The Cloisters, New York City

What a beautiful day it is! The trees below, in the parking lot have changed colours and are dancing gaily with the wind.  The sun is out spreading an illusion of warmth, and conning people stepping out of their heated apartments, into the chilly autumn breeze .Trick or Treat!!

Oh wouldn’t it be lovely if for just one day in a year souls departed could visit us from the Far Shore? If we could pretend we are back where we used to be. If in the dim light of  candles and floating lanterns, we could see those we may never see again; welcome them, honour them, and send them back in peace. If on a cold night, we could warm ourselves with love lost.

I am sitting in my balcony admiring Autumn  below me, and New York City across the river. I have bright red gloves on my hands which I alternately take off and put on for the ease of typing, and on a little table next to me a bottle of water and some “aval” . For years, these beaten rice crispies mixed with a side of curds is what my grandmother had for dinner. She would pick out the groundnuts from her plate and give them to me as a treat. I’m thinking of her. ..and others.

If you are looking for a place to visit in NYC for Halloween, I suggest you go to the Cloisters . The Cloisters museum and gardens is a branch of the MET museum devoted to  the art and architecture of medieval Europe, mostly from around the twelfth through the fifteenth century. The whole place has a very esoteric feel to it. It whispers the story of the severe life of monks and nuns in the centuries past. In those whispers, perhaps are the murmurings of how a new religion adapted practices from the older ones and made them its own.

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Don’t miss the burial chamber, where every sarcophagus has a pet animal on it. Were each of those laid to rest  accompanied by a pet? Was their pet laid to rest with them? This is the spookiest chamber in the museum and a great place to take your Halloween pictures. Just not as a slutty pumpkin or Mickey Mouse! The basement houses the “Treasure”, which along with other objects created for liturgical celebrations, personal devotions, and secular uses, holds  a linen on which is detailed out the genealogy of Christ.

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My personal favorite room, along with the crypt, was the room housing the tapestries depicting The Hunt of the Unicorn.  My heart goes out to the unicorn. It is chased and hounded, and finally when it is tamed by a young virgin, it is killed. Instead of a mourning procession, its body is carried with great pomp and show to the castle. Oh,to kill a beast with love! Could they not find a crueler way to kill it? Although the beautiful creature is slayed in the 6th panel, it is depicted alive,and in captivity on the last panel. Can a unicorn rise from the dead, like a phoenix? Is this a separate unrelated piece? My knowledge is limited, but I know that the pagan unicorn hunt was absorbed by Christian doctrine as a symbol for the passion of Christ. Does this panel represent his resurrection?

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While you’re at the Cloisters, take a moment to enjoy the gardens and the tiny cafe. Just like at the MET, there is a suggested entry fee ( $25 per adult), but you can pay what you feel is appropriate and affordable.  They are open 7 days a week from 10:00 am to 5:15 pm,  March to October and 10:00 am to 4:45 pm, November to February.

Fall Lessons at Bear Mountain

Just as Spring brings hope, Fall embodies impermanence. The tender green leaves  of spring tell us that no matter how  harsh the winter, summer is around the corner. The multi-hued leaves of fall remind us that change is inevitable. Some leaves are blown and scattered by the wind, some float down gently, but  every  leaf tells the same story as it swirls and twirls to the ground.

“With Him are the keys of the unseen, the treasures that none know but He. He knows whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but with His knowledge: " -Quran

“With Him are the keys of the unseen, the treasures that none know but He. He knows whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but with His knowledge: “
-Quran

“You are wasting a perfectly fine fall day”, the husband grumbles. I have to be done with my assignment before I can think of stepping out. ” I’ll be done in an hour or so, and then we can go.”, I assure him. An hour later I have wrapped my work, and turn around to see the him pick up his books just then. “Now who’s wasting the fine day?”

A quick research shows us that fall foliage is at peak at Bear Mountain, and as a bonus there’s an  Oktoberfest going on. With our destination locked in, we set out to meet and greet Fall, and catch up over a few beers. We meet Fall on the way to Bear Mountain itself; on the 7 lakes drive. This road seems to be made for enjoying fall foliage. With each turn it seems like Fall is swishing her multi hued skirt.

