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

 

 

 

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.

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Street Tai Chi in progress
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Jewish Quarter
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Jewish Quarter
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St. Stephen Cathedral (Szent Istvan Bazilika)

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Wild boar and potato croquettes
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Rolled and stuffed chicken served with an apple and plum salad
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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.
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Vajdahunyad Castle 
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In the grounds of the castle 
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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.
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Then they found that its blend of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Romanesque architecture appealed to the public, so it was rebuilt in stone.

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

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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.
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Hot mulled wine
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Christmas markets at Deák Ferenc tér
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 Deák Ferenc tér
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“If my Valentine you won’t be,
I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

 

The Heart Warbles When It’s Home

I am back in Bayonne. Back home. Though really, so many homes have been left behind. The heart throbbed yesterday when I had a layover at Heathrow. The hum of the familiar is intoxicating.

Now, mizzle. The lavender grey stretch of the Hudson. The park with its army of trees stripped clean of leaves, but oh wait, a few golden leaves cling to one. A boy in black waits at the bus stop holding on patiently to his black umbrella, buffeted by the wind. It must be freezing outside (yes, I am guilty of putting a lead photo from a few months ago).

It is as warm inside. The lemon verbena candle burns quietly and the room smells citrus. Cosy. Behind me Adi clacks away on his computer, and then there is this, me clacking away on Bertie. Serenity. I am home.

I woke up in the middle of the early morning hours. An unsettling sense of being suspended in some other space. Where was I? It took some time for my discombobulated mind to soak in the fact that I was in our own room. Heavens, it was bliss. Then I looked at Adi’s peacefully snuggled form, cuddled up, and rejoiced. To be back where you belong. Is there any feeling as good as that?

So please, no more air travel anywhere, at least for some time. This 20-hour journey has scrambled my brains. The rigmarole of shedding clothes and shoes at security, putting them back on, repeating it all over again, endless eating on the flight, lack of enough water, snacking upon Marmite popcorn (egad), reading Jazz-age tales from Fitzgerald, then nodding vigorously at the wisdom of Mark Manson and snickering at his sense of humour, watching movies and TV shows, listening to music wondering about when it should all end, insufferably long queues at immigration at JFK Airport, the people here who insist on referring to landing cards as receipts. I am done.

So you know what to do when you want to punish someone or take wholesome revenge (you sweet human). Just put that someone on a long-haul flight.

Peace out.

 

 

The Nostalgia of Calcutta

The days have melted away in a puddle of emotions. I leave tomorrow for Delhi where after spending a day at my in-laws’ place, I head home to my Adi. But there is a feeling of disquiet that haunts me when I walk at night upon the terrace of my childhood home. In the shadow of the coconut trees that stand silhouetted, tall and straight-backed, against the moonlit sky, I cannot help brooding upon the changes that time shall bring. For it always does. It is the one constant in this journey of life. Change. For these trees have been silent witnesses: To the years drifting by as my parents walked in to this home of ours, young, full of dreams and aspirations; time as it slowly whittled down their energy and youth; then us as we grew up, left everything behind to chalk our own paths and took off for distant places to set up new homes. In the shadows of these trees, I cannot help thinking about whether this be the last time that I shall see everything as it should be. Fears of mortality but then there you have the inevitability of living.

Everything has changed so where we live. People have tripled in number in this quiet suburb of Calcutta. Where there were green vacant plots earlier, there stand houses, some not quite aesthetically pleasing. The ones that have not been yet claimed by anyone have been transformed into tiny rubbish dumps. The mayor of our town though is proud about organising various events for the residents, putting together musical events and putting up hideous sculptures of animals in the parks. Who wants to see a python in stone dangling above their heads, eh? Would it not be much better to see those resources pooled in to clear the roads of rubbish and concrete dumped on the pavements?

The old neighbours are no more there. They have all slowly opted out of the race of living. I could not even spot the house of one of my dearest friends because the changes in her alley have been quite remarkable. My early morning cycling yielded pleasure and sorrow in equal measures.

