lambertville (there’s a separate photo op on it here) and New Hope. They are of the Delaware river town tribe that set us off on this trail.

Imagine here, towns with historic vibes, all part of the Lenape belt where the Algonquin speaking Native Americans lived. That is till colonisation took place and the settlers came in, hopping around, renaming places and rivers. Delaware, for instance, was named after a British politician, Baron De La Warr. Along with some heritage, throw in generous dollops of old architecture, art galleries, antique centres, decor boutiques, bookshops, and friendly folk — and you know it’s gonna be something special.

It turns out that the Raritan River, which is connected to the Delaware River via a canal, has its share of pretty townships. Like Clinton, a town in Hunterdon County in New Jersey, where we ended up in our quest for placid weekend rambles.

The main protagonist of Clinton is a red mill. The rest of the town is cobbled together with old houses built in ornate architectural styles. Plenty of balusters, gables, pilasters and porches there.  During the 1800s, travelling theater companies would make stops in Clinton because of its banging music hall. But all footsteps now lead to a couple of old mills there that straddle the South Branch of the Raritan River. I have a weak spot for barns and mills. The older, the better (but of course).

Under the sufficient glare of a June sun, we trod across the rusted grid of the truss bridge. On one side of it stood two picture-perfect mills, facing each other across the smooth spill of a man-made waterfall. A small flock of geese drifted around the waters and everything around was somnolent in the heat, like a picture playing out in slow motion. On the other side of the bridge, we watched an angler, submerged in knee-deep water, cast a fly rod into the mossy green waters. I wonder if he struck lucky. Meanwhile, people sat on garden chairs of some café that lined the pavement along the river – and I would like to think that they took cooling chugs of heady drinks to stave off the heat shimmering around us.

Now the Red Mill is the kind of place you walk into and get lost for the better part of an hour. The men behind its conservation must have put in enough thought to engage the visitor, for it is mighty easy to induce a snooze fest with so many details. It is when you recreate the lives and stories of people who worked and lived around the mill that it can spark off the imagination. The mind then latches onto the recreation of a lifestyle that was the only one the people of the age knew and lived. Several universes away from this modern world of ours where man has contrived to make life as divested of effort as possible.

A one-house schoolroom with its coal burner, small wooden chairs and slate-boards, the blacksmith’s quarters, the quarries where Irish immigrants must have slaved away to earn their daily bread, corn cribs and herb gardens, … life would have been tough and yet rewarding for the settlers who made a living off their surroundings. Just for those moments when I was peering into the schoolroom, sheds, quarries and log cabins, I was whisked back in time to the Smoky Mountains where the legacies of the settlers are everywhere, even in the mid of dense forests. Come with me into Clinton and have a peek?

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Main Street in Clinton

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Historic properties line the roads of Clinton

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A lane that turned out to be not Dickensian in the least but filled with vintage guitars, bearable Thai food and friendly locals.

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Maine Coons of Clinton on the prowl

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They have great personality, like you can well make out from the visage of this whiskered beauty.

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Candy pink and white ice-cream parlours

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The bootery in town

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Graffiti showcasing the Red Mill and the adjoining quarries 

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The old truss bridge 

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The stone mill on the South Branch of the Raritan River, known formerly as the Dunham-Parry Mill. Nowadays it goes by the name of the Hunterdon Art Museum. It was a grist mill before it was repurposed to serve as a space for art lovers. Before this particular stone mill came up, on this site stood another mill that is said to have been used by George Washington’s army to grind wheat in the mid-1700s.

 

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The Red Mill. A Mr. Ralph Hunt owned both the Red Mill and the Dunham-Parry Mill in the 1800s so that the town was naturally called Hunt’s Mills. However, his use of the Red Mill as a wool producing one ran into severe losses and he had to let go of it. The mill changed several hands over the decades. The subsequent merchant owners decided to rename the town from Hunt’s Mills to Clinton, after the New York Governor of the time, DeWitt Clinton.