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The world has fallen in love with a dream – Sant Kabir

The sky has turned cloudy, and if the weather changes we are going to be in trouble since we are dressed for a sunny fall afternoon. Suddenly the sun comes out and lights up the world. The reds and yellows warm up and the water shines lazily. We drink in the beauty with our eyes and drive on to Bear Mountain and the Oktoberfest.

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The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with base notes, or a dark lake with the treble – Wassily Kandinsky

Bear Mountain is beautiful too. The Oktoberfest is fun, if you are not expecting it to be a beer fest. We were. There is food (vegetarians rejoice for there are vegetarian options),  there are stalls selling Native Indian/American Indian wares, barbeques (Fi-Fie-Fo-Foo! I’m sure I smell some barbeque!), gorgeous landscape, music and laughter, but just 4 types of beer.

Sampling the wares

Sampling the wares (photo courtesy Ganesh Sankaran)

 

We found Fall so close to home. We decide to bring Amma here. She will be landing early tomorrow morning,  after a 16 hour journey across oceans and time zones. If she feels upto it, we will bring her here. She is sure to love it. It will be her first brush with Fall magic.

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Amma, all bundled up, and the husband

Magic does happen. The night is cold, wet and windy. When we come back, many of the trees are bare. Gone are the fiery reds; the golden yellows; the muted orange. What is left is turning brown. We cannot believe our eyes. The sun is shining brightly, but it is cold and windy. Just yesterday, only 24 hours ago, the same drive looked so different.  Today, there is colour, but  only in patches.

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“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” ― W. Somerset Maugham

I’m  disappointed Amma couldn’t have the same fabulous fall experience, but I’m glad we came yesterday. I’m glad we didn’t put it off to tomorrow or the next weekend. When we get a chance at something beautiful, we must take it. Life can change overnight. So pick up the phone, and make that call. Don’t just ask about a loved one, ask for them. Travel not just to see places, travel to meet people. Let them know how much they mean to you.  Tomorrow may not be as beautiful as today.

Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

“Let’s go to Mt. Washington!”

We say this almost every 2 months. Usually this is followed up by a comment, ” It will be too cold now.” or, ” It’s just too far for a day trip.” It’s true, Mt. Washington is too  far for a day trip and 9 out of 10 times has inclement weather. This is exactly what Mt. Washington is famous for – bad weather.  If you search for Mt. Washington on youtube, you can find videos of boiling water being thrown in the air and turning to snow instantaneously, and other extreme weather videos that will blow you away. In 1934, the observatory at the summit (6,288 ft -1917 metres above sea – level) recorded the then highest surface wind speed ever officially recorded (372 km/h ;231 mph; 103 m/s).They market themselves as the place with the worst weather in the world.  Why would anybody NOT want to go there!

At the foot of the mountain

At the foot of the mountain

We were in New Hampshire (NH) last weekend; leaf peeping with friends. Despite all the meticulous research and careful calculations, we were ahead of peak fall. Wandering around, wondering what to do, we found ourselves at the base of Mt. Washington. The answer was as clear as day (and what a clear day it was!) , let’ s go up Mt. Washington.

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The Cog Rail

There are 2 ways to get to the top. You could either take the road, which is open only weather permitting, or you could take the cog train.  Since it is a cool, crisp sunny day, we take the 8 mile long, Mt. Washington Auto Way.  This itself is such a surprise because just the previous evening the radio weather channel predicted high speed winds, sleet and snow that night on Mt. Washington. When we got to the top, we see the evidence.

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Hawa ke Saath Saath, Ghata ke Sang Sang ( Riding with the wind and clouds for company)

The road winds its way up the highest mountain in the Northeast (of the US) like a dark gray ribbon, revealing ridgeline after ridgeline. The journey is like a short lesson in geography. At the base are the hardwood trees – oak, maple, birch, shaking their red and gold heads, dancing merrily in the wind. As we go up the mountain, we are surrounded by evergreen pines.