Yet behind these melancholic thoughts are moments strung together by memories. Meeting an aunt who was our neighbour in Oman. Her husband died of a stroke a few years ago but I have memories of his canvases that he painted with great pride and whenever I visited him, bullying him to part with a canvas, he would just ask for a kiss on the cheek in return. The school friend who is married into a conservative family and is happy though she lives within the shackles of her community. Her stories emphasise upon me that India has a long way to go before women achieve their right to even make their own decisions. My hope lies in women like my friend who are pushing the boundaries in their personal lives yet she has to take the permission of her husband to step out of the house.

I sauntered around with Adi before he had to leave and made sure he ate his way through the four days he spent in Calcutta. Chanced upon film sets in the old houses of South Calcutta (the one in the lead photo), railed against the prevalence still of ‘Indian Standard Time’ — everyone likes to be punctual about turning up late, chased food with my brother and his family who have flown back to their home in Lagos, met many cousins and friends, toyed with food at old haunts that soothed the senses with delirious pleasure. Mughlai at Arsalan, Chinese at Bar B Q and Beijing. The old names. Then stopped by new places like Sienna Café where I snacked on organic pesto and mozzarella layered squares of bread with a cousin from Glasgow, sighed with her over lush saris and traditional textiles, caught street food around home – the usual suspects you know. Egg rolls and fish fries, phhuchka (hollow semolina balls filled with tamarind water), samosa and kachori chaat (tangy, spicy snacks), pathishaptas (traditional pancakes stuffed with coconut and date palm jaggery) experimentally stuffed with meats.

But do you know about the winner in this cornucopia of flavours? My mother’s many veggie and fish dishes. She had lost her touch when she took to bed with depression for years but now she is up and about. And boy, can she cook. A strange goodness spreads like a halo around my head as I eat these simple and subtle flavours. Ma has no recipes. I suppose if you go by recipes strictly, you can hardly invent new dishes. With every spoonful of her many veggie and fish dishes, I am overcome. I hope someday I can cook like her. I might not like her stubbornness in certain quarters of life but she is a brick.

Now I cannot possibly put it all down in words because being home is overwhelming but I shall try and present some of these moments through shots captured in the split second.

Doors of Saltlake
The Freemasons’ Lodge in Calcutta is a secretive affair on Park Street where there remains some ancient prints from Jerusalem and one of the original Freemason lodges in London which was destroyed in the great fire.
Oxford Bookstore on Park Street, the bookworm’s delight.
Old-world Chinese in Bar B Q on Park Street
Chilli Chicken
Chicken Manchow Soup
Flurys, a tearoom from the 1920s on Park Street
Spicy egg chicken roll

Misty Days
A strange sight: Recreation of London’s Elizabeth Tower (which you know as Big Ben)
An even stranger thought: They play the national anthem in theatres!!! There I was struggling not to drop my popcorn and drink as I had to stand up suddenly as the anthem was played.
Sweets at Nolen Gur festival. Nolen gur is date palm jaggery that is a popular winter dessert.
More Nolen Gur sweets but experimental ones
Traditional sweets like patishapta (in the foreground) and malpua (the fried flat discs behind the patishapta)
Rabri (condensed milk sweet)
From the verandah of my library room

Bottlebrushes

Sugarcane carts

With my brother at Beijing, an old Chinese eatery in Tangra where the Hakka Chinese started their tanneries when they arrived in the city a long time ago.
New Year’s eve at the Marriott Hotel
Views from the Marriott of life passing by along a busy thoroughfare

Long queues outside Arsalan. Bengalis will do anything for good food.
Mutton biryani, the food of nawabs, at Arsalan
Mutton chops
Chicken malai kebabs with a coating of cheese
Gariahata market
Gariahata Market
Dimer devil (devilled eggs) and Chicken Pakoras at a roadside stall
Park Street on the first night of the new year
After 20 years. School friends.
A noon with relatives and my sister-in-law on the extreme left.
The Glasgow cousin who was also in town. Outside Sienna Café.
Sienna Café
Sienna Café
Baked goodies at Sienna
Apple cake for the soul
At an art gallery
Graffiti project for missing girls in Calcutta to raise awareness about sex trafficking
Doorways of South Calcutta
With my two former flatmates and the cutest two-year-old
S and I
Ella Rose

Portraits of Kali and the Family

It was my father’s birthday the other day. Time gallops for it has been a few weeks already. It was his 80th birthday and I had grand plans of hauling the entire family to a hill town. It was pared down soon to humble proportions because well most of my plans revolving around the family perish as quickly as they are hatched.

