Paris – Off the Tourist Circuit

October 2018

On an ordinary day, you might see a long line of people outside this seemingly ordinary building across the street from the Pantheon and a few steps away from the church Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. This building, with names of scholars and philosophers carved into its austere façade, is the historic Bibliothèque* Sainte-Geneviève. The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève has been at the heart of French education from its beginnings, as part of the vast Abbaye de Sainte-Geneviève in the early sixth century, to its current role the main research and reference library for students of l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. Although the library is public, to avoid tourists wandering around distracting studies, casual visitors are only allowed to visit between 9am to 10am, after which the library is open to students.

Capture

Following the process, I emailed the library in advance and was told I could bring the LO but would have to wear her as the library is not stroller friendly. On the day, a large group of French speakers show up and the tour is conducted in French. The librarian was sweet enough to pause and repeat the main points in English for me.

St Geneviève, one of the largest and oldest abbeys in Paris, had amassed a large library by the 12th century.  The Royal Library Sainte-Genevieve was built sometime in the future to house  this collection. The French the architect Henri Labrouste was commissioned to design and oversee the construction of the modern version of this building. Labrouste’s  Bibliothèque  Nationale is widely acknowledged, but Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève came first.

img_4454

The building is famous for its use of figured cast iron, reaching up to form two soaring barrel vaults running the length the reading room. It was among the first to have iron used in such a prominent, visible way. The library was conceptualized as “a temple of knowledge and space for contemplation”. The building is a marriage of light and dark. It represents the “outside” and the “inside”; the “arts” and the “sciences”. Its genius lies in the way it switches common notions which should darkness and which light.  The movement of people from light (outside) to darkness (inside/the lobby) to light (the reading room) can be interpreted in so many metaphysical ways. The reading room door has a secret lock. If that doesn’t catch your imagination, the thousands of books that line the walls will. Labrouste insisted that the interiors of the reading room be simple and unadorned. Books should be a library’s greatest decoration. Impressed.

*Bibliothèque- Library

Advertisements

Paris – A Literary Feast

October 2018

Paris is dotted with literary landmarks. When I think of Paris, I think of Voltaire and Victor Hugo; of Ernest Hemingway. I think of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A tale of Two Cites, The Scarlet Pimpernel…and mom. When I get to The Scarlet Pimpernel, the next thing that comes to my mind is my mother. The dashing hero, hiding behind a mild, meek, ineffectual persona has inspired generations of superheroes and vigilantes – Superman, Spiderman, Batman…When I asked which book comes to you mind when you think of Paris, she answered, A tale of Two Cities and …. The Scarlet Pimpernel. It is just the kind of story she loves. Romantic, adventurous, served up with a generous helping of culture and history.

img_4228In so many ways Paris is like that too. Romantic, adventurous, filled with culture and history. If you prefer the razzle-dazzle of the modern world, Paris has plenty of that too. Our friend, RP, confessed it was his 10th visit to Paris but he usually doesn’t stay in the area we picked. I confess I picked this locality because of its proximity to two big parks. When you travel with kids, you have to think of things like that (insert eye roll). Turns out, we were just down the road from where Hemingway and his wife lived. In 1922 the Hemingway moved to 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. Our hotel was at 75 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. Next door..almost. They later moved to 39 rue Descartes. That’s the next street. The French poet Paul Verlaine died in that same building. Valery Larbaud lived at 71 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. Next door – literally.  The plaque outside describes him as l’écrivain, poète, romancier, essayiste et traducteur* . Romancier is simply novelist in french, but it sounds like so much more dreamy.  Valery Larbaud was all that the plaque says and also travel writer extraordinaire. Larbaud loaned his apartment to  the Irish writer James Joyce and his family, to give Joyce the sanctuary he needed to finish his controversial book Ulysses, in which episodes of Homer‘s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles. We were in the company of greats and barely knew it.

