Tag Archives: travelogue

A Week in Bullet Points

5 Nov
  • Our trip to the East Coast was fantastic. Everything we wished for and more. One of those rare periods of time when everything went off seamlessly, without a glitch, and we created stronger bonds and happier memories. No, I’m not gushing. This time was truly precious and we will always cherish it. For me, it was my best trip ever, to any place. And in the fray for that title were the surprise trip to Mussoorie to see Ruskin Bond and our pretty plush honeymoon in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.
  • It was also surreal. We walked around on campus, with me interspersing our contemplative silence with stories of “Here’s where we marched against the war in Iraq…” and “Here’s where we all lay down at 3 in the morning to watch a meteor shower….” and “This is where I watched the plane hit the second tower…” and I kept expecting the guys from the Engineering School to call out, “Hey, Bawi!” and to see my Swathi, flatmate and darling friend, scuttle down University Hill like the white rabbit, announcing she was late. I half expected to hear Prof. Evatt’s Texan drawl, to turn the corner and have Prof. Guiniven tell me he’d never met an Indian he didn’t like (and I’d retort that I had), and to witness one more candlelight vigil at the Hendricks Chapel. It was like time had formed a vacuum corridor and sucked out most of the people I knew and replaced them with fresher faces who looked at me blankly. But those who remained remembered me. And I was engulfed in warm hugs and exclamations. It was good to be back. It had been too, too long.
  • I surprised myself. Did not shriek or cry like I’d imagined I would. Laughed and exclaimed a lot. I visited my first apartment. Rang the bell, was buzzed in, and begged to be let in to see the first room I paid for with my own money. The suspicious Chinese student looked at me like I was Saddam Hussein and waved me away. I had on an angora beret for Pete’s sake, I wailed to the Boy. Who in their right mind would wear fancy headgear if they wanted to bust an apartment?  😦
  • New York City was the perfect starting and ending point for our trip. Devoid of any powerful memories, it is neutral ground and I can view it any way I choose to. And we chose to have fun! A day of Manhattan-ing at the Met, in Central Park, and on Broadway (Watch Mary Poppins! It’s excellent!) with the Boy’s brother and cousins was so enjoyable, even though we all had sore feet from all that gadding about. I spent an afternoon with an old and dear girlfriend. And it’s true what an ex-colleague said to me on this trip: You don’t realize how much you’ve missed someone until you see them. The City brought home how alarmingly soft we’ve grown in California. This was the first time since we moved in 2011 that we used public transport. Yup. You can close that jaw now. No wait, let me finish. I was the prissy princess who sanitized her hands each time she rode the subway. Okay, now I’m all done. Oops, too late, a fly just sauntered in.
  • I visited the place where awful things had happened to me. And stared it in the eye, cursed under my breath, then out loud, blew out bitterness like smoke rings, and then let it go. I faced my demons and made my peace with the past. I will carry its lessons for a lifetime, but I cannot be burdened with its weight anymore. Wonder of wonders, there were no sniffles, and I suspect that had to do with the rock standing by my side through it all.
  • I also found my Gujarati grandma, sitting right where I had left her 7 years ago, and knew I was home. Someday I will share how special this delightful 85-year-old is, her life story, and her progressive beliefs, but for now, all I’ll say is that she embraced the Boy like the son she never had and told me my piyar had been waiting for me all along. Life is too short, and good souls too many, to love and be loved by people related only through blood.
  • Even so, my brother was the highlight of this trip, though we met way too briefly. I hadn’t seen him in nearly two years, and this meeting did us both good. Siblings become even more precious as we grow older, do they not? That I got to see him in Boston, my favorite city in the country, was the icing on the dark chocolate torte. My baby brother made lassi for me. *sniff* And offered us homemade kaju katli. *blubber* He’s all growned up now. *desperately searches for a tissue* He was still eating leftovers from our dinner together, 4 days later. Praise the lord some things never change.
  • On this journey eastward and pastward, places, memories and people melded to form a potent amalgam in our lives. We met new family, old friends, my American parents and bonus grandma, both our only siblings (as as textbook first-borns, the Boy and I feel a shade responsible for these 31- and 29-year-old men respectively), ex-coworkers, advisors, mentees, and then we met one additional person: the old me.  The Boy quite liked her, I think. This was the last bastion in the list of places that have made me who I am, and also the most significant. And I was glad he could meet the 20s me, and the places that sculpted the person who eventually became his partner. Me, I smiled at her quietly, and told her she hadn’t done too badly for herself. She tried her best and gave it her all, and for that I will always love her.
  • We came home sated. And so, so much richer. How can anyone who acquires a pair of chocolate suede boots not be fabulously wealthy? Immediately upon our return, our life and friends here swarmed around us busily, and even as we were swept along, we know we’ll always look back with gratitude at this most blessed of times, a moment when life truly came full circle for me.
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So Spain

21 Jun

Let’s get back to my intercontinental gad-about, shall we? For those of you who follow me on Twitter (@orangejammies), the entire six-week trip is hashtagged under #PlaneTrainBusFuss. This is my longest post on the blog so far, so if you’re fairly confident 1800 words won’t knock you unconscious, grab a cup of something, sit back, and enjoy.