A tuck-in of monstrous proportions the night before at a grilled food restaurant made sure that everyone groaned at length with the contentment generated by an army of kebabs of prawn, fish and meat. In Calcutta, food reigns over lives. At breakfast, thoughts rally around the possibilities that lunch can offer. There is tea in the afternoon after a protracted lie-in when fish and vegetable chops (croquettes) are devoured with pots of aromatic Darjeeling tea, and there is a late dinner filled with even more possibilities because who can eat a morsel after the goodies of the early evening have settled in.

My father’s birthday on the morrow turned out clear and chilly. The sun was a honey gold and the chocolate cake laced with coffee and hazelnut praline from the local bakery delectable. Baba ate payesh, rice and milk pudding simmered in cardamon-infused milk. It is a must at all Bengali birthdays. Then he cut two beautiful dark chocolate cakes which were an instant hit with the young one in the family, my nephew.

The plan had been fixed previously that we should step out for Chinese lunch at Bar B Q at an early hour because parking dilemmas on the busy thoroughfare of Park Street assumes gargantuan proportions as the afternoon progresses. Therein stepped in my mother’s sudden and inexplicable need for a cuppa before leaving home because how can one step out of the house without tea. Time is a fluid concept in India – people will make you wait without recognition of their tardiness. I might split hairs at length but the fact does not change and there are few far and between who turn up on the dot. For instance, one school friend of mine turned up right on the decided time, another made me wait an hour and a half before turning up for a breakfast engagement.

To return to the matter of the birthday lunch, after everyone had enough tea to saturate their senses, we drove to Park Street where naturally parking spots had all been snapped up. On a weekday noon you would think people had better things to do than mooch around Park Street. Then it so happened that my brother missed out on zeroing in on two valuable parking spots. Two. My sister-in-law berated him. I piped up too. Baba’s hackles rose alongside. How could anyone gun for his dear boy? He started shushing everyone. Chaos. After about 40 minutes of circling around, we found a plum spot on Park Street itself. The traffic police on the beat mentioned that he should not be paid but quietly pocketed the notes forwarded by my brother who insisted that he is a man of the world and this is how it works. Then my mother decided that she should sit inside the car and wait for us because she was fasting. We had struck a bargain, you see. That we should attend a puja of the goddess Kali later on in the day.  I had acquiesced to it. Read: With much whinging on my part.

That was my father’s 80th. As eccentric and dramatic as the family I have been born into, concluded by listening to the priest chanting mantras at the foot of the idol of Kali, the intense avataar of the Goddess Durga as she goes about vanquishing evil from this earth for all Bengalis. Oh and yes, my ma did finally break her fast which I thought she had done anyway at Bar B Q with a fruit punch and tiny cheese puffs.

No, I had not popped a vein by the end of the evening.

Payesh
Baba and I
Tweedledee Tweedledum
Nephew and sister-in-law
Kali
…trampling Shiva
Paraphernalia fit for a goddess
The goddess prefers variety. Crunchy rice, dates and fruits along with narus (coconut sweets) and rolled-up betel leaves.
The brass thali, boti (a long curved blade with a wooden platform used in Bengali kitchens to chop veggies and fish) and coconuts ready to be grated.
Betel leaf, betel nut and batasha (rice pie made with ghee and sugar syrup)
Banana leaves
An aunt as she puts together odds and ends for the priest
Nephew and coz
The feast for Kali
Brass pots and pans
The brass bell
Chants in Bengali. In case the priest forgets his lines?
The goddess as dark as the night

Inside The Ghetto

In the tiny bakery known as Boccione within one of the oldest Jewish ghettos in Europe, we queued up for a slice of Jewish pizza. The woman at the till, her hair tucked carefully into a plastic cap, doled out a rectangular piece of dense cake which tasted more like a biscuit as the moreish taste of raisins, almonds and dried fruits came together in a a perfect ménage à trois of sorts. Then the beauty of butter. Eternity is encapsulated often within the briefest of moments.

