Tag Archives: travel

Tea in San Francisco, Lunch in London, Supper in Paris

18 Apr

I simply had to put that title down for posterity (or until WordPress decides to pack up, anyway) because who knows when it will happen again. Because it sounds cool. Because this jet-setting life is always somebody else’s. Because my work trips have involved bussing to the zoo on good days and a dash to the kiddie bathroom on not-so-awesome ones. So yes, I wrapped up my last day of work at 8 pm on a Friday, sent out one more email on Saturday (because I’m obsessive that way), whittled the weekend away and, come Monday, let out a long screech of pre-packing/shopping/getting-shit-together panic.

Never mind. The title should tell you I made it. Here’s how:

After saying goodbye to the Boy like I was sinking with the Titanic, I made it to the bonsai buckets they call plane seats these days. Now granted, I’m chubby, but my legs can’t have grown longer in the past year, no? Virgin Atlantic, it’s a pity real life isn’t Twitter, else you’d have a big #FAIL from me on that front. Nine and a half uncomfortable hours later, that included a stewardess’ generous hips near-smashing my shoulder (No, you cannot ask “How do these things happen to you?” I don’t know.) our plane swooped down onto Heathrow tarmac and my heart took flight.

Ever since my last visit almost two years ago, the Boy has had to put up with a daily buzz in his brain that whines “I want to go to London” in a loop—in my voice. Sometimes people have such problems.  Anyhoo, he now reports it missing and I think I detected relief over the telephone line.

Eynsford greeted me with a pretty curtsy. You look as charming as ever, I said, and the sun shone in agreement. Bags dropped off, my uncle, aunt and I were off to the neighboring village of Otford for lunch.  (For matters of comparison, and between you and me only, Otford is the pretty sister, while Eynsford is eye-poppingly gorgeous, and I’m sure many childhood complexes still fester ‘tween the two.)

Fish pie at The Bull and poking around in the antiques shop happened in quick succession, and it was home again, home again, jiggetty jig, for I had a train to catch. Mere mortals fly 10 hours and whine about jet lag. People in orange pyjamas go the extra mile and channel, and cross over into neighboring countries. In an episode of OJ meets Eurostar and emerges triumphant, my journey to Paris began.

Coming up next: Paris and its pretty boys.

Stay tuned.

Here Goes Nothing

11 Apr

So I have this friend. Who, being staid and risk-averse and most things Good Indian Girl, went from degree to higher degree, job to better job to business to management position, through life and across continents, not missing a beat. Sometimes, she worked two jobs at once. At others, she ran two businesses and found time to volunteer and consult. This was the way it was meant to be, and she plodded on safely, her life busy and full.

All was well until, one day, something began to tug at her. Take another path, It whispered, poking her side until she noticed. But being who she was, she ignored the Voice and went right back to doing what she did. The Voice waited, then reappeared. How about we think differently for a bit, it asked, standing next to her and making her jump. You again, she said, and eyed it suspiciously. What if, what if, what if, it began chanting, bouncing up and down like a 6-year-old on one too many sugar pops. Go ‘way, she grunted and turned her back, you’re irrational and I don’t succumb to mere feeling.

So the Voice, now visibly chubbier, took up a post at a corner and picketed silently. Each time she’d stride past, her hands and mind full of Things To Do Next, it would grin cheerfully and raise a placard. Coward, it said once. Quit your job and assess your options, it ventured another time. My friend battled each suggestion with admirable logic. Took her adversary by the horns and pumped a powerful dose of reality into its veins. I’ve never been one of those flighty people, she said with pride, and her life’s work bore testament to her claim.

But she wasn’t prepared for what came next. The Voice was joined by a comrade. Then, another one. Then one more, until solitary sentences burgeoned into a choral cacophony, beseeching her to peep out of her walled courtyard and listen. My friend turned to her spouse. He was her sounding board and her voice of reason. He would validate her beliefs. Do it, he said, quicker than a heartbeat. This is your time. And with that, her resolve began to falter. If I leap, will the net appear, she worried, flipping the idea in her head over and over, like a cerebral version of the mushroom turnovers you find at Trader Joe’s. What is my path, she wondered another time, and agonized over being indecisive. It will come to you, said her confident spouse, and she wondered if she should believe him.