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Fly fishing on somnolent days in the South Branch of the Raritan.

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The Red Mill went into operation around the early 1800s and has had many epithets since. First  was Hunt’s Mill, as you well know by now. Then it was dubbed the Black Mill. You see, one of the new owners turned from making grist to graphite. Greasy black dust issued forth from the mill. The same owner decided to switch next to the production of talc. So the next local name for it was the White Mill. And now, as you see, it is the Red Mill.

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Willows and an old pick-up made for good friends

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The look of the mill has changed with each ownership. The mill I saw that day with Adi was the result of centuries of tweaks.

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In the same county as Clinton, roughly 10 miles away, is the town of Alexandria where this one-room schoolhouse called Bunker Hill School House once stood. It was the Old Church School then and began life as a log building in the 1700s that was revised to give way to this 1860-frame. In use till the early 1920s, it was retired and used as a chicken coop and pig house before it was moved in the ’70s to its current location within the compound of the Red Mill.

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Students from the year 1891. They would have studied by the light of kerosene lamps and the sexes would have sat separately in the room. Girls to the left, boys to the right. The ‘good’ students would have been awarded the privilege of stoking the fire in the coal stove that heated the classroom. Students who were poor at studies would have got the dunce cap and high corner stool treatment. Loos were outdoors and these little men and women would have made do with corn cobs and catalogue pages as toilet paper. 

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Parsing the school room as it was. Windows came with generous frames as you can see, to allow the room maximum exposure to natural light, there being no electricity at the time. The children had sand tables at the front of the classroom to practise writing and on a shelf at the rear of this room there used to be pails in which the students carried their lunches.

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Coal stove

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Old school paraphernalia. No laptops here, mind you.

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The Tenant’s House for quarry workers. It had a parlour and kitchen on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second. The unit was first built by an Eli Bosenbury in the 19th century for the sum of $38. Life was notoriously simple. There was no electricity till the 1940s, so it was lived in the light of kerosene lamps, water had to be lugged to the kitchen in 8-quart buckets from a spigot located outside since there was no plumbing, children slept on the floor on mattresses, and stacked their clothes on the floor, there being no dressers at their disposal. 

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One of the quarry workers who lived in the Tenant’s House starting 1860 was Peter Dalrymple. He was a day labourer who paid up $25 annually as rent for this house. He had a large family that included his wife and 8 children. From the expression of their faces on this snippet, they look quite contented to me despite the hardships they must have faced in their daily lives.

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The replica log cabin, modelled on the early 18th-century childhood home of local Revolutionary War General, Daniel Morgan. Here is a typical way the original colonial settlers lived when they occupied this new land.

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The log cabin originally had a sod roof which had to be watered during dry spells. Log cabins usually had these small rooms because trees that were used were seldom more than 30 feet in length. Plus smaller rooms could be heated more efficiently by the open fires on which one cooked as well.

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Windows were small and few to prevent the loss of heat, and more than often they had no glass,  but were covered by a loose fabric. Roofs were pitched low and there was normally just enough headroom to allow a sleeping loft for children because it was warmer near the chimney.

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Essentially your kitchen garden

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Corn crib where corn was dried and stored

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The quarry was named the Mulligan Quarry after the Irish Mulligan brothers from Cavan County in Ireland who worked at the quarry and later bought it.

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Clinton was rich in dolomite limestone, a kind of calcite rock. After a great fire in the town in the 1800s, Mulligan stone was used to rebuild the town.

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The Stone Crusher and Screen House stands adjacent to the quarry. Limestone was dynamited and loaded here. Large chunks were pulverised and the screen sorted them out into four sizes that would then be led into chutes to be loaded onto wagons that would wait at the bottom of the building.

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An impressive 19th century carriage shed

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Kayaking on the South Branch of the Raritan

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Because one cannot have enough of such views.

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Or this, for that matter.