A few metres from us was the atmospheric restaurant, Nonna Betta, which declares that Anthony Bourdain could deign to eat only within its august interiors in Rome. It is charming inside Nonna Betta. White walls, old-world wrought iron brackets for its equally old-world lamps and extensive murals splashed across the walls that portray what life would have been like in the ghetto before the 1800s. We did not lunch at Nonna Betta yet I could not resist a peep. Instead we meandered through the Jewish quarter, nibbling on rich fruit cake, taking in the quiet alleys where Jews have lived for 2,000 years, history etched into the stones of the buildings with their peeling plasters, facades chipped away by the inexorable passage of time.

Shutters, ribbed and fastened against e’en the honeyed beauty of the sun on the December winter afternoon that we drifted through narrow passages beneath balustrades of marble, our minds lingering upon the kind of stories that those passages must nurse, forgotten tales of people taking flight from persecution. Then there were enclaves that must have been thronged by the poverty-stricken multitudes. The Carmel Temple that you see in the lead photo must have been the repository of dark thoughts festering within repressed souls who in the 16th century had been commanded by the pope to attend ‘compulsory preaches’. How did the adult Jews combat such decrees you think? They plugged their ears with wax, yessir, because who wants to be told what faith to follow. If some dared to fall asleep, they were kicked by watchful papal guards to wake up. Pieces of history that crept up along the walk through The Ghetto.

A piece from a 17th century poem by a certain Giuseppe Berneri captures the misery of life in The Ghetto and it goes like this:

The Ghetto is a place located next to the Tiber
On one side, and to the Fish-market on the other;
It is a rather miserable enclosure of streets,
As it is shady, and also saddening.
It has four large gates, and a small one;
During daytime it is open, to let people out,
But from the evening until morning has broken
It is kept locked by a porter guard.

This marks the end of my series on Rome that was punctuated by that on Florence and my mind is quite ready to exit Italy (do I hear hurrahs at this point?) and enter India where I am currently staying at my parents’ for another week before I fly back home to Adi (Though I cannot promise you that I shall not bring forth photos from Rome and Florence all over again for I have such fond memories tucked into every nook and cranny there).

The walk from the Colosseum to The Ghetto
The poplars of Rome
Avenues of stone pines 

Sights on Aventine Hill
Temple of Diana

Into the Ghetto

Portico d’Ottavia, a portico built by Emperor Augustus in 23BC
The Roman fish market was housed within the portico from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century.
Cobbled streets within the quarter
A Maremma strolls through the Ghetto
Pasticceria Boccione
Jewish pizza on the left
Dilapidated columns and remains of the past inside The Ghetto

Romanced by Florence

I saw Florence once again through the eyes of my love. In it, I found inordinate pleasure.

That was another time it seemed when I had caught the train from Milan to Florence in the spring of 2016. Though it was not quite long ago. I had set out on a walking tour with a middle-aged artist with a long, gaunt face, dishevelled hair covered by a tweed flat cap, his ample girth covered by a capacious coat that had seen better times. He had drawled about the finer points of Florence which could not be missed by the most absent-minded person that ever existed. Mouths gaped open then at the sight of the Renaissance magnificence that reared its head in a cluster upon the Piazza del Duomo.

The wonders wrought by the compilation of bands of serpentine green, red and white stones by Renaissance architects Brunelleschi and Giotto. Sculptors of the likes of Ghiberti and Pisano whose doors retain their arresting quality so that Michaelangelo declared Ghiberti’s doors of bronze to be the ‘gates of paradise’. Those gates lead inside the Baptistery of St. John where the mosaic clad dome blinded me momentarily with its flamboyance in gold. So that when I had stepped outside and one of those street artists, a pot-bellied jocular Italian, had grabbed my hand while streaming out words in Italian, I remember feeling bewildered, amused and seized by the urge to swat his hands off mine. My blank expression made him break out into bits of English and the mixture of persistence and perseverance was difficult to escape.

