Monday, November 27, 2006

Blues Clues

The neighbor girl I meet in the gym (Gymmi) saw me after my long vacation and declared I have never looked sadder. ‘Why are you looking so depressed?’

‘Me? No yaar, I am fine.’ I insisted for the third time.

‘No, but you look so withdrawn and gloomy. Is there anything you want to talk about?’

‘Hmmm…Yeah, I am in the vortex of sadness and excruciating pain. I think it’s the weather. All the leaves departing the trees has made my happy soul depart me.’ While I was at it, I also launched into Pittsburgh-bashing convinced that we have finally arrived upon the reason why I looked so sad.

‘I hope you tell Pi what’s bothering you if you don’t want to confide in me.’

I tried to think how many times I might have met her before. I could count with the two fingers of my right hand. Both the times I didn’t recall bouncing about like a clown in front of her. I was as sober as an ailing hyena.

Anyway, it did get me thinking about this depression and I came up with a few more causes. Next day I met her.

‘Hi Gymmi!’ I tried to jump up and down and wave, all the time beaming my guts out trying to look extra happy. 'Hehehahahaw-yoodle doodle!!'

‘Are you all right? You sound a little down,’ she started off without a cue. If she was an aspiring shrink I would have sued her for shameless self promo. But she works for an IT firm. To think I was the one who’s supposed to be depressed.

‘You know what, I think I know why. Last time you saw me I was going on vacation. Now I am back. Obviously I am not a happy camper. Logic, eh?’ I congratulated myself.

‘No no, now I get it. When I met you, you were this normal person. Just as you were leaving for vacation, my friend (who reads your blog) told me you are damn funny. So I guess I was under that impression all along. Anyway, mystery solved. Wanna go for dinner?’

Now I am truly depressed.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Die Maharani

The title is the name of this Geeta Mehta book that we saw hoardings for everywhere we went, translates to 'The Maharani', much to my utter disspointment at the tameness of it. Hilter country and no goriness? Bah! We headed to Germany with Sims being very apprehensive about the hosts (since they were my friends). I guess it was because I hadn’t met them and they were bloggers. Ok, I had met Parmanu for a short time in Chicago when he bought me a banana. I had to assuage her fears about bloggers saying that I was one too and perfectly normal at that. That’s when I think she had a small breakdown. But as luck would have it, the scenery was turning to look very DDLJ-like outside the train. She felt much better. 'Wow, look at these lovely hills with pretty tudor homes.' It was quite pretty. Germany felt much more manicured and newer than ther other European countries we visited. Their roads reminded us the US roads.

We met Gini and Parmanu at Heidelberg Train Station a couple of minutes late by which time Gini had concluded that I am a rebel for not following her instructions closely. She scolded me just as we hugged. So much for the initial niceties. Brother Parmanu impressed me with his Mercedes and business suit (probably Armani) that he wore just for this occasion. I just hope the Merc loaded with an annoying GPS unit wasn’t an expensive hire. Heildelberg had a very dreamlike feel to it. A lovely castle on a hill with the full moon as a backdrop and swans on the river….I came back to reality only when the swans bit my fingers. Sister Gini just heard about her new job offer and we went, ‘Treat treat!’ What perfect timing, I say. We were treated at the Indian restaurant much to our happiness. That reminds me, I hope the biryani I packed is still in the fridge.

Reached their cozy home in Waldorf and as tired as we were, the hosts started this insane fight with us and got us exhausted. Parmanu decided to let me and Sims sleep in the bedroom while he slept in the living room. He had also cleared up some shelf space for our belongings. So very sweet. But I couldn’t let them do that unless they had intentions of letting us stay there for a month. We fought and finally they relented when I threatened them with some of my jokes. It wasn’t such a big sacrifice as the living room was perfectly fine and even had a nice pull out bed. It had fluffier pillows and soft mattress. Hmmm... maybe that’s why he wanted to sleep here. I had one scarring incident some years ago due to this kind of behavior. This was during my brother’s first night when they (brother and wife) felt bad that I was sleeping (rather happily and comfortably) on the living room floor. After a long battle, the three of us were sleeping uncomfortably on the bed. My mom still blames me for their not having kids yet.

