Maine Pyaar Kiya

Memorial Day Weekend, 2015

The weather has been acting absolutely crazy these past few months. In the tussle between winter and spring, we never noticed when summer snuck up on us. I, for one, have become a stronger believer of global warming. That aside, two weeks to the long weekend and we had no plans. The husband suggested Maine. I want to do Maine in fall. Acadia dressed in rust and gold would be spectacular. He proposes Vermont in fall. We have heard a lot about Vermont falls and I fall for it.

DSC_0497Two weeks later, it’s still unbelievable that the long weekend is on us. We wake up; throw the essentials in our bags and leave. Maine is nine hours away by road and the plan is to drive down. Post my post-prandial nap, I convince the husband to let me drive. The sweetheart that he is, he is usually the solo driver on our road trips while I doze in the navigator’s seat. Let me add, this is entirely out of choice – his choice. At some point of my drive, he gets comfortable enough to catch a few winks and I am now free to spread my metaphorical wings and fly!

Lobster Land Ahoy

Lobster Land Ahoy

As we check in, the receptionist informs us that today is their first day this season. WHAT!! We also find out that we can use the hot tub and the heated pool at Holiday Inn, across the road. Bliss! We will take a dip after dinner. Only, we are not carrying our swim wear. We head into Bar Harbour downtown for spot purchases and food. It is surprisingly hard to find bathing suits in here. Given its proximity to the sea and all the canoe and kayak adventures being advertised you would think otherwise, but a shop girl sweetly informed us that no one goes swimming in the sea here. Well, Well! We shift gears into firefighting mode and get ourselves board shorts. Turns out we had nothing to worry. There are girls dressed to their wrists and ankles; headscarf et all in the pool and tub.  The night is cool and the hot tub looks most inviting. One toe in and we realize this is no ordinary hot tub; this is a pot of boiling water meant to cook lobsters. We ease ourselves into the lobster pot with some trepidation, but soon we are luxuriating under the night sky; living Maine’s slogan – the way life should be.

DSC_0362We wake up just in time to grab some breakfast and to squirrel away some for lunch.  A man in the hot tub had recommended sunrise over the Atlantic from the top of the Cadillac Mountain. We had opted to leave that for tomorrow. After some back and forth on if we should rent cycles or not, we drive down to Acadia National Park – one of the most visited national parks in the United States. It is the very start of the season, but the parking lot looks full. The queue for passes is winding around the cramped little visitor’s centre. We take good advice from a couple of rangers and drive down the park loop to the Sand Beach entrance station for our passes. The park loop is like driving through a picture postcard. The road meanders through canopies of lush foliage. The great mountains on one side and the Atlantic gleaming on the other gives a whole new spin to the saying stuck between a rock and the sea. There really is no place I’d rather be!

Acadia offers over 120 miles of hiking trails; we pick the ocean trail.  The trail begins at Sand Beach. The ranger at the entrance station warns us that the parking lot is full, so to just park on the right side of the road near the beach. Sure enough, we see a line of cars parked along the road. We park behind them and begin our hunt for the trail head. A few false starts later we find it and set off.

DSC_0397This trail is not so much of a trail as an unpaved pedestrian walkway parallel to the park loop. The views, however are breathtaking. The brilliant blue sky and the matching blue ocean remind us of San Diego – my piece of paradise on earth. We walk past Thunder Hole, but are too early for the big ka-boom and 40 feet spray. Right now it’s like someone throwing out their washing water. Slosh! Slosh! and lots of suds. We walk on hoping to catch it on our way back. We end our walk close to the end of the trail and turn around. We are still too early for the action at Thunder Hole. Not wanting to wait there, we walk down to the car for some makeshift lunch – an apple each, some chips and a shared bar of chocolate. The line of cars behind us has probable reached the entrance station now. We have the whole day ahead so the husband suggests a drive along the scenic park loop, all the way up Cadillac Mountain. We stop one more time at Thunder Hole. I don’t think the husband has fully grasped the magnificence of what we are trying to experience. He thinks is just a loud report and sea spray. I’m disappointed that we are still too early, but I give in to his peevishness. We continue our drive through the last great wilderness in the eastern United States.

