Paint Nite with Mommy

1st Aug, 2015

IMG_0944A painting is but a journey through the painter’s soul! Mommy’s is unfettered; bold and stormy. The husband’s is strong and clean with neat  strokes and well defined spaces. How perfect everything looks! See that tiny star in his inky blue sky. Incongruous with the time of the day; like a little speck of randomness in his otherwise correct world – that’s me! 🙂

Mine own painting is very fluid. The colours flow freely into each other. The stars scattered across the sky add a touch of whimsical, that is often associated with me.

IMG_0942Our Paint Nite was really an afternoon filled with fun, laughter and lots of colour. At one point we almost turned back because of all the traffic on the road, thinking we’ll never make it in time. We reached late, but were able to catch up quite easily. Very soon, we were very glad we didn’t give up before we even started.  It was the husband and mommy’s first time. Mommy ended up with a van Gogh while the husband’s painting looks like  a Henri Rousseau!

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Smorgasburg

August 2015

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..because they said we need our daily quota of fruits

Way before summer is official here, street food markets mushroom around the city. Some of them are farmers’ markets selling fresh produce and freshly prepared foods, others are dedicated food bazaars. This year I’ve so far eaten at Broadway Bites at the little park outside the PATH station at Herald Square, Mad Sq. Eats at Union Park right outside office and at the Smorgasburg –  the mini version at South Seaport and the full version at the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

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This was our first visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Another first in the city! (just saying) I didn’t know it then, but I know now how the park uses natural eco-systems, in addition to grey infrastructure to protect itself from the damaging effects of flooding. What used to be Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront, was revamped by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as the ultimate sustainable park, with  natural and grey infrastructure working together to keep the park alive. The hills of the park are constructed from stone recycled from a nearby tunnel-digging project. The park has a vast underground water storage system that captures storm water  for irrigation purposes. The rushes planted along the shore act as wave breakers and slow down the water. The water is also slowed down by the vestigial remains of  the park’s industrial origins.Great care has been taken in the selection of trees. The salt water tolerant endemic species selected withstood the influx of saltwater due to the storm surge from superstorm Sandy. Generations to come with look at this park with awe and wonder, like we look at the Basilica Cistern  and the ruins of Mohenjo-daro today.

SmorgasburgSmorgasburg was much smaller than we expected. I got there by lunch time, but the husband got there much later, around closing time. One thing to keep in mind is, most stalls do not accept cards. There is an ATM at the location, but it is best to carry cash.  The place was smaller than I expected, but it still had a plethora of options. The number of vegetarian and vegan options is unbelievable.  While waiting for the husband I tried some West African Fare at Woezo – delicious. The line for Ramen Burger kept growing like a snake’s tail. With so many tastes to explore, who wants to be stuck in line! Besides, I had tried it at the mini Smorgasburg at South Seaport. It is very… interesting. If like me you think this is a ramen patty between buns you are in for a fun surprise. It’s a burger patty sandwiched between ramen buns. Ramen buns = two thick round unbroken cakes of Maggi magic masala. Doing my best to stretch my meagre cash reserves till the husband gets here,  I walked around the bazaar almost twice before zeroing in on MofoGO – mashed plantain in a bowl.  Monkey food? It’s pretty good. Just as I am about to give up and head home, the husband saunters in and asks, “So what’s good?”  “Did you get cash?” After hunting for the ATM all over the place, we found it right at the entrance. He tries a few GoaTacos and some terrible Greek food. The menacing grey rain clouds decided to roll over from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and without a warning break loose. We grabbed two push-sicles – popsicles on a push stick and ran for cover. The raindrops were the size of marbles and cold as ice. Once the rain dragons had had their little laugh they relented, and allowed us to go home.