So coming back to Parmanu’s home, it was very comfortable and the hosts made it even more so. Colours(Parmanu’s wife) was having an affair in Switzerland and hence couldn’t make it. We missed her whenever someone said she makes some really good food.

Next day morning after a spectacular spread of delicious breakfast by Gini, we were driven (in the same Mercedes to the songs of Rang de Basanti) to Sasbachwalden, another pretty little town in Black forest.

We also spent a considerable time talking about blogging and bloggers. I am sure Sims enjoyed every bit of this part. We tried to explain the whole deal and she tried to understand, poor thing. ‘You get free accommodation if you blog?’

The highlight of the day was of course the Indian play ‘Teen Sakina Manzil’ by Ramu Ramanathan whom we had a chance to meet and get impressed with. Ramu seemed quite enthusiastic himself about the small scratch he was making in Germany. Even I was quite taken by the German response and visibility this play had gathered. If you think our experience in Germany was getting to be quite India oriented, wait till you hear the rest. That night in Frankfurt we had some great Indian food at a restaurant. With Parmanu around, I am told, we were lucky that we had our fill of other cuisines before we embarked in Germany.

Next day we went to the well known Frankfurt Book Fair with India being the theme this year. Lucky me- I was just not getting enough of India in Europe. Indian authors like Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra etc were invited as guests. There were Indian programs and book readings translated to German. When I walked in, a Tamil poet, Salma, was reading out excerpts and it was being translated to German. It felt quite good to see all the excitement about India and Indian authors. As much as I am fond of books, Parmanu survives on them. If it was possible, he’d be reading one while driving. Or maybe he was being polite this one time. The clincher to the day was the anna-saaru that Gini cooked that night. She will get hundred children if my blessings work. By that time I think the hosts were tired of being nice all the time. Their true colours surfaced. They made me watch the movie Padosan! The fact that I hadn’t watched the movie before got them all worked up and they assured me that it was a hilarious movie that I shouldn’t miss. Half way through the movie, I will agree that Padosan is a movie I will buy to torture my kids when they disobey me. ‘Go watch Padosan, you ingrates… If I tell daddy that you broke the flower pot, he’ll make you watch it twice again. Just you wait.’

Gini, Colours & Parmanu, I didn't do justice to the wonderful times we had just coz I did not want to advertize your place for random bloggers to take refuge. I think we might have made Sims a die hard blogger, if not a believer that all bloggers aren't as weird as me. Overall, the weekend couldn’t have been more perfect. Let me think….. really hard…nah! I think you guys made our Germany experience worth gloating about. Die End!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Paris (un)done

No more true stories for you all. No more telling you that the ant ran away with the elephant or that there is a Chinatown booming somewhere in the world and fake LV purses are selling like hot potatoes, so much that the Chinaman got so emotional and contracted a painter to make a fake Da Vinci of me. Louvre bought that painting and called it Alpha Lisa.

I had great expectations of the Louvre only to realize my zest for Art and History took a hike at the most inopportune time. I had intentions of spending two full days assimilating what the entire museum had to offer. Suddenly seeing decapitated Greek guys with only their penises intact, paintings of women strategically covering a single breast with loin cloth that Gandhi later advocated for these purposes, Napoleon’s dining table and all his gaudy furniture …. had me running to exit and getting misled and lost only to find myself in some other art gallery where I walked into this painting.

I was so taken aback that I turned around and laughed so hard as to not hurt the sentimentalities of the people who were seriously admiring this work of art and taking down notes. After 10 minutes of uncontrolled giggling I looked up at the painting I was actually facing- a very gruesome depiction of crucifying of the Christ! Jeezus!

Next thing I know I was following the signs that led to Mona Lisa…. There were at least 23 of them. All the hype and we were greeted with that mocking half mysterious smile from this lady who was enclosed in a glass chamber and protected by an armed security. If she still has a reason to smile living in the Louvre day and night, I think we all better learn a thing or two from her.
We saw the Pantheon and hanging scrotum sacs (or balls as you kids would call it) from the ceiling. Some designer’s weird sense of humor, I guess.