DSC_1235We reach Jordon Pond sometime around 2:00 or 2:30 p.m. To our absolute delight, there is a little restaurant called the Jordon Pond House on the bank of the pond. Beating a few others to a parking spot, we amble in only to find that there is a 90 minute wait. To pass time we walk along the Jordon Pond trail. The trail has three parts – a boardwalk, a rocky stretch and an unpaved gravelly bit. When we return to the restaurant after a very pleasant walk, we are politely asked to wait since it’s been just 45 minutes.  Three seconds later our buzzer goes off, and we are led inside. Our hostess very sweetly tells us that lunch has ended but we were welcome to stay for tea and popovers. We stay. It is only much later that I come to know/conclude that Jordon Pond House is really all about the popovers.  Smother them with butter, spread some jam and go uummmmmmmm!

Given the demand in the parking lots, there is this crazy urge to hang on to our prized spot, but the road and day still are long. We drive on , stopping for a bit a Bubble Pond. There is nothing bubbly about it so I don’t understand how it got its name. I imagine on a windless day the pond would be like a giant mirror, reflecting the majestic mountains perfectly.

Somes Bridge, Somesville

Somes Bridge, Somesville

The road winds gently along the Cadillac Mountain, like an arm put affectionately around a dear one’s waist. We roll down our windows and enjoy the tender breeze. The scene outside is of unchanging beauty. Cadillac Mountain summit offers a phenomenal panoramic view of the park and the ocean beyond. We now understand why the man in the hot tub was keen to bring his family here for sunrise. We still have enough light left to relax for a bit in the hot tub by the sea and then make it to the lighthouse by sunset, we think. The coast of Maine is dotted with around 60 lighthouses and it is commonly referred to as The Lighthouse State. On the way to the Bass Harbour lighthouse the husband points out and exclaims, “Did you see that supersized flag?” I get a fleeting glimpse and recognise it to be one of the most photographed spots in Maine- Somes Bridge, Somesville. We will be back to take our own set of pictures, now we have to reach the lighthouse. We miss the sunset at the lighthouse and the place is about to close for the day. We scurry down the path and find ourselves at the foot of a stocky column. We are not impressed. We were expecting to see it from a distance, framed by a vast expanse of sky and sea, with waves crashing on the rocks below. Instead our expectations were dashed by the 26-foot white cylindrical tower.

Springing around Sieur De Monts Spring

Springing around Sieur De Monts Spring

We’re not having very clear skies, so we agree to skip sunrise the next morning.We make a lazy start at  the Sieur De Monts Spring– the symbolic start of Acadia National Park. The Wild Gardens near the spring are the perfect classroom for a crash course in the botany of Acadia.  Our last few hours in the picturesque town of Bar Harbour are spent lazing about downtown. We are rewarded with some mouth-boggling kulfi (spelt khulfi) ice cream. In the husband’s words, “They got it perfectly right, and then thought now we have to add some salt to it, because that’s how kulfi is made!”  Despite the odd salty taste, it was very enjoyable.

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After watching us struggle for a while, a kind stranger walks up and says,” Give me the phone. I’ll take your picture.”

We are home now – with a truckload of photographs, memories to last a lifetime and a jar of blueberry jam.

*Maine Pyaar Kiya – I fell in love!

P.S. More pictures will be up soon on our FB page!

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The Phantom of the Opera

January 2015

Taking the husband for a Broadway show turned out to be easier than I thought. All I had to do way book tickets and tell him.

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As a part of Broadway week, tickets were being offered at half price. I was over the moon to find tickets available for the Phantom of the Opera. I had heard (and read) so much about this show, I was half afraid I’d be let down by my own expectations. The show was playing at the Majestic Theatre. This is one of the largest Broadway theatres and has housed The Phantom of the Opera since it opened on January 26, 1988.  I got tickets for the same day. These were the cheapest tickets in the house. They were centre seats, but way back in the Rear Mezzanine. The seats were comfortable. The number of seats and the tiny walking space through the rows make it feel like the person in the seat behind is on your head, but that’s just a feeling and you get over it quickly.