img_4346

Larbaud was close friends with Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach. Sylvia Beach was the owner of Shakespeare & Co., a bookstore and lending library that Hemingway often visited. During the 1920s, Beach’s shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring writers.  When Hemingway was young and broke, Beach gave him a library card (for her lending library) and told him to pay at his convenience. Shakespeare & Co was originally located at 12 Rue de l’Odéon. The iconic English-language bookstore closed during the German occupation of Paris and never reopened but… there is another bookstore called Shakespeare & Co., paying homage to the original, located on the quay across from the Notre Dame. This one was started by  the American author George Whitman. It continues to serve as a purveyor of new and second-hand books, as an antiquarian bookseller, and as a free reading library open to the public. The little bookstore also provides aspiring writers and artists a place to stay. In return the tumbleweeds, as they are called, need to help out around the store, read a book a day and write a one-page autobiography for the archives. Yes.. you can also actual sleep in the store surround by books.

* l’écrivain, poète, romancier, essayiste et traducteur – writer, poet, novelist, essayist and translator

2017 – What a year it has been!!

We started 2017 on a very healthy note. My resolution for the year was to get fit and fit back into my clothes. Part of the deal was to quit alcohol, with the understanding that cutting out alcohol would automatically also cut out on all the junk that’s consumed with it. Little did I know how easy life was going to make it! Somewhere around the second or third week of January, I found it that I was pregnant. Oh, the joy and the surprise!!

Elsa Announcement

(She was due, end of September, but she came early October)

I was bursting to tell the family about it when we visited SD early February for the niece’s third birthday, but we decided to hold off till the heartbeat is identified and the eight weeks scan is done.

From SD we went to Seattle where I met a dear old friend.  Amongst other things, Seattle is a culinary city. A cousin who had spent a number of years working in Seattle happily provided us with a list of places to places to eat and items to order. Isn’t it wonderful to play virtual guide to someone visiting a city you love, and re-experiencing everything you love about it twice over – once while reminiscing, and coming up with a plan and once again through their eyes as they execute it. Let me also remind you that recreational marijuana is legal in the state of Washington and I will say no more about it.

When we got home, the pregnancy got confirmed and we started our second greatest adventure ( the first one being our marriage), our journey to parenthood.  The next thing I remember is Amma coming to stay with us in May, all excited – both for the new baby and for my graduation. My sister and nephew also flew in from San Diego for my graduation.

The nephew helped us put up our first little vegetable garden. We grew tomatoes, cucumbers, egg plant, okra, watermelon, pumpkin, strawberries, bell peppers,cayenne peppers, ghost peppers and herbs. We had a bumper harvest all through summer and a good part of fall. This summer my new thing to do with a tourist friend in NYC was “walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.” This item has been on my list for a loong time now. My list item is actually cycle across the bridge, but never mind. Maybe someday we’ll get to that too.

Our big trip for the year was our “babymoon” to Scotland via London. We were originally planning to go to Banff, but Banff was so expensive that time of the year that we may as well have gone to London and we did. Our flight  was overbooked and we got $400 each to reschedule..to a more convenient flight. The new flight was delayed due to bad weather and we ended up spending an entire day at Reykjavik airport. When we finally checked into our hotel in London, it was a tiny, but comfortable burrow. No windows! We only had to spend two nights in there, so no worries. We were out all day having the time of our lives. In London I met two of my best friends and they took time off to show us around. Best way to see the city. We missed meeting other friends (and babies) due to the flight delays, and that’s my only real regret about this trip. We spent a day at Wimbledon, catching up on the Championship live. A major part of our holiday was spent in Scotland. Dark grey clouds rolling across lofty hills, looming over verdant valleys; bizarre landscapes of conical hills dotted with emerald green ponds and scattered waterfalls; sea, sky and the space between coloured in every shade of blue imaginable – Scotland is a bit of a drama queen like me! We had heard that the weather would change faster than my pregnant moods, but it stayed gorgeous for us the whole time. When I say gorgeous, I mean cloudy, cool, with occasional drizzles.I have come to realize this is NOT what most others find beautiful, they call it dreary and dull.