Next we ate crepes, got drunk on wine and ate from garbage cans and drank from ornate fountains (I have a valid excuse- water and food is expensive in Paris). I even spat on the streets of Paris. Got up with terrible headache the next day and enacted the whole Bhishma pratignya thing to swear off of booze forever (after the Europe trip and New Years eve and…some blanks to be filled later). Yes, another must do in Paris was checked.

Next couple of days in Paris went off pretty quick just when I had pulled out my English- French dictionary to facilitate doing the laundry. I couldn’t figure out the machine and a helpful handsome French guy, tried to explain the whole process in French. I cast vague helpless looks and he took charge. He put my clothes in the washer (said something in French which probably meant ‘Put your clothes in the washer like so’), and then he proceeded to use another vending machine to buy some laundry detergent while continuously talking in French (obviously telling me ‘You twit, this is how you buy detergent). Patiently he explained the working of the machine, while pressing some buttons, turning some knobs and actually doing the whole thing for me. He could have been on mute and saved himself the trouble of dealing with my love struck self trying to hold on to every little French word and saying ‘Merci’ some million times. Lord have mercy!

In the laundry room, after my French God left, an American guy smiled and said, ‘I could have helped you, but you seemed to be having a better laundry experience with him.’

‘Merci’, I told him.

Friday, November 17, 2006

La Symbiose à Paris

If you haven’t understood your Biology lessons in school, here is a chance. My second day in Paris will be able to elucidate these topics with examples.

There are various categories of symbiosis seen when two organisms interact:

Parasitism, in which the association is disadvantageous or destructive to one of the organisms and beneficial to the other (+ −)

So here I was wondering as to how I managed to convince myself to come to Eiffel Tower when I was having a great time shopping at Champs Elysees when I was interrupted by an Indian guy asking me to take a picture of him in front of the tower. Obviously I obliged. He felt obligated to take a picture of me in the same location with my camera, making me stand with a hand on my hip and my head slightly bent for studio quality photograph. I obliged to his obligation. That’s when the story went downhill... or rather, up the tower.

I started to wander around the base of the tower and wherever I turned, I met him by sheer coincidence of course. ‘Can you take a photo here in front of that statue?’
‘Now let me take yours. Give me your camera.’

‘Oh look, it’s you again. One more photo please!’… and then so it went on forever.

That explains my extreme emotions in certain photos. So I ran amok to try to flee from the Photo-Nazi when I was confronted with a superb idea. I decided to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator as a means of escape. Seeing his bulk in person and through the lens, I was pretty sure he’d find a more sedentary prey to continue with his Eiffel Tower portfolio.

In five minutes of running up the stairs, I heard unmistakable panting and puffing. ‘Do you know I am a Sri Lankan? Huff..Pufff.. slow down. I want a picture taken here on the stairs!’

‘Wait, let me take a picture of you in my camera and send it to you by email. Isn’t it so cool that we found each other to take pictures? ’

That does it! I sprinted ahead, crouched behind a dustbin and didn’t move for 30 minutes straight. Yes, at the cost of looking suspicious to people wanting to throw trash. That’s when I lost him much to my utter delight.

BTW, when you do have time after escaping from self obsessed Sri Lankans, do look out of the tower. It’s got a great view with no openings to throw yourself out of!

Mutualism, in which the association is advantageous to both (+ +)

Back in Champs Elysees, a Chinese guy stopped me in the middle of the sidewalk and asked me if I spoke English. Very wary that it might be for some money, I replied in affirmative. Maybe I liked being asked for money. Gives me kicks that people think I do have money. Especially decently dressed individuals like himself. But he didn’t ask me for any cash. He gave me some infact. 330 Euros in hard currency. He asked me to quickly put the sum in my pocket lest someone notices. I was about to thank him and skip away into the sunset; but like all sweet deals, there was a catch to this one. I was asked to buy this particular wallet from Louis Vuitton (for which he had a sample) for him. I get no commision in this deal and I could very well be arrested if the notes were counterfiet. But in some whim, I agreed to carry out this weird request. If he had asked me to take a picture of him, I might have screamed. This way, I thought to myself, I get to go inside the swanky LV store and actually buy something. I could walk out of the store for one block with a Louis Vuitton bag in my hand. Hah! This is great!