The River Town of Hope

An old grist mill caught my eyes. I was standing at the edge of the green truss bridge in Lambertville that spans the gentle Delaware and opens up to a twin town which does not however lie in New Jersey. Cross a line on the bridge and you find out that you have left the state of New Jersey behind; that now, my darling, you have entered the state of Pennsylvania.

With just the crossing of a bridge, we were in another town.

New Hope of the Lenni Lenape Indians; of a thousand acres of land gifted by King Charles II to a certain William Penn; of a succession of men who operated ferries and mills; of an industrial past riddled with working mills and the legacy of a small community that worked hard to produce paper, quarry stones and grind grains. That is till a bohemian lot of artists were attracted to the picturesque quality that this town presented with its farrago of farmhouses, mills and barns, creeks, and the river that slips gently by it.

Towards the end of the 1930s, a group of aesthetes bought the grist mill that you see in the lead picture. They transformed it into a summer theatre. The Bucks County Playhouse, where so many famous actors and actresses honed their trade before they tried their luck on Broadway. That is how artists put New Hope on the map for art aficionados. And then, the rest of us followed on a day drenched with sun, filled with hope about this town that called itself New Hope. Note that the mills had their say in deciding its title for there were the Old Hope Mills which burned down, only to be replaced with mint-fresh mills built as the New Hope Mills.

Right from the main street where the bridge disgorged us, we were hard pressed for which direction to take. But there was no chance of leaving any road unexplored here. There was a roll-call of restaurants and cafes, ice cream shops, hippie shops selling harem pants and Buddhas, decor stores where you could step in and complete wooden jigsaw puzzles only to find some pieces broken, gourmet popcorn shops, food markets promising a tantalising mix of world cuisine…and then there were charming old properties, stone houses and mansions. And a stone bridge below which a somnolent creek crawled past the photogenic grist mill of my fancies before it emptied into the Delaware river.

So what did we do? We ambled around as much as one could; had strange conversations with mothers holding onto occupied loos for their sons; scoffed delicious ice creams; bought popcorn; realised that a credit card had gone missing and which therefore an irate husband rushed to retrieve with remarkable scowls and mutterings; and perched ourselves at a quiet bar humming with couples, by the creek.

Weeping willows hanging shyly in veils of green around us, the waters of the creek sliding by in smooth emerald sheets while all along catching the reflection of leafy trees lining its banks and the dappled sunlight, and flights of sparkling wine. We were caught in the moment.

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A man-made waterfall at the former 19th century grist mill. Credit: Adi.

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Besotted by this old mill, so naturally you shall be treated to every possible angle of it. Credit: Adi.

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Baroque Victorian catches the eye on the main street. A man called Charles Crook had the mansion built for his wife who was a fan of scrollwork. Thus its elaborate stage-like front. Additionally, it was the first house in Bucks County to boast of running water. Mansion Inn is an 18th century property, and though the inn itself did not exist then, it is the site where George Washington and his men dined before heading for a battle of the American Revolution. Credit: Adi.

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A town of settlers, New Hope has these rows of picket-fenced historic brick and stone properties sheathed in ivy, that make the heart skip a beat. Historic plaques often tell of a house’s former owner and their importance in the scheme of things. Credit: Adi.

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The Town Hall once served as New Hope’s town hall, school and jail. Credit: Anuradha Varma.

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One of the oldest houses in New Hope is this, Carriage House. You can catch a night’s stay or more here because it is a bolthole for the keen, with exposed wooden beams and hardwood floors. Credit: Adi.

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A capture of my sister-in-law at the bar along the Aquetong Creek. Credit: Anuradha Varma.

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Sparkling wines and green creeks. Credit: Anuradha Varma.

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Crisp pita and divine avocado dips to cool scowls away. Credit: Anuradha Varma.

 

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Before falling upon that plate of grilled octopus with frenzy. Credit: Anuradha Varma.

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The bar by the creek. Credit: Adi.

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Picture perfect. However, that man on the bottom left hand side is not a dummy. For a moment I wondered if he was. Credit: Adi.