But this was now and Florence had acquired an added sheen of romance. Adi’s jaws dropped visibly as we walked into the Piazza del Duomo just like mine had. Soon his face wore a hangdog look as he followed me up Giotto’s Campanile. A steady stream of climbers made sure that we had to keep climbing. By the end of it, legs reduced to a jelly consistency, my darling flatly refused to subject himself to the same torture up the Duomo. His excuse was the 5pm ticket slot we had. ‘It will be dark by the time we are up on the Duomo,’ he insisted. I felt benevolent. I relented. You have got to choose your battles after all. There was a long walk ahead. I had planned to make him walk up the hills that climb above the city. We lunched at a cutting-edge seafood restaurant where the salted codfish made me want to trill. The dopey fellow who took our orders and messed it up did not however make me want to trill. Balance was achieved.

We were soon wandering around the Uffizi, staring at the imposing Palazzo Vecchio guarded by the copy of Michaelangelo’s David and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. We stood at the spot where the Renaissance preacher Girolamo Savonarola had been hanged and burnt, shivered at the thought, and Adi wondered aloud at the Rape of the Sabine Women. You see, when the first king of Rome, Romulus, came to power, the Romans wanted to marry the Sabine women. But the ancient Italic tribe did not agree and the Romans abducted the Sabine women. There might not have been sexual violation thrown into the fray, yet the event was dubbed so. The plethora of stories upon stories that lie buried within the old walls of Florence makes the mind whirl.

We found curious quiet once we had crossed the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge populated by rows of jewellery stores spanning the River Arno. A bylane led us up and up and soon we were on cobbled paths lined by elegant old villas and olive groves, an old chiesa, an old man stooping upon a walking stick to pick his way carefully upon the cobbles. The silence of it broken only by the occasional Fiat that swept by us with great speed. The Italians are supersonic on their Vespas and Fiats.

Adi wondered if we were lost. I soldiered on with a determined look that relayed more confidence than I felt. The road not taken was taking its own sweet time. Yet how beautiful it was as it gradually opened up to a road that snaked past the gardens of Boboli and offered up views of Florence below us, framed by an army of green and golden trees. Words are always inadequate to express the beauty of any moment.

Later, after we had watched lovers embracing by the medieval defensive walls of Florence, traipsed through alleys in which leather shoemakers sat crafting hair-raisingly expensive shoes, peeked into shut antique stores and upholstery studios, gobbled up cake and coffee at a charming coffeeshop, watched a couple of men stop in their tracks to gawp at a woman running in shorts, we had a leisurely stroll by the Arno. Dusk descended upon our shoulders in rosy hues and an old man bicycled along the river with his arms entwined about his lover. There it was, that incredible feeling of love and belonging. We were caught in the bubble where nothing else mattered but that we were there together in the midst of the impossible beauty of that ancient city called Firenze.

Adi turns his back on the Renaissance magnificence of the Piazza del Duomo rather grudgingly.
Florence Cathedral and Baptistery of St. John in profile
Giotto’s Campanile
The Duomo
Baked terracotta roofs of Florence

 Fishing Lab alla Murate
Salted codfish with onion relish in chickpea puree
Grilled shrimps
Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio. Cacus, the fire-breathing giant, was slayed by Hercules for terrorising Aventine Hill before the founding of Rome. 
The Rape of the Sabine Women
Piazza della Signoria
Hilly roads that lead above Florence

Via San Leonardo 
On the southern outskirts of Florence
Chiesa di San Leonardo in Arcetri, an 11th century church from the pulpit of which Dante and Boccaccio had preached sermons.

In the distance stands Torre del Gallo, an ancient castle belonging to the Galli family of Arcetri.
The Tuscan atmosphere of our walk

Florence 
Former defensive walls of Florence
Antique stores
Upholstery studios
Leather shoemakers off the Tower of San Niccolò
 An alley opening up to the Tower of San Niccolò
Coffeeshops of Florence
Coffeeshop residents
A slice of chocolate cake to take the sting off incessant walks above Florence
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Amore
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The Ponte Vecchio on the Arno

Ambling Around Rome

I have been neck deep in eating, hence the absence. Hedonism in the new year. Indo Chinese and biryanis and street food and what not. All of that would be fodder for another post. I am in Calcutta at my childhood home which means that I am persevering to achieve Zen. A tall order given the frequent squabbling with my mother who remains the most headstrong woman I have ever known. But because I am home alone — something I ached for as a child when my parents refused to leave me to my devices as it would involve my racking up the phone bill to palpitating figures — I thought about reconnecting with my beloved bloggers. After all, I have left my passion for waffling on the phone behind. The passage of time. If this were a 13-year-old me, I would have shrivelled a person who uttered such ludicrous thoughts with deep-dyed contempt and scowls.