***

I’m not a morning person. Working full-time, hamster-on-a-wheel jobs and running businesses for the last 9 years have ruined my propensity to sleep past 8 am, but yank me out a nanosecond earlier and Shiva’s tandav will seem like a serene waltz through a starchy English ballroom. So what was I, bleary-eyed and nose in cappuccino, doing at Gatwick airport at 5.30 in the morning? Trying to drown out the adrenalized-beyond-caffeine shrieks of a hen party togged out in identical pink feathers. Trying to ignore booming golfers as they strode around eyeing the aforementioned chicks. Trying to be civil to my poor uncle and aunt who were whisking me away to their penthouse on the Mediterranean. This is where you commiserate with the drudgery that is my life.

Even before you board the aircraft for your 2-hour flight to the south of Europe, you know what Malaga will look like. A veritable English suburb, crawling with golfers, gaggles of party girls and British retirees with second homes under a punch drunk Spanish sun. Donning my sunglasses, I strode out of the Pablo Ruiz Picasso airport and into a throng of paparazzi screaming my name, popping flashes and wooing me to pose. Okay, so maybe not quite. We just hopped into a rented car and drove away to Fuengirola. But let it be on record that I like the first story better.

My uncle and aunt’s apartment is white. Cool. Marbled. Bright. With a spiral staircase that leads to their sun-roofed bedroom that leads to a wooden deck that overlooks the Mediterranean that is the reason the word “blue” was born. Forty miles yonder, say hello to the Atlas mountains of Africa.

Did you know Antonio Banderas is a local boy? Puerto Banos has a square named in his honor, and I spent a good quarter hour lusting over the letters of his name: the strong, masterful, lines, the sinfully sinewy curls, the simmering glisten of the bronzed god he is .  Get a move on, OJ-girl. That’s XXX territory four inches away. Aching back to real time, Marbella was next. Playground of the rich, famous, and rich-but-not-so-famous, its sprawling villas discreetly behind walls of foliage, Marbella’s rarefied air is suspended with currency signs. Riyals hang off potted palms, Pounds Sterling drape themselves over tapas tables, Dollars dangle over the glistening sea, and Dirhams bungee jump off the shelves at super-exclusive boutiques. In case you were wondering, it is also populated by people. Typically of the skinny, underclothed variety, their wraps are glamor, air-conditioning and the heady scent of power. And then there was me. Far from skinny or underclothed, splashing undaintily in the waves, collecting perfect and quirky shells for a little boy with eyes the color of Andalusian gypsies. Clearly I’m a local celebrity, though–Marbella beach had a bar named after me. My pet name, to be precise. The one that my uncle and aunt use. That I will not share, so don’t crowd around me now.  I’m 33 years old and get to keep my last shred of dignity until babies arrive.

Costa Del Sol has a thriving weekend market that hawks everything from handmade Italian leather bags to kitchen implements, local music to fresh vegetables. We spent a fun morning people-watching, puppy-petting, jostling amidst strollers and sunburned Brits, acquiring adorable and unnecessary things, then traipsed off to do justice to The Full Irish breakfast, in honor of my aunt. Just so dinner wouldn’t feel ignored and sob in a corner, we danced, supped, and toasted the night away at a performance by the enthralling Divo & Divas ensemble. The sky glimmered over the crash of waves, candles made shadows sway, flavors teased the palate in their own seduction sideshow, and I basked in the bonhomie of old family friends who last met me as a teenager-on-fertilizer.

A night so memorable needed a stellar day in its wake, and the village of Mijas held the promise of just that. Nestled in the mountains, looped around curving cobblestone streets, its whitewashed balconies, brilliant bougainvillaea, high-roofed church, and tinkling donkey carts transport you to a gentler century, and your denim-clad reflection, if you happen to glimpse it, makes you wonder who that stranger is. Ignore her entirely and walk into the world’s smallest chocolate factory. Fancy your own bar of the sweet stuff? Let the Mayan Monkey Mijas be your stage. And us, merely players, conjuring dark cocoa fantasies, cramming our gobs senseless, having to be hauled out kicking and screaming but still loved, the way only family can after you’ve embarrassed them into the dirt.

Why pamper one end of your body and leave the other feeling second-born? (Birth order studies show that younger children are humans too, the little snotty runts.) So tickle yourself pink. Treat your tootsies to a fish pedicure in your own dedicated tank, while sipping champagne and squirming on your plushly perched derriere.  The result: baby-smooth feet and a very giggly aunt-and-niece pair. Add an evening of boat-watching at the Benalmadena marina and a hunt for an ostrich steak dinner, and I was rapidly stocking up on memories of a lifetime.