And so it went on, in shuffling, halting steps, until she bit the bullet and turned in her notice. The gasps at work could be heard echoing across the Palo Alto foothills, and she berated herself for being the Fool Without a Plan. Less than a year ago, she had been lucky enough to snap up a job in barely any time, in an economy that still showed signs of struggle. Yet here she was, tossing away sense and stability. Enough already, she told herself. It’s done, so suck it up and look ahead. And, in her usual optimism, she began to open her heart, ferret around for possible desires, and put together a Plan.

First, there would be travel. To places old and new. A visit Home, some exploration of new lands, and the soaking up of experiences would kick-start her journey. Several weeks later, she would return to the homestead, poorer but wiser, and consider next steps. Some volunteering, perhaps. A little writing, maybe. The Plan allowed for loose, fluid boundaries, and she would go where a path appeared. And if all the ambiguity ended up driving her batty, she would shoot the Voices with her secret weapon and skip straight back onto the narrow again. And that reassured her considerably.
***
How did you guess this was not about my friend? You, gentle reader, never fail to impress me. Wish me luck and safe travels, won’t you, as I embark upon a trajectory of unknowns, still somewhat questioning my mental equilibrium and newfound “taking time off to travel” American-ness. I board a flight tomorrow. The first of various modes of transport that will have me in 3 continents and 5 countries just this month. I take with me a quivering heart, a buzzing brain and a sore back that will miss the darling bed the Boy and I adore. And no, he will not be with me (that’s alright, I’m not panicking or anything, that lump in my throat is just phlegm). This journey is mine alone. If he joins me later, I will graze my knees on the ground with gratitude, but for now, I’ll have to reacquaint myself with OJ and hope she is satisfactory company. Will you come along for the ride?

 

48 Hours in Eire

17 Mar

This piece was commissioned for the Business Standard in Bombay, but due to a change in editors, fell through the cracks and did not get published. I am posting it nearly two years after it was written, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

***

Everything you hear about Ireland is true. It is primarily emerald-colored, with friendly folk, free-flowing Guinness and locals leaping at the chance to fiddle for you. But you won’t see it with a guidebook and set itinerary. A locally-born islander is your only way into the true heart of the land of lochs and bogs and I very conveniently happen to be related to one. My uncle, in all his wisdom, picked an Irish partner, and it is to Aunt Margaret’s aga-warmed and patchwork-quilted family home in Glenfarne village, County Leitrim, the Republic of Ireland, that we headed, 48 precious hours in hand, in the hope of ale and leprechauns.

Flying into Belfast from London’s Stanstead airport was exciting for entirely unexpected reasons. How often can you sing a song about a city while hovering 15,000 miles above it? Wouldn’t you sing Boney M as loudly as stiff upper lip decency permitted?  The three-hour drive to Southern Ireland was quick and painless. With an open border and no checks, you’re likely to notice you’ve switched countries only if your eyes are peeled. First stop, J. McHugh’s pub.

No ordinary watering hole, this. In our case, it’s all in the family. Owned and run by Aunt M’s sister and brother-in-law, generous pints of Guinness were pulled, passed around and refilled until the darned Super-ego clobbered the Id on the head and banned more drinking before lunchtime. In a village where half the homes are occupied by blood relatives, you only have to cross the street to a family fiddling performance. Celtic music came alive in a cozy kitchen containing a blue checkered table cloth and its owner with a matching apron. Much clapping and tapping was interspersed with stories about upcoming dances at the Rainbow Ballroom, a large shed that doubled up as the dancing barn where local lads and lassies meet, marry and contribute to another generation of beer-guzzling fiddlers.