The show was spectacular. The production itself was worth the ticket. The stage set-up was marvelous. The subterranean lake set is so surreal,you’ll find yourself wishing you were in the gondola. The costumes and the grand staircase of the masquerade gala will stay with you forever. Scenes changed and one grand set replaced the other in a blink of an eye. After a while I stopped blinking, but I still couldn’t catch how they did it. Andrew Lloyd Webber music was stellar as expected. The costumes and make up added flair to the production. Colour has been used effectively to convey character, emotions and moods.This brings me back to the seats. The Rear Mezzanine is way too far to admire these details fully, unless you are carrying opera glasses perhaps. Also, you are really peering down at the stage from here. I think the Front Mezzanine would have been a better choice. You get a bit of a “pitch” to your view and it is not so close that you can’t see the entire stage, nor so far that the curtain blocks the top.

Except for the Phantom, all other characters are quite one dimensional. The Phantom himself at best is two (dimensional). Christine, the lost child woman vacillates between her Angel of Music and true love.The prima donna Charlotte is a diva with starry tantrums.  Madame Giry, the Opéra’s ballet mistress is a women who mysteriously knows a lot about the Phantom.Viscount Raoul is the good Prince Charming, who has precious little to do. I guess the duration of the musical is too short to explore each character in depth. On the other hand, if it had been any longer it would have be an awful drag.

The story is old fashioned. It is set in times when a disfigured face and body was considered a curse of God and people with such afflictions were considered bad luck and shunned by society. Forced to live hidden, in darkness and despair, the Phantom is bereft of all sense of remorse. He kills without compunction, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and how an act of kindness changes it all.

*SPOILERS AHEAD* *SPOILERS AHEAD* *SPOILERS AHEAD*

It’s fashionable these days to imbue the hero shades of grey, but the Phantom is no hero. The titular Phantom of the Opera is an anti-hero, like SRK of Darr, who is obsessed with the heroine – Christine Daaé. Christine Daaé is a chorus girl the Phantom, in the guise of the Angel of Music, trains to be soprano. Christine, in turn, idolizes her Angel. So much so that even when Raoul, her childhood sweetheart, now a Viscount, returns she chooses to go to the Angel of Music. Remember all those fairy tales where the heroine is married to a bear who turns into handsome prince at night and then loses him because she lights a candle to see his face or something? Unable to contain her  curiosity, Christine pulls his mask off and loses her Angel of Music forever. Left behind is the Phantom of the Opera.

Like Beauty, of Beauty and the Beast, she is at first repulsed, but unlike Beauty who gradually sees the goodness inside the Beast, Christine goes on to witness the darker side of the Phantom; his obsession and insanity. The Phantom demands that Christine be made the prima donna of the new production. When the production company does not comply, he kills the opera’s chief stagehand to get his way. A terrified Christine commits her love to Raoul. The Phantom who sees her love as a way to rise out of his torment and wretchedness is livid. Her love was that exquisite light which he thought would dispel the darkness in his life. As his hopes for a beautiful life are shattered, he symbolically brings down opera’s grand chandelier with a dramatic crash.

Another noteworthy symbolism, is the Phantom trying to win Christine back in the graveyard. Her love for him is dead and he is trying to resurrect it with his music. The name Christine itself could be symbolic. Christine is the feminine of Christ. The Phantom sees Christine as his savior, his way out of hell.

The Phantom, determined to have his way, causes a series of mishaps on the sets of the Opera, forcing the opera’s owners to produce his master piece with Christine in the lead; hoping to convince Christine of his great love for her. The result is the exact opposite; she loathes him even more. Tired of being despised for his hideousness and desperate to be loved as a hero, the Phantom secretly kills the opera’s lead tenor and takes his place on stage. When Christine realizes this and exposes him, he flees from the horrified audience taking her captive.

Taking Raoul, who comes to rescue her, hostage the Phantom tries to strike a bargain with Christine – love for love. She resists, but is ultimately so moved by his misery and torment that she kisses him. The Phantom, who has known neither love nor pity, is in turn so touched by her compassion that he sets them both free. It is not pity that the Phantom seeks however, he seeks love! His eyes light up when she returns, but she has come only to return his ring. My heart broke into a million pieces. It’s not fair! She loved him till Raoul sauntered in and even after that. If only she had not seen his face, if only he had not been so afraid of losing her, if only he had not murdered a man…..