In all of summer, we managed only one evening at the beach and a couple of barbeques at home. We squeezed in one terrible IIFA pre-awards night. The last weekend of summer was spent in Vermont, having the kind of vacation we never have – slow and relaxed. The next week was absolutely crazy, we went to the US Open quarter finals, took a our of the hospital, welcomed Amma back and had our baby-cue over the weekend. We had our traditional Indian “babyshower” early summer with family and then early fall we had this more fun one with friends.

img_1560

Our baby made us wait a week past due date and even after that she wouldn’t come. I had a very easy pregnancy, but caught up on all the drama in labour. My body just wouldn’t go into labour, no matter what they tried or how hard! Finally, they had to cut me open and get the baby out. She came out shouting as loudly as her little lungs would permit. Then they  put her cheek against mine and she heard my voice, and calmed down instantly. This was also the instant I forgot all the trauma of my delivery. It all just vanished. Just like that. And just like that our journey changed from “the road to parenthood” to parenthood.

img_2048

My sister and her family visited the little one over Thanksgiving. What a blessed Thanksgiving it was!

img_2114

While the little one had been around the block, to the pediatricians, to a near by park, the neighbours’ homes, the local zoo, her first real trip was to Cape May for my birthday. As always it snowed (and made me very happy). This being our first big small trip with her, we weren’t well planned and prepared . We left home later than we had anticipated and with enough bags to make us look like a nomadic family on the move. We drove around Cape May that evening taking in the holiday lights. The little one let us have our dinner at a restaurant, another first ( hopefully not last!). Yet another first was seeing snow on the beach the next morning. In my mind snow and beaches are opposites of each other, so it was something of a wonder seeing them together. We stayed just one night because we weren’t sure if the little one would be up to it, she was a champ though. For now, she HATES her car seat, but hopefully that will change. In all our fluster as new parents, we left behind her co-sleeper. She had pretty much outgrown it and we were still using it only because we (read I) were not ready to move her into her crib, in her room; a room that we had so lovingly and painstakingly set up. With no choice now, we moved her into her crib, with me next to her on the bed. Again, she slept beautifully. I, on the other hand worried in my sleep all night.

I made it back to the gym at the end of the year. I feel fitter than the end of last year, I’ve not had a single drink all year and while I have not lost any additional weight, I am back to  my pre-pregnancy weight. I’ll consider that resolution kept.

2018, surprise me 🙂

For 2018,

I want to go home and introduce my family to my little one. My grandfather is ninety-four, and I really really want him to hold her and bless her

I want to stopover at Paris and make it the little one’s first “foreign” destination

I want to go to South East Asia, Bali perhaps

I want to go to the Yellowstone National Park

I want to invest in a telescope and a good book on astronomy, and stargaze

A Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

New York has so much to offer, we try to do something new with visitors each time. Sometimes it’s a new bar, sometimes it’s a new experience. This time, I fulfilled my long time wish of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

This bridge has featured films such as Annie HallGangs of New YorkKate & LeopoldIt Happened in BrooklynI Am LegendThe Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers and ….Kal Ho Na Ho – who can forget SRK standing on the bridge and spreading his arms, in his trademark style! This bridge is a very popular location for romantic engagements and photoshoots.

With Neha.jpg

Of the three bridges (B-M-W) that span New York City’s East River, the Brooklyn Bridge has iconic status. It is probably one of the most popular landmarks and one of the most instantly recognisable features of New York City’s skyline. The bridge was started in 1869 and completed fourteen (14) years later in 1883. It is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States and the first constructed using steel wire. Back in the day, it became a symbol of what could be achieved. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

The bridge was designed by an immigrant – German born civil engineer German immigrant John Augustus Roebling. Let’s take a moment here to acknowledge the contribution of immigrants to this country. Besides if all life started in Ethiopia, everybody is an immigrant; some came sooner, others later.

Shortly before construction began John Roebling suffered a serious foot injury from which he contracted tetanus and died. The project was taken over by his son, Washington Roebling. Shortly after construction began, t he too suffered a paralysing injury and was unable to attend site himself. Undeterred, he relayed daily instructions to his engineers through his wife, Emily. At the time of its inauguration, people doubted its strength, so the city hired a circus promoter to lead a herd of 21 elephants across the bridge!

I love Manhattan, but in my heart, I’m a Brooklyn girl. The Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to  to provide passage across the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan, back when Brooklyn was still an independent city. 125 years later, its granite towers and steel cables still loom majestically over New York City’s East River, linking the two boroughs.