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Old grist mills can be grist for your fancy. Credit: Anuradha Varma

 

Whoop Whoop, These Summer Days of Bobbsey Twins and Vintage Gold Glasses

I woke up feeling chipper today. Was it because I was in a state of almost intoxicated sleep where I drifted in and out thinking, here I am getting out of bed now, but there I was, still in that beatific place? Or, was it because my husband appeared suddenly to lift me straight out of bed and deposit me in the bath? I could not tell, but the latter is rare commodity nowadays with Adi wading incessantly through a bottomless pit of work (on his part, the impetus would have been decidedly his morning dose of blended cold coffee).

Strangely enough, it is also one of those mornings when my body feels unaccountably light and frothy, ready to whiz up the intimidating Kanchenjunga (I told you, some kind of foolish and manic goodness this), or even brave the mugginess inside a cheese factory to churn cheese. If you have been inside of one of those, you know it is a feat. If you have not, imagine a steam room where you would not last more than 10 minutes. Or actually, you could just imagine plodding through the streets of Calcutta/Chennai in summer. Strange because it is the time of the month when my hormones do their crazy dance, and I feel far from dancing, more like curling up with a book into a ball of misery.

To not drive my male readers into the farthest corners of the universe, let me get on with the pleasant discoveries of this season. My sister-in-law was visiting us, sans family. She had heard from a friend about the antique towns of New Jersey. Imagine our chagrin. We have been here two years, and yet, we had no blooming idea about their existence.

It is thus that we found ourselves an hour away from home in a town called Lambertville.

Lambertville. When my sister-in-law read its name out loud as an antiquing town upon the Delaware river, my mind started twirling. Intimate cafés, leafy streets, sprawling antique stores, people ambling through a riverside town…We drove into this town that I had conjured in my mind. As delightful as Cirencester in its antiquing prospects. With as large antique stores that made the heart flutter with the anticipation of experiencing past pleasures.

The Lenni Lenape Indians lived in Lambertville before it was colonised. After the land was bought off them, the first resident of the town was a gentleman called John Holcombe. This was sometime in the early 1700s. Why is it not called Holcombeville then? Well, in came a family next. The Coryells. They developed a portion of the town and even started a ferry here, which was subsequently used by George Washington and his men, when they were quartered here during the Revolutionary War. But was it called Coryellville, or even Georgetown, as the Coryells wanted, after one of their sons who served in the New Jersey forces? No sir, no. The honour went to the Lambert family who swished into town a century later, in the early 1800s. The Coryells seethed, but that is all they could have done anyway, stewed in righteous indignation, because John Lambert was a New Jersey governor. And as we know, politicians are politicians for a reason.

The sky was chirping blue that morning, and the sun, it shone with no cares or clouds to mar its radiance. It was the kind of day when the Delaware glistened like a sheet of gently rippling mossy green, in no particular rush to be anywhere else.

People of the ‘Gram, be warned. In Lambertville, you lose your mind.  Historic mansions and brick row houses straddle its tree-lined streets. The architecture is Victorian and Federal in style, at once so classic and lovely that you want to walk in and declare one of them to be yours from this day on. The small churches with their aged visage and stained glass windows evoke awe and even the cafés are housed in period properties along quiet bylanes.

I went batty inside the antique shops. At one, I lay my hands on a pair of gold, wire glass frames. They were delicate, prompting me to picture their former wearer as a twittering old lady with powdery, white hair. Then there were some tatty Bobbsey Twins numbers I grabbed greedily. The chatty woman at the till informed me that they were from an old estate she had been to. She also told the elderly man she was conversing with, “Like this young lady, this generation loves everything old. All these things I buy at auctions, especially books, they are snapped up.” At this point I butted in: “Umm, I am not really as young as you make me out to be.” The man nodded wisely here and said, “Best not to go there.”