In the final scene, a witch hunt is launched for the Phantom, but when they reach his lair he has disappeared, setting the stage for Phantom of the Opera –Part II, which by the way is played out entirely in my own head.

Phantom of the Opera –Part II

Many years have passed since the events at the Opera. Christine has quit the opera and is now married to the Viscount (Raoul). The witch hunt is still on. A man is caught and Christine is called upon to identify him as the Phantom and testify against him. At first she shudders and refuses. She is frightened of what new havoc he will create, but the Viscount bolsters her courage. Embolden by his love she goes to court, but when she sees the man she says it is not he. Just as the Phantom sets her free in the original, she allows him to go free.

As he walks out, they acknowledge each other with an imperceptible nod of her head and tip of his hat.

Canada Pays a Visit

NYC

Victoria Day (Canada); May 2015

 

It Must be True Love

It Must be True Love

The bestie and co. are going to be here for the Canadian long weekend –Victoria Day. I have tons of things planned out.

They get home early Friday morning and the living room  transforms into a makeshift campground. Since we don’t have enough bedding, they are carrying a couple of sleeping bags which completes the camp look. The best part of being besties is you know you can leave her at home and she’ll figure it out. No worries!

While we slog at work, the bestie and co. have a field day in the city. We catch up drinks for at home. By the time we head out it’s too late to go anyplace fancy so we hop over to 53rd and 6th for some chicken over rice at the Halal Guys. While the rest stay in line, the bestie and I head over to the LOVE sculpture. It’s so strange; I must have walked by it a hundred times but never noticed it.  When we get back we see poor J and P have smoke coming out of their ears. J’s eyes are streaming but he is manfully shoving spoonfuls of rice into his mouth. I give the husband a reproachful look. “I warned him”, he shrugs. J nods, “He did. Another girl saw me putting so much red sauce and she also told me I’m crazy. I only didn’t listen!” The next morning our pot was subjected to considerable torture, as all that Indian pride was flushed down, multiple times. Our kitchen on the other hand received  some TLC. While we slept in our beds, the bestie unable to bear the sight of dishes in the sink had unloaded the dishwasher, put way everything and loaded the dishwasher as well.

Great Gamblers

Great Gamblers

Today we are off to Atlantic City. Atlantic City is no Vegas, but it is great fun. We catch up with a few more Canadians at a casino and roll. Mr. R staunchly refuses to gamble. The rest of us make our way to our favourite games. The Canadians choose slot machines; the husband blackjack; I play roulette. There is something I find incredibly fascinating about roulette. The piles of coins on the table; the whirring of the roulette; the black and red blur; the collective intake of breath as the white ball bounces tak tak tak and stops. The magic of the game  has soon ensnared the Canadians, while the husband and I  have learnt to order  free drinks at the slot machines. The bestie and I get a crash course in craps, and almost get booted from the table for saying the number “seven”; twice.  At the end of the evening we are mostly richer, a little poorer and in all very happy!

The drive back is just as exciting. Everyone in our car missed the fun, but the bestie who is awake in the other car keeps calling to let us know that we look like we are racing in a video game. At one point she claims we almost went off a bridge. That sure is a lot of excitement we missed!

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at Ellen’s Stardust Diner

Sunday is comedy night! The Canadians have booked us for a stand-up comedy show. I am always fascinated by how much this city has to offer. Each time we have visitors, we end up doing something we haven’t done before. Sometimes it’s something like a stand-up comedy; something we keep thinking of doing but never get around to it. After the show we headed to Ellen’s Stardust Diner to catch up with friends for dinner. This is the bestie’s only demand on this trip. We’ve been here before. The food is strictly okay, but the performances by the wait staff are superlative. Did I mention, the wait staff are all aspiring Broadway singers and actors? Monday bullies us into getting back home, but the Canadians, who have no such cares this weekend, head out to meet yet more friends. We have no clue when they got back home.