 

Seattle

February 2017

How apt that our first “family” vacation should be to San Diego! We are here to celebrate the niece’s third birthday. She is super excited and so are we!

Capture

From here, we are headed to Seattle. Why? It’s our anniversary break, we are already on the west coast and we’ve never been to Seattle.

IMG_0084.JPG

Seattle is a literary city, a grunge city, a culinary city…a city often called the Emerald City; home to hipsters and the PNW life. Not much, yet so much has happened since, that this trip is almost a blur now. The only distinct part is meeting N, my school friend and picking up where we left off like it was just yesterday. Laughing under the Lenin statue and getting late night coffee.

Seattle

We wandered across the city, using mostly uber, which is surprisingly cheap in Seattle. Somewhere in the blur is a trip up the Space Needle, going crazy at the museum of pop culture, tasting strawberry-ghost pepper jam at Pike Place market and regretting not being able to get some back ever since, going all the way to the Locks but missing seeing them in action, a cruise around the shoreline, down the Elliott Bay and Seattle Harbor, not going to chewing gum alley, a visit to Uncle Ike’s and the crazy number of Prius around. It’s almost as though you are not allowed to own any other car here.

Chihuly Gardens

I absolutely love the Chihuly Garden. Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases the imagination  of Seattle’s famous glass-blowing artist, Dale Chihuly. If there’s time to do just one thing in Seattle, visit the Chihuly glass garden. The glass, breathtaking shapes and gorgeous colors, the scale, variety, lighting…all come together to make the whole experience surreal. Walking from room to room, is like fluidly moving into dream after dream. Make sure you pause at the end, and look up through the glass for the best view ever of the Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.

 

 

 

London Again

July 9, 2017

Day 9

IMG_0870

The husband is semi-torn between the Tower of London and watching a match at the Lord’s. There are no tickets to the match, so the Tower it is. We’ll be meeting A at the Tower, where he has so kindly, arranged tickets for us. We have been told that the Kohinoor diamond and the Crown Jewels are a somewhat of a letdown. That does not deter us. I am determined to see the famous diamond and the infamous ravens.

phone9

It takes us longer than anticipated to reach the Tower and poor A is kept waiting. An entire day on my feet in London and five days in Scotland didn’t tire me out as much as the trip from Stansted Airport to the Tower Bridge!  Once in, we see a Beefeater starting his tour and join it. He is entertaining and intriguing. We follow him, till we see the queue snaking across the courtyard to see the Crown Jewels and promptly join it. While in queue, we spot a couple of ravens hopping around looking for scraps. Did you know that the collective noun for a group of ravens is “unkindness”? Ravens are also known to be able to mimic human speech! A Royal Decree says that there must be six ravens in the Tower always. It is said, the decree was passed after a King was told that if the ravens left the Tower, the White Tower would fall and a great disaster befall the Kingdom.

Collages16

The Kohinoor is a large, colourless diamond possibly 5000 years old, but more likely from around the 13th century. Rumour has it that it first weighed 793 carats (158.6 g) uncut. The earliest well-attested weight is 186 carats (37.2 g). It was big, no doubt, but not uncommonly beautiful, so  Prince Albert decided to get it cut and polished. Thirty-eight days and 8000 pounds later the stone emerged 42 percent lighter. Today it weighs 105.6 carats (21.12 g). This is probably why people who go to see this supersized diamond are disappointed.  Within the royal family, the diamond has acquired a reputation for bringing bad luck to any man who wears it. Since arriving in the country, it has only ever been worn by female members of the family.

As we make our way through the building, we see not just the Kohinoor, but a number of other gorgeous jewels and household items as well. If you ask me, the time we spent admiring this dazzling display of wealth was completely worth every moment.