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Still higher, we are engulfed by clouds, scattered by strong busy winds. The terrain is bare and rocky. The climate, akin to the Tundra regions, differentiated only by the high amount of rain and snow it receives . It is a good day to be top of the mountain. It is cold and windy, but an ordinary jacket suffices. I wish my jacket had a hood though, to  prevent Jack Frost from getting my ears and nose, and a pair of gloves so that I could take my hands out of my pockets and make pictures.

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Up in the Clouds

Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry. Don’t let that get you down. If you keep your mind open, you will be surprised how easily disappointments can turn into opportunities. If there is no fall foliage to admire, the sun could be shining on Mt. Washington, or it could be so cold and windy up there that you could really brave the worst weather possible.

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Chasing Fall through New Hampshire

Summer seems reluctant to leave. There’s a slight nip in the air, but Fall is  taking her  time  dressing up. Our friends invited us to go leaf peeping with them to New England last weekend. We’ve been wanting to do this too, and happily join.  Maine and Vermont are supposedly past peak and Connecticut is yet to peak, so we settle on New Hampshire (NH). Our friends, seasoned fall peepers, chalk out the itinerary. Good company makes the long road short, yet it’s close to midnight by the time we throw ourselves on our beds.

When morning comes and I rub my sleepy eyes and look out of the window, I am treated to the perfect sight – a tree Fall has finished painting in bold reds and fiery orange. It’s a sign for sure! We pile into the car.

In the car, we (our friends really) come up with a list of places we need to cover. We must go to Lincoln. We should drive further North. We have to do the Kancamagus highway (lazily called the Kanc). We could drive up the road to the little bridge the man at the motel suggested.  We drive down the road and get food.  Somewhere in all this we decide to get some expert recommendations at the local visitor center, where we are  advised  to go to Square Rock. It would be a short and easy hike, ending with a breathtaking view of the valley. That sounds promising, but wait – the man at the bike rental shop (where we stopped to gather information, not rent bikes) also mentioned a waterfall. Turns out, that’s a short walk too, and very dramatic. Cascading water, surrounded by trees decked out in warm red and rust, reflected in a  still pool of cold water.  I imagine an (Asian) Indian bride admiring  herself in the mirror. We just had to do this!

(Glen Ellis Falls)

Hold my hand and walk with me (Glen Ellis Falls)

We get a lovely view of the valley at the Glen Ellis Falls, but there are no trees peeking into the pool and the 64 feet fall is  less dramatic than we expected.

We quickly change gears and decide to drive up the Mount Washington motor way, spend sometime time at the summit and drive back home along the scenic Kancagamus highway. By the time we hit the Kanc the sun is low in the sky, casting a lovely golden glow over the world – the bride just put her jewelry on.

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Can you feel the LOVE tonight, it is where WE are (off Kancamagus highway)

The glitch is, we are travelling east, away from the orange orb. We are surrounded by mountains, which in the daytime would have cut out the harsh afternoon light, but were now blocking out direct illumination by the setting sun. This is so disappointing! We drove all day to NH (and drove back all night), only to find Fall being coy!

It's not about where you are, it's who you are with Picture courtesy -Ganesh Sankaran, Supriya Malpani and kind stranger

It’s not about where you are, it’s who you are with
Picture courtesy -Ganesh Sankaran, Supriya Malpani and kind stranger (at the foot of Mt. Washington)

Lets re-wind a little here. We drove with friends. The company was definitely worth the drive. We went shopping on a holiday, something we don’t generally do. I even bought something, which is almost an accomplishment for me, and a hallelujah  moment for those accompanying me. In an unknown town, we chanced upon a lovely dinner place. The weather held up. Not just that, it  was great. The motor road up to Mt. Washington was open. Mt. Washington has been on our to-do list, and now – check.  And while fall may not have peaked, there was plenty of colour. A sprinkling of green amidst the reds and the yellows, does not take away, it adds to picture.

The trick is to pause. Walk with Fall. Hold her hand and match her step. Admire the warmth she brings with her colours, and enjoy her cool breath on your skin.  Don’t chase her. It’s pointless.