Three days have flown by! It’s time to say till we meet again. USA and Canada have settled scores. We paid a hefty sum for parking there and poor Mr. R got a ticket here. We made money at the casino in Montreal; they made money at Atlantic City. The husband had an upset stomach there; they had their share of abdominal woes here. We are going to miss this crazy bunch!

The Canadian's have given us a new favourite watering hole

The Canadians have given us a new favourite watering hole

The birds have flown, and the house now seems so empty. The bedding is still lying on the floor and the living room wears the look of a deserted camp. As a parting gift, the bestie has loaded the dishwasher again. The husband is afraid I’m going to get used to an empty sink and nag him over it.

Come back soon Rolz –  he’s not going to do it!!

Kutch; Day 3 – Bhujodi; Shop till you Drop

February 5, 2015

After a sumptuous thali and a few glasses of soothing buttermilk, we were on our way to Bhujodi. Bhujodi is the perfect place to indulge in some textile tourism. Can you think of a better way to escape from the tyranny of the afternoon sun?

I wonder if bhujiya was invented in Bhuj. Maybe, maybe not, but on the way to Bhujodi we learnt that Bhuj does gets its name from bhujiya, another sort of bhujiya. It gets its name from the Bhujia Fort, which was constructed by the Jadeja Chief, Rao Godaji, for the defence of the city. The fort itself gets its name from Bhujia hill on which it was built, overlooking the city. Since Indian independence, the fort has been under the jurisdiction of the Indian Army. Entry is strictly prohibited to civilians expect on the festival on Nag Panchami, when a fair is held at the temple of *Bhujang Nag.

The market of Bhujodi is more of a street. This lane is a wonderful place to do your gift shopping. Traditional embroidery and designs find expression on a variety of garments like sarees, dress materials, shawls, kurtas, etc. As seen in the museum there are several styles of Kutchi embroidery, but in general bright colours, geometric patterns and mirrorwork are the trademarks. National Award winning artisans have shops in this market. We did all our shopping at Sharda . They have a couple of shops on the street and a very reasonable. They don’t bargain, but they will do teeny-weeny discounts and throw in a few freebies if you ask nicely.

A few kilometres away, a Dilli Haat type enclosed craft park is being set up to preserve and promote regional arts and crafts. Lush green lawns, a small water body with a little bridge across it and big white ducks create a charming setting for this bazaar. The shops built to look like traditional housing or bungaas give the shopper the illusion of having stepped into the artisan or craftsman’s home to buy his/her creations. While Bhujodi showcases the textiles and splendid needlework of Kutch, this **haat goes beyond that. Carpenters, metal workers, masons and painters rub shoulders with each other and others here. Kutchi mirrorwork, used to decorate village homes is sold here a decorative wall pieces for modern homes. Traditionally this would be done on camel dung base, but the pieces sold commercially are done on mud or plaster. Another shop was selling copper bells. The local clientele for these bells are the pastoral communities who use them to herd their cattle and sheep. In the past, (and may be even today) when cattle died, the raw hide was converted to leather. Kutchi leather used to be so well treated and durable that it could hold water. It is rumoured that artisans once used real silver thread to bind pieces of leather together. There shops in this complex selling leather bags and slip-on footwear that may not be of the same quality or have the same cultural value, but will make any woman’s heart skip a beat. The bazaar was partially occupied when we went. The price of textiles was higher here than in Bhujodi, so if it is textiles you are looking for, you might be better off shopping there.

*Bhujang Nag – Folklore has it that he is the brother of Sheshnag. He came from Than in Kathiawar  to free Kutch from the clutches of demons