We make it to Gatwick airport well in time for our flight, only to find the flight delayed. After waiting impatiently post security and boarding pass check, we spend another four hours inside the plane, waiting to take off. The captain cooling passes the blame on to Engineering, saying they were investigating a scratch in the paint, in the hold. *Eye Roll* Thank heavens for adult coloring! The captain did try to make up time, but we still get home at two in the morning, and my legs are swollen like tree trunks. The nice part was, two people switched seats with us. We had two middle seats. A nice lady gave the husband her window in exchange for his middle, so we could sit together. Sometime after takeoff, the sleepy girl in the aisle seat changed places with me, so I could get out and walk around as much as I needed to.

File_007(2).jpeg

It’s been a wonderful trip. London has been marvelous and Edinburgh most charming. Every single time I got on the tube/underground in London people stood up to offer me a seat, instantly and without hesitation – men, women and children. The food was delicious. The weather has been most cooperative. Thank you everyone who took time out to meet us and show us around, got in touch with us, tried to meet us, and helped us with research. Here’s to friendship and more holidays!

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, 

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.”

Robert Burns

Last Day in Scotland

July 8, 2017

Day 8

Today is our last day in Scotland. We want it to be relaxed, while we still make the most of it. We lazily roll out of bed. On the cards is a trip to Urquhart castle, a boat ride back across the Loch Ness and Inverness. From Inverness we will drive down to Glasgow to experience the nightlife and catch our flight out tomorrow.

Isle of Skye1

Once upon a time, Urquhart Castle was one of Scotland’s largest castles. Excavations have provided evidence of settlements in this area going back to as early as 2000BC. The castle is strategically located on a rocky promontory with an open view up and down Loch Ness. More than once during its troubled history the castle held out because it could be resupplied by ship. There is a miniature model of the castle in the little gallery, next to the gift shop. It’s got little bulbs that light up when you press a room/area on the legend. A super fun way to explore the castle as it once stood. There is a short video on the history of the castle which I highly recommend everyone sees before venturing out into the castle itself. It helps gain perspective. Control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence. The last of the government troops garrisoned here during the Jacobite Risings blew up the castle when they left. Today the castle stands in ruins, bits and pieces of solid wall and broken towers.  The husband correctly points out that Western Ghats of Maharashtra, India, have so much to offer in terms of both scenic beauty and history. If only we learnt the art of preservation and presentation.

phone8

Our plan was to take the boat ride on the Loch Ness from the castle. We find this is not possible, as we need to buy tickets at another place a short distance away. Up and down the road we go, with our map insisting we go uphill to catch a ferry. Finally we identify the Visitor Centre, where we are told to buy tickets from across the road, right next to where the ferry boards. The next ferry is in ten minutes or so. The husband rushes off to park where instructed, while I make my way to the ticket booth. He manages to park and get to the jetty just as the ferry starts boarding. Loch is Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Scots for a lake or for a sea inlet. Loch Ness, immortalized by Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster is probably the most famous loch in the world. Loch Ness is a freshwater loch. It is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area, the first being Loch Lomond, but due to its great depth, it is the largest by volume in the British Isles. It is said to contain more freshwater than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. Nessie, the eponymous monster of the lake is described as an enormous green creature, with a long neck and snake like body with one or more slither humps protruding from the water. The ride around the lake is pleasant and offers a bonny view of the Urquhart castle.

IMG_0844We reach Inverness just in time for lunch. We walk around trying to decide what to eat, and shopping just a wee bit for you-know-who-is-coming-soon. I smell Chinese and it smells good. We haven’t eaten at a Chinese buffet for a couple of years now, and this seems like a good opportunity to find out what British Chinese tastes like.

IMG_0854It is raining, when we get to Glasgow. It takes us a while to locate our hotel and check-in. Having driven around the city while trying to get to our hotel, we decided to skip everything else in favor of a hot dinner and a good night’s rest. We pick an Indian restaurant, by virtue of it being open at this hour and because it’s called Usha. Both our mothers are coincidentally named Usha. Our next challenge was returning the car. The rental office is closed and won’t open until after our flight departs tomorrow. The hotel puts us in touch with the rental company’s on the road assistance team, who assure us, it would not be a problem at all. All we have to do is fill up gas and leave the keys in the drop box.

We tuck in for the night, filled with the loveliest of memories.

“Wherever I wander,

wherever I rove,

The hills of the Highlands

forever I love”

-Robert Burns