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We continued to flit from store to store in a leisurely manner, by the end of which Adi flopped down at a bench outside a cheese boutique selling farm-fresh cheeses — and declared that he was Done. Oh, but were we? After nibbling on some sharp cheeses, we found a Turkish man selling Azerbaijanian, Kazakh and Turkish carpets and bags, and my sister-in-law was stoked by her finds. It was the perfect day for rummaging through interesting wares and cracking good bargains, and may I add, forgetting credit cards behind at aforementioned Turkish shops. Which meant a thunderous husband, and later, Turkish sweets from the man who returned the card to Adi. Here I have to slip in surreptitiously that I also forgot my phone at home. The suffering was all mine. All those photographs waiting to be clicked. Sob. Naturally I have to borrow them from Adi, but he is on a constant stream of calls, so I shall have to leave the beauty of the artist town of Lambertville to the workings of your pretty mind.

But before I leave, it would be amiss of me not to mention the old canal that runs alongside Lambertville’s old railway station. The canal that was laid out by thousands of Irish immigrants in the 19th century till a wave of cholera swept through town. Most of those poor labourers lie buried alongside this canal where people stroll or bike today on long, summery days. Odd to think of these stories that stay concealed behind the most serene facades.

I wish that this was all. For Adi was knackered. But why be satisfied with one bohemian town when there may be the promise of another lurking around the corner? In our case, right across the Delaware and the bridge sitting astride it, was the town of New Hope. Naturally, we were thrilled to bits. Two artist villages for the price of one. We had struck gold.

 

 

 

Winds of January

When I woke up this morning, the temperatures outside (the real feel of it that is) read -25°C. I could hear the wind howling outside as I went about my workout in the rooftop gym, watching bony trees toss their heads around. Yet it looks so charming outside. The soft sun lighting up the park, touching upon grey wrinkled barks and casting long shadows into the afternoon, the shimmering blue waters of the Hudson that are clearly visible every winter… it could almost lull you into thinking of it as a beautiful spring day. Almost. Till you look down and notice the man at the bus stop cowering in his jacket and balaclava, battered by rushes of winds. Then you wonder, should you head out for a long walk by the river? The winds are exceptionally strong after all. Yesterday evening on my walk past the river, on the way to the grocery store, they shoved me all along till I reached home.

It has been some time now that a new year has arrived, yet it is a struggle to slip into the routine of January. There are degrees of reluctance at my end. I hate letting go of the year that has been quite so easily. I do wonder about the kind of ends and beginnings you all have had. Has it been a mix of the good, the middling and the not so good? The arrival of another year does tend to make one reflective.

I have a fistful to reflect about, having arrived home from our travels in the second week of this month. There have been some new experiences and repeats of others in the meanwhile. Paris, Strasbourg, Colmar, Delhi, Calcutta…along with a first-time experience of flying the Etihad Apartment. I will go about them all at my usual unhurried pace, but before starting with my travel posts, I wanted to drop in and say, hello my lovelies.

 

Upon the Snow-Laden Slopes of the North Cascades

The loveliness of the Pacific Northwest enveloped us from the moment we passed through deep forests of evergreens, beneath rows and rows of firs, cedars and hemlock. Through their thick outgrowths of needles, sunlight filtered in to rest awhile upon branches coated with moss which bathed in the glorious sunshine, seemed to have a life of its own. The forests looked like they have been around for a long, long time. Scattered log cabins showed up, framed poetically by all those evergreens and the snow-covered peaks of the Cascades. The Nooksack River popped up in places and it flowed gently gathering creeks along the way. Who knows if the Nooksack tribes still live around it, hunting and fishing, and generally, living off the land.

There is irony in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, for the tectonic forces that have given birth to it, can reduce it to rubble. The region is edged by the Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanically and seismically active sites. All those mountains that rear their heads majestically — Rainier, Adams, Baker, St. Helens and Glacier Peak — they are actually active volcanoes. It never ceases to amaze me that nature holds such great power over our miniscule lives. That a thing of beauty is not a joy for forever. One day it shall pass into nothingness.