**haat – marketplace

Kutch; Day 3 – Local Sights and Delights, Bhuj

February 5, 2015

Right around the corner, housed in an old palatial Italian Gothic building, is the Kutchi museum. The building was originally built to display the gifts and dowry received in marriage by Maharao Khengarji III, then ruler of Kutch.  Today Kutchi langue is written mostly in Gujarati script, but the museum has examples of the extinct Kutchi script. There is a set of exhibits explain the fascinating geological evolution of Kutch. Another set of exhibits introduces us to the various tribes of the region and their lifestyles. These exhibits don’t all match up to the pictures and writing next to them, so make sure you read the plaques before you move on. On the first floor, we saw samples of traditional Kutchi embroidery. Traditionally, this is done by women in their free time as an expression of their creativity and identity. Embroidery communicated status. Designs were usually taken from their surroundings and from mythology. I imagine they did it in groups, sharing joys and sorrows. The style of the needlework depends on the tribe. While embroidery was valued as gifts for marriages and other social occasions which required gifts to be given, it was never sold in the market for money.  Make note of the different styles and patterns, this will come in handy while shopping in Bhujodi. Even more interesting is the metalwork on display on the same floor. The artistic handles of the weaponry gives an idea of the true aesthetic sense of the people of Kutch. Even a man carrying a sword/dagger/knife – a soldier at best and a murderer at worst – appreciated the finer things in life.

DSC_0991Bharatbhai drove us through the narrow streets of Bhuj and stopped before a dilapidated gate. Inside he said was the Aaina Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors. Doubtfully we entered. Sure enough there was a huge Italian Gothic style building in the courtyard. This is purportedly the first building to be built in this style in India.  Time had taken its toll, but the structure had managed retain some of its old charm. The palace is disappointingly simple inside, but one must remember the lifestyles and economics of its heydays before pronouncing a quick judgement. One of the highlights of this palace is a Big Ben style forty five foot high clock tower (unimaginatively called the Bing Bang). If you are reasonable fit, consider climbing the narrow winding staircase up the tower for a panoramic view of the entire city.  It was only later, on the train that we found out that we never went to the Palace of Mirrors. The Palace we went to was *Prag Mahal. The board outside the building said as much, but since we didn’t see any other palace in the courtyard, we simply assumed that Aaina Mahal must be the colloquial name for Prag Mahal.

DSC_0971It is impossible to not notice the numerous large courtyards where cattle are being fed, all over the city. It never ceases to amaze me, how people can have a beef with people eating beef, but not care two hoots about cows eating plastic out of garbage cans. Kudos to Bhuj on leading the way on how it’s really got to be done. To all those supporting the beef ban in Maharashtra, I say if you want to do something for cows please do something to protect pastural commons and grazing forests.While we are on the topic, how about also standing up for all mothers the way we are standing up for the cows. Next time we see a woman being harassed by someone who clearly does not respect mothers, let’s take it up on her behalf. If God keeps tally, this should get us more points.

DSC_0005As evening approached, we went to Hamirsar Lake to wrap up our trip with a spot of bird watching.  We were expecting to see pelicans and cormorants, and hoping to see a stray flamingo or two. As we took our spots near a little hanging bridge in the adjoining park, we saw a muster of painted storks. The first time I saw these elegant white birds with a spot of pink on their tails was at Vedenthangal. **Mama had taken Sam and me there.  Early one morning, before the sun was up we bundled our sleepy selves into his car and set off. We were there at the break of dawn, but not a bird was to be seen or heard. We made our way up the watch tower. If you are nice to the keeper, he will turn the telescope and let you enjoy some tender moments with nature. That wonderful morning, we saw a painted stork building its nest.

DSC_0010As we walked a little further, we saw a scoop of pelicans cavorting on the other side of Hamirsar Lake. Did you know pelicans swallow their food alive? They are known to swallow anything that fits in their big bill including baby ducks, terns, gulls and penguins. Imagine the horror of being slowly digested alive by stomach acids.

DSC_0050At this point my stomach had started to feel like there was something alive in there, kicking and struggling to be let out. It was so terrible that I sent the husband to get me a Pudin Hara which just enraged the beast inside more and made things worse. When we stopped at an ATM to withdraw money to pay Bharatbhai, much to the husband’s astonishment I stepped into the bank next door and asked if I could use their restroom. “Did you throw up?” he asked with boyish curiosity, when I stepped out. “No. The other end.” “Who goes to a bank and does THAT!” he exclaimed with a mix of mirth and disgust. The demon dispelled and dispatched down the drain, I was feeling much better.

*Prag Mahal fun fact – Scenes from the Bollywood blockbusters Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan were shot inside this palace.

**Mama – Maternal uncle