At the Feet of Lady Liberty

June 27, 2015

“Where liberty is, there is my country.” -Benjamin Franklin

For all our time in NYC, we have never landed on Liberty Island and climbed the Statue of Liberty. We usually take or send everyone who visits on a ferry around the Statue. I have always been under the impression that it would be frightfully expensive to go on the statue and that even if you were willing to pay the price, you had to book months in advance. Tickets to the crown have to be booked at least three months in advance, but tickets to the pedestal are easily available. It costs only $25 for pedestal access and $28 to be able to go all the way to the crown. This includes the ferry ride to and from Liberty Island and you can board the ferry from either Battery Park, NYC or Liberty State Park, NJ. You could even do what we did, Take the boat to Liberty Island from Battery Park and come back to Liberty State Park or vice-versa.

As the statue grows from a speck in the distance to a majestic lady holding up a torch, our fellow travelers flock to the sides of the boat to take pictures. I wonder what thoughts crossed  the minds of immigrants coming across the seas in search of a better life when they set first their eyes on this epitome of the American ideals of freedom and liberty. People oppressed and terrorized in their own lands, forced to flee to save their families and souls; doctors and merchants, once rich and respected in their own country, now faced with the prospect of snaking drains in a foreign land to make ends meet; seasick and weary passengers, at the end of a long harrowing journey. Did joy course through their veins? Was there a surge of relief? Or were they overcome with *hiraeth.

IMG_0600The immigrants may have been greeted by hope and apprehension; we were welcomed by light rain, gusty winds and mangled corpses of broken umbrellas discarded in despair. Self.Self-guided tours of the island and the statue are available for free. Make sure you grab one. I accidentally got a kiddie one; honestly it gave the same information as the adult guides (which everyone else in the group got) but was less ponderous. We had tickets to the pedestal. To get to the pedestal, we had to climb around two hundred stairs or so. To get to the crown, there are another two hundred steps, on a narrow winding staircase. If you think you are even mildly claustrophobic, this is clearly not your thing. There is an elevator in the lobby that takes you to the pedestal level only, but we were shooed right past it. At one point Jan and I even considered going back down and telling them we were pregnant, to be allowed to use the elevator. The thought that the elevator might be out of service and we would have to climb all back, quickly dissuaded us.

Statue of LibertyWhile being on the statue offers a great view of Manhattan skyline, the tour boats that take you around the statue do that too. Plus, those boats offer a fantastic photo op with the grande dame. This reminds me of our boat excursion with Rups and Aamer. Rups, Aamer and I had the perfect spot for a picture, but the husband was stuck behind a tourist and unable to get to us. Much to the hapless husband’s embarrassment and the unsuspecting tourist’s amusement, Rups exclaimed exasperatedly, “Just say excuse me, and come!”

*hiraeth – hireath

T-Drunk – A Chinese Experience in NYC

January 2015

A cup of tea is a cup of peace. - Tea Master, Soshitsu Sen XV

A cup of tea is a cup of peace.
– Tea Master, Soshitsu Sen XV

I caught up with Sameer and his lovely wife Jen over tea recently. It was their suggestion that we go to tea drunk – a tea house in East Village (NYC). We are shown our table and asked to pick a pet for the table from a variety of ceramic animals displayed on a little ledge. We picked a tortoise or a turtle, I can’t really tell. We choose our poison from the six or seven page menu, both sides printed and place our order.

While we waited on our tea, a quick search on Google showed us that tea originated in China, where it is called Cha. It was traded with Europe, and was popularized in Britain by the Spanish Princess Catherine, bride of the English King, Henry VIII. Sameer and I  exclaim in unison, “This must be the same princess who got Bombay as her dowry! ”

I can hear my 7th grade history teacher’s indignant voice in my head ” Can you imagine children, Spanish gave the British our Bombay as dowry!” First giving dowry, and on top of that one set of foreigners giving away Indian land to another! If *Miss Pinto had her way (and a **TARDIS)  all parties involved would thrown in jail and flogged.

Our tea arrives. The hostess does a little ceremony. An uncle of mine once told mum and me that the Chinese don’t just boil their tea the way we Indians do. They first brew it, then they swirl it and toss it out. That is called the first wash.  They then add some more water and brew it, swish and throw again. The tea is brewed for the third time and this third wash is finally considered fit for consumption. It’s almost an art. Sure enough, our hostess pours the first wash over our pet. The second wash though, she pours into our cups. (See video on our Instagram account)

Sameer demonstrates the British style of drinking tea - pinky finger out.