Farms and ranches, horses and vast tracts of land rolled by, with hardly a human being in our field of vision for miles, till we stopped at a local brewery for lunch and pints of chilled beer. There the fortune cookie revealed that in my stars was a road trip. What are the chances?

When we got back on the road, the scene started changing slowly at first, patches of snow peppering the woods. Then we were passing through walls of snow, out of which road signs stood out as if to declare proudly that they had held on despite the barrage of snow. Here there were only dark evergreens standing stark against the thick cover of snow on the mountains. Mount Shuksan stood dramatically in front of us, dots of skiers to be seen along its slopes. And there was this world of beautiful silence to be inhaled at that moment, the roads ribboning below us into swathes of evergreens.

The plan was to drive high up into the meadows, right up to Mount Baker, but the road was closed with this fresh onslaught of snow. Instead, surrounded by mountains with tickling names of the likes of Triumph, Despair, Fury, and Terror (evocative of the emotions of climbers who would have scaled them, I would imagine, but then I am wrong because the surveyor who had named them had not climbed these bad boys), we trudged up snowy hills clad in pristine snow, so thick that it was powdery on top, and in places where I sank into waist-deep snow, the indents revealed an icy-blue base.

I can report that there were snowball fights thrown into the mix, dodging and hurriedly hurling clumps of snow, training our cameras on all that beauty. And there was the intense urge to lie flat on the snow, to just stare for hours at the blue skies above our heads and the white, white world around us, as skiers and snowboarders swished past us, leaving criss-crossing trails in their wake.

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Scenes from around the Mt. Baker Highway 

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Farms and ranches along Mt. Baker Highway

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The brewery where they brew beers in small batches. They are delicious, so I vouch.

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Catching the sun on a wonderful spring noon

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Roads that wind through thick forests of deciduous and evergreen trees

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Around the creek are snowshoeing routes running alongside the Nooksack River

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Mount Shuksan

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Glaciated mountains around Mount Shuksan

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Chalets in the Mount Baker ski area

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Spring in Seattle

It is May already and I wonder what it shall bring, but in the last sunny week of April, we were whirling around Seattle. It was my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday and the family had decided to get together at my sister-in-law’s who lives in a cul-de-sac on the outskirts of the city. It was a merry gang of 8 and there was enough feasting to last us a month. I have to confess that Adi and I have returned home with food tucked into our waistlines. The sister-in-law is a great cook just like her mother and it was a pleasure to do justice to her efforts in the kitchen. Plus there was all the wonderful eating out.

We gorged on juicy chicken wings at Wing Dome which does a bang-up job including smothering its 7 Alarm Wings in heavy-duty sauce. There’s enough of it. So much so that the wings are incidental to the sauce.

Now the 7 alarm is a serious challenge. Worthy individuals have admitted defeat. That would include Adam Richman of Man Vs. Food. Imagine the hottest dish you have had and triple it — and you have this shattering sauce that sets your nerves on fire. The crackling in this affair is that they refuse you tissues to dab your runny nose nose or burning lips. Who said it was pretty? Then there is no beverage to accompany this challenge of stripping meat off 7 wings within 7 minutes, if you are up for fame upon its Wall of Flame.

The Wing Dome is kind though. It advises you to order a recovery kit before you start on this path of intense adventure. Expect two glasses of ice-cold milk and an ice cream sandwich to feel anywhere near human again.

Three years ago, we had visited Seattle from the UK. A time when I had short hair and the ability to handle nerve-wracking hot food. The niece had insisted that we take part in the 7 Alarm challenge. With no time at hand, we had to relegate it to our next trip. What broke me on that particular trip was a certain sauce in Leavenworth. Naturally, I am a cautious creature today.

This time, Adi, his sister and I, each ordered one 7 Alarm wing. The brother-in-law refused to be party to this brand of gastronomic self-flagellation. I threw up my hands halfway through that one wing and was tearing up, hyperventilating, while Adi and his sister finished it. And then began their tears.

