A DROWNING IN MELTED BUTTER

It being Labor Day weekend, the equivalent of what we know as May Day except that the American version takes place at the beginning of September, Adi and I packed our bags on Friday morning and set off for a long drive to New England from New York. Before this, my beloved sprang off to the hot dog stand opposite our apartment (much to his utter delight) and promptly inhaled two frankfurters in quick succession, putting me in mind of the worthily beloved and now deceased Labrador of his, Tuktuk. You see, Tuktuk did not believe in mastication.

With a maniacal grin pasted on his face at having started the holiday on a bright note and having strengthened the lining of his stomach with the much-vetted local ‘delicacy’, my husband was ready to tackle the long winding roads through Vermont to Maine, and come what may. A remarkably serene drive followed, punctuated by the verdant hills of Vermont and dramatic series of thick clouds that billowed along a sparkling blue sky with all intentions of smothering it. I was not complaining. The clouds are my friends when I go on a holiday.

Invariably, half my camera roll is filled with snaps of them. I merely wished for a while that I had my pots of paint at hand and could dab a piece of paper with colours to capture the transient nature of their beauty. Then also re-thought the entire wish thing given the hullaballoo that would ensue if I did happen to colour the various parts of the car alongside the paper. Anyhoo, this is how we rolled into the fine city of Portland on the finest of evenings in September, and found ourselves reaching out for our jackets to combat the bite in the air.

This was the beginning of a four-day holiday in the city that’s perched on the coastline and renowned as a hipster hotspot. More of which, I shall come to by and by. Because one cannot dump everything in one post, for the cause of trying one’s own patience — after all, I am not writing a novel here — and also for the sake of getting to the nub of the post. For, I did allude to drowning in melted butter, did I not? Now however much it did not take place literally, for you can imagine the limited joys of taking a dip in a vat of butter, it did take place in a manner of speaking.

One afternoon, we drove to the Acadia National Park, before reaching which our hearts sank at the sight of innumerable strip malls in a town at the gateway to the park. I have never understood America’s intense obsession with strip malls. They must be the worst inventions ever (along with electric chairs and gas chambers). This token symbol of ghastly capitalism having caused a setback to the general atmosphere of jollity, our spirits were greatly revived upon arriving in the small town of Bar Harbor. The lovely quaint architecture of the coastal town did the trick. But finding a parking spot was monstrous. After a solid hour of driving round and round town like whirling dervishes on speed, we managed to bag a spot with a short window.

We hurried off to grab lunch and almost immediately found a small hip joint where outdoor seating was near a tree trunk that shot up through the patio. The tree hugger in me was content. We ordered up fish tacos and lazy man’s lobster. While waiting for the food to arrive, I could not help eavesdropping on a conversation going on behind us, between the waiter and a woman with a little coterie of small dogs. It revolved around sizes of various breeds. And the waiter’s own big bonny baby, an American Akita who weighs a mean 120lb. Small dog lady seemed suitably impressed. This strain of sentiment however could not be sustained. The waiter went on to proudly narrate a story of when he went camping with dog in X place. In the camp grounds, Akita meets Black Lab. Lab growls at Akita. Akita tears off Lab’s ears. Akita and Akita’s father are evicted from the grounds. Akita’s father is nonplussed and rather proud of this little feat, as evinced by his tone. Result: A few horrified listeners.

Having done his job of sending small dog lady packing, the waiter resumed his job of fetching our food. What arrived made my eyes bulge. A gondola of bright orange butter with big chunks of lobster swimming in it. This then was your quintessential lazy man’s lobster, which as the name suggests means that it is for the lazy man or woman. You do not have to pry open the shell and forage for your meat, nor do you have to reach for the bib. An East Coast classic through and through. The butter oozed down my throat as I chewed on fresh chunks of lobster, perfectly pink and tasting of sunny summer. This heart-attack inducing meal could not have come on its own lonesome self. Piping up from the sidelines was corn on the cob doused in yet more butter and sour cream, along with a sizeable cup of clam chowder, and a hillock of chips. By the time I was done with half the chowder, the lobster and the corn, I could feel my arteries swelling up in indignation and gearing up to hold a protest march. Yes, yes, it was a wholly unholy alliance, but at least I was halfway there with Lord Byron’s edict. That one about a woman never being seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster (salad) and Champagne.

Colours of the Night in Florence

Now wait, did you think I was done with Florence? You do know my proclivity for banging on about one place till I have flayed it to its core, right? Because the mind finds itself wedged between the atmospheric alleys of an old city, it refuses to let go of memories acquired under the half-light of twilight.

The old towns of Europe, they come alive under the warm yellow lighting ensconced within the vintage street lamps as you trod upon uneven cobblestones coating those old roads. You walk down narrow alleys charmed by everything you set your eyes upon because is it not all a living fairy tale? A pastel pink leather bag bagged within the leather shops where the smell of animal skin is pungent and thwacks the olfactory senses, looking into bookshops where tattered tomes line shelves in a language you sadly have no knowledge of except for the bits and bobs of local phrases you spritz your conversations with, let dusk turn frigid. Beat the sting of the evening air by pottering around the Christmas market that sprawls itself in front of the Gothic basilica. The Basilica of Santa Croce.

Nibble on potato cutlets smeared with hot melted cheese, slices of smoky speck ham, chomp on churros doused in chocolate sauce and then some piping hot bratwurst…take a breath from eating…listen to the man singing out his soul with a rendition of Cohen’s Hallelujah and then stare at colourful rows of candied fruit and precious old porcelain tea cups and dishes. If only you had space enough to lug them back home.

Gawking at the tall Christmas trees peppering the piazza around the colossal personality of the Duomo, a shy Cocker Spaniel pup hiding behind her master in his tweed coat and flat cap, the cathedral, campanile and baptistery lit up subtly because such extreme beauty of those reliefs carved out from coloured stones should shine only under nebulous lighting.

That is how we let it come to a grand end, in the shadow of the Duomo, you and I, humans humbled by the sheer superbness of it. Before we sit on the train that whisks us back to Rome.

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