Before you conclude I am quite an abnormal person, he did mention that he wasn’t being let into the store and I had heard rumors that stores in Paris were known for their snooty behaviour. Helping the hapless and walletless was my prerogative.

So I walked in effortlessly and stayed in the store for an hour admiring the disgusting purses locked up behind glass cases some billed at 20,000 Euros. I took my own time as I had to keep our Chinese man on his toes. Hopefully he was breaking into a sweat thinking that I actually ran away with his money from some underground passage. After going from one sales rep to another, I was finally handed the wallet in forceps to check. It was then neatly wrapped in some box and placed in a LV bag. ‘Ma’am, credit card or cash?’

I needed cash so the thought of using my credit card did occur, but I decided against it imagining it would hurt me more than the store if that money was actually fake.

As I walked out, I could see him waving to me across the street excitedly, at the same time suspiciously looking around. Anyway, I handed the wallet to him asking him to check if it was alright. He grabbed the bag, thanked me quickly, threw the packaging, pocketed the wallet and walked away real fast. A little perplexed, I was glad to take the empty bag home.

If you ever buy a fake LV from Chinatown for 10 bucks, remember Alpha and thank her for that prototype that she provided to make your purse look like an exact replica.

Chinese people were having a tough time entering the store.

Commensalism, in which one member of the association benefits while the other is not affected (+ 0)

I saw Arch De Triomph at the far end of Champs Elysees and decided to get a closer look having come this far. As I went closer, familiar music engulfed me. ‘No way! No freaking way!’

Abhishek, Lara and the croonies were here too. Second day in a row. My stars were aligned perfectly and literally. Same clothes, different venue…the song sequence continues. I was hoping to let Aby baby know about my plans for the next day so I could see him again. Sigh!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pari Hoon Mai

It was night by the time we got off at Paris after much debate as I was convinced that the announcement in the train, ‘Pariee di Nooaahha’, didn’t sound one bit like the city I intended to go to. In spite of the French and their complete disregard for phonetics just to make their language sound cute, the Metro is very comprehensible and easy to follow even for a dumbass. The precise instructions got us on the wrong train only 4 times on the first day of arrival. The bus system, I must admit is quite confusing and we used that only as a means to see the city after which we had to take the train to get to where we wanted.

‘Mmm..what do you think? You like it here? You can live here?’ Simran would spring this precise question every time we landed in a new place. This would be before we even embarked from the station, before I could even breathe the air. And I had this uncanny way of exasperating her by saying, ‘Yes of course, Lovely, isn’t it. I could live right here on his escalator. Always wanted a moving home.’ Same answer in Amsterdam, Brussels and Brugges. She never tired in trying to find out if I hated any place.

Holding up the map to locate our hotel from the Metro station was no easy feat. Follow a Street called Rue that intersects another street called Rue. ‘Hey hey, guys, I found it. Here is Rue. Come follow me.’

Thankfully the other two had higher IQ to figure that Rue means Street and if they were to follow me, we’d be going around in circles and we would get lucky if our feet gave in eventually.

The three of us had some great Japanese dinner with hot sake that put us in a nice mood. Remind me to eat some French food while I am in Japan. We had more wine while relaxing in the room where we would be reminded (by Pierre or Pyo downstairs) from time to time to keep our decibel levels a little lower and shut the eff up. Or in his dainty words- Shhhhh!

Conclusion about Paris after Day 1- If you want a quiet place to live in Paris, this hotel is it!

Took off by myself in the morning as I felt it would be prudent to leave the lovebirds by themselves in the romantic place while I could spend some quality time exploring this city alone.
‘Are you sure you’ll be fine all by yourself?’ Sims asked out of concern.

‘If I can’t deal with myself, who else will!’

I went whichever way my fancy took me. Yes, towards the Louvre. Especially since our hotel was a block away from it, it seemed the right thing to do. Wow, the Louvre looked quite grand. Took a million pictures. It looked very different from what I had envisioned. Slightly smaller and someone had stolen the glass pyramid, I concluded after walking around it. Walked inside to realize that it was the Opera House and that the Louvre was probably somewhere else intact with the Pyramid and Mona Lisa. Must remember not to mention such honest mistakes to the others. They would never believe me if I said the Opera house was worth a visit and that it was close to a lovely mall that I was intending to go to anyway.