Sameer demonstrates the British style of drinking tea – pinky finger out.

Sameer and Jen tell me that the owner of this tea house backpacks alone through China to get the teas. We confirm this with our hostess. It’s true; the owner travels to China once a year to buy tea straight from the farmers, often backpacking to areas which not accessible by motor vehicles. Somewhere in this story, I had simply assumed the owner was a man, but it turns out the owner is a woman. I guess it goes to show how deeply gender roles are ingrained in our subconscious.

The British started tea cultivation in India as climatic conditions were favourable for tea growing. While tea gained popularity, Princess Catherine did not share its happy fate. Before she married Henry, she was married to his brother Arthur who died shortly afterwards. She was then engaged to Henry, who at that time was too young to marry. By the time Henry came of age, his father Henry VII was not as keen on a Spanish alliance, but was not averse to keeping the dowry. While she waited in the wings, her dowry was re-negotiated. It was only after Henry VII died, did she finally get married to Henry VIII. She bore Henry six children, but all of them died except their daughter, Mary (later Mary I). Her marriage began to fail. Henry had an affair with her lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn, and desperate for a male heir,tried to get their marriage annulled so that he could marry his mistress. Catherine refused to give in and fought for her own rights and the rights of her daughter. You go Princess!

When Anne became pregnant with the King’s child, the couple secretly got married. Henry then passed the Act of Supremacy, declaring that he was the head of the English church.  He appointed Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, who in return annulled his marriage to Catherine. Poor Catherine was forced to leave the court and was also denied access to her child. (Sad as it is, I’m sure Miss Pinto would call it karma.)

When we finished our pot of tea, the hostess came over and poured some more water over the same leaves. There is no limit to how long you can stay here drinking tea. Chinese often brew the same leaves over and over, all day long. We decided to stop at three or four pots.With each fresh brew, we could tell the tea was getting lighter. Some people say tea leaves can be read to tell your future, but our brew brought back beautiful memories from the past.

Tea Drunk also sells teas. They have a second location in Beijing. They are steep on the pocket, but like I pointed out earlier, there is no limit to the amount of time you can spend in their tea house or number of cuppas you can drink. Get a pao/ounce and spend the afternoon. If only they had a little garden at the back!

* When we were in school all women teachers were addressed as Miss. This was not an indication of their marital status.

**TARDIS – The TARDIS

Manhattanhenge

May 29, 2015

Twice a year, around summer solstice, the setting sun  perfectly aligns with every east–west street of the main street grid of Manhattan, New York City.  In an unimaginative spin on the *Stonehenge,this mini phenomenon called the Manhattanhenge.

What in God's name is going on?

Druid, where’s my car?

We missed it last year, but I was determined to witness the glory of the it all this year.IMG_0513

Even though it was too cloudy to see it, a whole bunch of people thought nothing of blocking the traffic and clicking away on their phones and cameras.IMG_0521

Ultimately that made a better spectacle than the celestial-engineering wonder we were all trying to witness.

*Stonehenge is so constructed  by ancient men that when seen from the centre of the circle the sun lines up with the certain stones on solstices.

Pride Parade 2015

NYC,

June 28, 2015.

This year’s pride parade was extra special because of the Supreme Court ruling  passed the Thursday leading up to the parade weekend. Same sex marriage is now legal across the United States of America. Collages10

The parade was like one big party on the streets. LGBTQ or not, people turned out in droves in a show of solidarity. Afterall everybody needs somebody to love! 

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The day started out cloudy with a light drizzle., but hey how do you make a rainbow without any rain! and you know what else you need to make a rainbow – sunshine! So later the sun showed up.

Pride Parade 2015

I am so glad we got there early. By the time we were getting out, the sidewalks were packed like Bombay’s infamous local trains. In that mad crush, some people thought it was wise to bring along their babies in strollers and dogs. Poor creatures must be convinced they were brought here to show what happens to LGBTQ supporters. Quite the opposite of what their parents/humans intended, me thinks. Pride Parade 20151Meanwhile, somewhere in India..

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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.