Back to our rambles in Rome because I have a truckload of photos to unload upon hapless you, the day we drove into the city from the airport we met a cab driver who lives in a small village near Rome. This large and drawling Italian, born in Rome with an invigorating love for the city, rattled out figures. For example, the dimensions of the Circus Maximus, the former stadium of ancient Rome that now looks like a serene and long vat of green and which 2,700 years ago could hold a 40,000-strong crowd to gawp at chariot races. Our mobile cache of facts was amusing and charming. It was a long conversation about the state of the world, his teenage daughter who has grown out of clinging to her dad for everything, her quest for learning Arabic, his experiences in Afghanistan when he served in the army, their move to the suburbs of Rome, his nonna who makes the best bruschetta for early evening snacks,… but the tip that we picked up was — climb the Altare della Patria that stands at the cobbled crossroads of the Piazza Venezia.

For if you take the combination of stairs and elevator to the top of the boxy monument in white marble built for Victor Emmanuel II (the first king of a unified Italy), you get a breathtaking view of the city. We stood on top of the monument for a long time beneath stellar blue skies and a caressing winter sun, watching people photograph sizeable (could be the pizza and pasta diet) preening Italian gulls with the Colosseum as a dramatic backdrop, photographed them ourselves, and then later retraced our steps to the Roman Forum where I remember jostling with crowds in the summer of 2016.

The road to the largest amphitheatre ever built in this world of ours is in Rome, as you well know. Yes, the Colosseum, and that thoroughfare is flanked by historic columns and arches, basilicas and ruins of former government buildings that must have held sway over ancient Rome. We walked below the many stone pines with their umbrella tops, past tall poplars standing like spare soldiers, sauntered past temples to various goddesses, peered at worn doorways above which murals faded away as if they could not be bothered to defy the ravages of time.

Via del Teatro di Marcello
Via del Teatro di Marcello
Campidoglio
Cordonata, the flight of steps to Campidoglio, Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of ancient Rome. In the backdrop of the piazza designed by Michaelangelo is Palazzo Senatorio.
Statue of Castor at Cordonata
Stone pines on Via dei Fori Imperiali

Monument of Victor Emmanuel II
Elevator to Terrace of the Quadrighe, atop the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II.
Inside the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II

A survey of the Roman Fora and Colosseum
Quadriga (chariot) at Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II
Stone-pine hedged roads of Rome
Via del Teatro di Marcello
Rooftops of Rome

Teatro di Marcello. Theatre of Marcellus.
The oldest surviving theatre from the 11B.C. It is dedicated to Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a young lad, and most importantly, nephew of Emperor Augustus. The boy died five years before it was finished – at the age of 19.
The crowds have melted away from the Colosseum 

Roman Forum
Basilicas of Rome
Soap bubble magicians
Trevi Fountain

A vine-clad palazzo

Waiting for the owner to emerge from the coffeeshop on a frigid and dull day
Inside one of the many palazzi in Rome
The festive spirit of the city

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

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.

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Copenhagen airport
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Sights from a Danish bus window

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The castles and palaces of Copenhagen 
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The hotel room that is worthy of a mention because it earned us points and an upgrade

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Nyhavn
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‘It’s bloody cold. Can we just go inside?’
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In a Nyhavn bar

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A birthday night dinner

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Carlsberg Brewery

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J.C.’s son Carl Jacobsen
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Carl Jacobsen at work in his lab
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Carl Jacobsen and his crew at the brewery
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The Carlsberg gardens reveal the Jacobsens’ enthusiasm for art
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French sculptor François Jouffroy’s ‘The First Secret’ (1839)
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The brewery’s collection of beer bottles

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Deserted train stations in the Ørestad district
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In the Ørestad
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A blurred bit of The Black Diamond in Ørestad
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Magasin du Nord on the grand old square of Kongens Nytorv
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The Little Mermaid
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Three musicians