Somehow by midday, I reached the Louvre to learn it was closed on Tuesdays (which happens to be the very day I happened to be there). So I got to see it from the outside without the bustling tourists. This time the Louvre looked every bit like I had expected it. Historic ochre monstrosity that would have been grandiose but bland if the resplendent pyramid right in front of it didn’t add a factor of surprise. Walking into this quadrangle gave the sense of being in a place that was worthy of only the royalty, of valiant heros and regal maidens…of Abishek Bacchan and Lara Dutta. The serenity of this place was shattered by loud Bollywood music. I rubbed my ears in disbelief and looked wide eyed to see a crew dancing to some song from the new blockbuster Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. I forgot all about Louvre and the Pyramid and ran with all my might towards this new Parisian Wonder. My day was made while I clicked away pictures trying to get the attention of Abishek’s make-up man. Was about to send an SMS to Narsim and Simran when I saw that I missed an SMS from them earlier- Come to the Louvre ASAP.

So they were here before me. Darn, I get no bragging rights for this one. Ms. Dutta, your clothes are going to be a rage at the red light district in Amsterdam. They'll take anything remotely from Paris. I'm so thankful for these photos, because none of the other pictures of Europe held the same sanctity for my relatives and friends back home.

Moved on to Notre Dame and came across many more majestic buildings and churches that looked as historic and important as the Louvre, but since I had no clue as to what they were, I wowed and continued my journey. That’s the thing about Paris. There is this grotesque display of history at every turn, wilting away with dignity or majestically mocking at you for not knowing what it is. A statue here, a fountain there and then you are faced with the eternal dilemma... to photograph it or not. Graciously greying without ever losing her sophistication and youthful glitter, Paris makes you fall in love. I walked along the river Seine, supposedly the most romantic walk in the whole world. I didn't pine for Luc, though I must admit it was very dreamlike. I am in head over heels in love with myself again. It was quite secluded and since the weather was wet, the book sellers that would have normally lined up their books in little green boxes had locked up and left much to my disappointment.

I crossed the river to St Louis Island (Ille de St Louis) and bought myself a pair of earrings. It’s impossible not to wander into the little stores in Paris. The women are stunning in a very casual way. The tights and boots combo that you’d see in runways and lunatics sat on these women with ease. The women are so well dressed and if I couldn’t get myself to look like that in a million years; I can at least try by buying what they wear and end up looking like the lunatic I had mentioned before. I walked in and out of book stores looking for anything English. A few hours later, I had nothing to show about Paris other than Abishek Bacchan. No museums covered, no Eiffel Tower, not even the famous sewer tour of Paris. But oddly enough, I was enjoying every minute of my time doing just this. I spent three hours in a coffee shop teaching the woman English. I know I know, I should be the one learning Bonjour, Comment Allez Vous etc…but she is the one who gets English customers. I’m here only for four days…who cares if I learn this language or not as long as I was getting my hot chocolate. She taught me a few things in French too… but seriously, what good is that now? Maybe if she had taught me how to make that lip smacking apple pie. Whoever said Parisians are snooty. They are proud, but not rude. It’s a good thing not to know the language sometimes. You can just smile when they’re ridiculing you at this store for trying out a sweater over your T-shirt. A truly general example.

It got dark and that’s when I opened the map for the first time. I had to know how to make my way back. Jeez, I had walked quite a bit around the Latin Quarter. It’d take me a while to get back to the Hotel and the thought of how much more money I would spend along the way brought in a new set of jitters. Maybe a cab would turn out cheaper than walking. Got back in time to have dinner with my friends. They had cabaret plans for the night and I declined the offer to go and see women in feathers kicking one leg in the air. On exchanging notes, by God, they had covered a lot of ground in one day. They had seen the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel tower, the Grand Arch, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomph and now they were going to this cabaret. To think my legs were aching and I was planning on retiring for the day.

‘Where did you go?’ they asked and I answered.

Going by their reaction, I might as well have said I slept in the hotel all day.

Paris continued……