Warmth must be the Irish national policy. Where else do you get offered free membership to a public library within 10 minutes of walking in to check email? Ladies and gentlemen, I have a card from the Leabharlann Chontae Liatroma (Lietrim County Library) to prove it. (And of course, all the Gaelic around the place exists only to charm the pants off you as you walk out feeling like a four-leafed clover just graced your life.) Driving toward Sligo, the nearest big town and home to Yeats’ resting place, a brief stop at the Glencar Falls and Lake provides an opportunity for photography. The deep shades of blue sky and lake, emerald grass and snowy sheep are a postcard you want to capture and mail home.

Sligo, dotted with bars, bars, more bars, Yeats’ building and, interestingly, a Poppadom Restaurant, bustled with a population grateful for the rare sunshine. You’ve brought the Indian sun, I was told. You can keep it, I smiled back. Next stop, Yeats’ grave. Or so I thought. An exciting antiques shop derailed our journey and while my uncle and aunt checked out the clocks and gramophones, I did the same with the owner (who was, praise the Lord, considerably younger than his artifacts). Beauty appreciated, we crunched into a church yard for a meeting with Ireland’s poet laureate in his “country of the heart”. Too bad he wasn’t likely to reciprocate our delight. We rounded a corner and there he was. William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939, instructing us to

“Cast a cold Eye

On Life, on Death.

Horseman, pass by.”

Recounting our first memories of his work, we chose to linger, loath to leave a man whose words had nestled in our 13-year-old hearts, but when forty-eight hours are all you have, ‘what’s next’ is a perfectly valid question.

Bundoran is a seaside town from a 1920s American movie. Craggy cliffs, dashing waves, vanilla ices, amusement park rides and seaweed baths provide a delightful alternative to modern-day foreign beaches with tanned bodies and a pounding nightlife. A stroll on the seaweed-laced beach and a steep climb up to a cliff-top later, we enjoyed the salty north Atlantic breeze that showed all the friendliness of the land with perhaps a little less warmth. In the summer, carousel music and the shouts of children will compete with the roar of the waves, but for now, in mid-May, they reign supreme.

Ireland lives in its lochs and bogs and a brief visit to both followed. Every home in the county is assigned its own plot of land on a peat bog. It is here that families come up the hill to harvest peat that will warm their homes through the year. A naturally occurring fuel, peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation and is readily available and widely used in this part of the country. The harvesting process itself can be back-breaking if one isn’t used to it. Sometimes a shortage of time turns out to be a good thing! Loch MacNean appeared out of a clearing in the woods, a magical blue with picture-perfect ripples. All was calm, all was bright and I couldn’t for the life of me remember why I live in Bombay.

More family visits followed, with exclamations about how perfect the weather had been, though I noticed that didn’t stop cozy fires from roaring in their grates. Much Irish stew and many potatoes later, I hauled myself back on a flight to England. The heart, however, decided to stay. I’ll have to go looking for it sometime very soon.

The Girl Not From Here

7 Sep

Swanley station.

1 degree celcius, 1 a.m., and a solitary woman awaiting her cab.

Eynsford, she said, sliding in the back, grateful for the warmth and the driver’s turban.

You’re brave, he said, for a girl not from here to be out alone this late.

I’ve been alone to many places, she explained, and silently counted the destinations where she was the girl-not-from-here. Days in the city of her childhood when she was the outsider. Times in her home when she did not  belong. Months in arms she felt like a stranger. The everywhere girl, the nowhere girl. Only mirrors knew her and let her be. A rebel against conformists, non-believer to the benders, among them, but not of them.

Movement helped, she sleepily mused. If you didn’t stay long enough, they couldn’t expect you to fit in. And so the girl not from here took cabs. And trains and planes and boarding passes, stepping off belief into affirmation, through revolving doors, up metal-railinged stairs.

“Be safe,” he smiled, engine purring at her door. And a pang helped her realize that kindness from strangers is easier than the wall of contorted faces people are sometimes forced to call home.