The rest of the holiday was spent mooching around decor boutiques and antique shops in Snohomish which were exquisite and we had to garner all the self-control we could to not lay our greedy hands on just about everything; celebrating the mother-in-law’s birthday at a beautiful restaurant on the Puget Sound, along with an early barbecue supper; laying her hands on some exquisite Beecher’s handmade cheese; catching up with old friends and listening to smoky jazz in charming eateries; ooh-ing and aah-ing over cakes and mousses from Taiwanese bakeries (and making a mental note to never scoff again at the likes of them); and stalking neighbouring dogs.

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The family catching up at the sister-in-law’s tastefully done-up home

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Pink azaleas and us

 

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Violet azaleas

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Spring glory on the roads

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And some cherry blossoms, please

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Noshing at The Pink Door in an alley off Pike Place Market 

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Browsing stores in Snohomish

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This beauty of a lamp now graces my sister-in-law’s home

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A caramel coffee brûlée that had me heart and soul at 85°C, the Taiwanese bakery 

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Chocolate bomb at the Taiwanese bakery

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Shaky shot at Wing Dome. Blame the 7 Alarm Wings!

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Oden the Mighty

 

 

 

Mevagissey

There is a small traditional fishing town in Cornwall called Mevagissey. I don’t know why but my mind meanders into its narrow steep streets that wrap themselves around tiny old cottages of cob and slate, maybe because it is a lovely sunny day here, and the waters of the Hudson are that calming shade of cerulean that makes you think of all things sprightly. In Mevagissey, Adi and I met a pasty lover. An English Cocker Spaniel who after bathing in the waters on a bright spring day filled with sunshine had pattered in with a pasty in his mouth, looking quite so solemn. He brought humour to that musty shop we were in, brimming with old camping junk and odd ends, old compasses, rusted lanterns, war memorabilia, grouchy old man behind the till.

Mevagissey named after two Irish saints is a modest place where you trudge up a maze of streets that taper up and down, past boutiques, cafés and chip shops. Locals still make their living from fishing, carrying on the legacy of fishing that has been part of its history like Looe which eked out a living from pilchards and smuggling. Pilchard was its backbone to the extent that pilchard oil lent electricity to Mevagissey which happened to be one of the first among the villages in the county to be thus powered up.

The surprise waiting for me in the village was a 18th century building on the harbour that turned out to be a small (and free) museum. A long time ago in that building — the roofs of which were constructed out of beams acquired from smugglers — they would have made boats for smuggling and repaired them. The passage of time has lent it a more sober personality as a museum where it documents life as it would have been in the village in times bygone. You tend to gawp at a different mode of life, a more simplistic one that you would have probably read about or imagined. Great oak beams, a big hearth that would have been warm once, cloam oven and butter churn, barley thresher and cider press. Trappings of another age and time. Oh and how delighted was I to find out that I was in the village that was home to the founder of Pears – you know that oval glycerine soap we all grew up with.

The harbour on which the museum stands is the nerve centre of all action. From it the aforementioned narrow alleys radiate into cliffs hugged by the rows of cosy cottages. Now, drama unrolls with great lucidity before the eyes if you find yourself on the harbour. Courting couples, fathers dealing with tantrums of lads aiming to challenge fearless gulls strutting around for a nibble of your meal please, families sitting along the edges of the harbour with their large polystyrene boxes stuffed with fish and chips, the motley crew of sail boats waiting patiently in the inner harbour.

The end result of the tootling around Mevagissey is that your appetite works itself up, gunning for a huge pasty or fish and chips. You know which it would be. I would peg it on peer pressure (all those people dipping into the contents of their boxes) and a heady mix of aromas wafting out of the doors of the chip shop. For along with the salty smell of the sea hanging thick in the air, you have to cope with those whiffs, or just capitulate. The tang of vinegar and lingering notes of fish frying. Surely you can smell it…

 

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