For all the times in my life I’ve called someone my Rock of Gibraltar, I waved goodbye to my uncle and aunt and trundled off the next morning, to see the Real McCoy. The ginormous bus was packed with tourists, mostly from the UK and western Europe, and I chatted with the friendly Irishman next to me.  A girl from Prague struck up a conversation when I shared I was Indian, and then just as quickly ended it, appalled that I did not know who “Babajee” was.  The bus turned a bend and the Rock came into view.  Rising out of otherwise perfectly flat land, its strategic geographic location is of military (and therefore political) significance to the United Kingdom, and Spain apparently still chafes at the loss.

At the border crossing, a UK visa official got on board and asked to check our passports. Amid the flash of red UK covers, I held out my lone Indian blue. His eyes halted at my visa page. He shook his head. And said I couldn’t go through. A hush descended on the bus. All eyes converged on me.  I blinked, then calmly reasoned. I had been to the United Kingdom on this visa and sailed through immigration. Surely its own territory had no reason to see me as a threat when the country had granted me access?  The border official shook his head again.

You need a one-year visa to enter, he said. Yours is valid for six months.

So let me understand this:  the United Kingdom considers a six-month visa acceptable for tourist entry, but its own territory requires a one-year permit?

That’s right.

She’s only here for the day as a tourist, other voices spoke up. She’ll go back with this bus.

Let me check with my supervisor.

3 minutes later, he was back. It was no go. I had to get off in Spain. The bus couldn’t go on with me in it.

I swallowed hard, collecting my things, and walked to the door with as much dignity as I could muster. “It’s too bad,”  my co-travelers complained audibly, “they let terrorists into the country all the time and won’t let this harmless girl visit for the day!”

Go to the bus station and buy a ride back to Malaga, said our tour guide, and gave me sketchy directions in his hurry to get on with the day.

“It’s a shame! Be safe! Don’t worry! Take care,” my companions called out, as I stepped off the bus, looked the officer straight in the eye and fought back mortification, anger and worry with a savageness I rarely need to employ.  Thank You for Visiting, mocked the board above my head as I walked back into the border town of La Linea, exhorting myself to keep that chin up and draw on the reserves of toughness that have seen me shout off a gunman and tackle house robbers with nothing more than a kitchen knife by my bed.

I assessed my options. They weren’t plentiful. I had barely any Euros, having carried Pounds for Gibraltar, and my cell phone, still on American roaming, was down to its last bar of battery. And since we weren’t in a British-populated principality, nobody spoke much English. With my rudimentary Spanish, picked up in a year of living in California, I found my way to the bus station. Uno billete Malaga, I signed, pulling out my last remaining Euros. How much? The woman in the window held up four fingers, then slashed the air with a horizontal palm. Four and a half euro, man this place is cheap, I thought, until I saw her pointing at a clock on the far side of the hall. Damn. She meant 4.30 p.m. It was presently almost noon. There was no other bus that day. I’ll take it, I said, and paid her, and prepared to wait four and a half hours.

Sitting on an old bench, I saw an old man watching me. He was grey, grizzly, with rheumy eyes and dressed much too warmly for this blazing April day. He nodded, half to himself, and continued his inspection. With nothing else in the waiting area to distract me, I called my uncle and aunt to update them. “We’re coming to get you!” cried my knights in Skoda Fabia. And no amount of reasoning would budge their belief that a towering woman of reasonable sense and experience wouldn’t crumble to pieces without their instant ministrations. So that was that and I now had two hours to kill instead of four. Walking into the strip of shops and block of flats that comprises the satellite town of La Linea, I considered soothing my bruised spirit with some retail therapy. Except, there weren’t any stores of that kind. I could exchange money, buy luggage, check email, rent a car, and eat a sandwich. Those were my options. So I swapped Pounds for Euros, strode into a cyber cafe, and put my time to productive use by writing this post. You’re welcome.

In no time at all, my uncle and aunt had screeched into the town’s sole parking lot and I was spirited back to a universe where border officials play violin concertos and swoosh crimson carpets to welcome me. Over the phone, the Boy’s voice echoed with worry and relief, my uncle stopped ribbing me for a whole day, and a moon-sized platter of fragrant paella was dished to me at dinner, lest the trauma of the episode melt my stores of lard and gasp, unearth a waist.

With fun times and adventure under my unshrunk belt, we flew back the next day. England welcomed us in her usual chilly, wet way, but even the greyness of the skies couldn’t eclipse the radiance of her rape fields and my delight at being back in the Land of Aapri Rani.

Paris Amour

30 Apr

The first time I met Ceej at a common friend’s party, he poured wine over my pizza, all the while yammering in a French accent, leaving me in splits. And no, neither of us was the least bit drunk. (In fact, I’ve never been drunk, but don’t let this declaration distract you.) Over the years, it became our funny routine–him spouting English in a French accent, me cracking up every single time. In Bombay, in Goa, in Stratford-upon-Avon, and London. And now, we were meeting in Paris, where the accent could come home to roost.

It was he who knocked on the door and received a bear hug from me. We were in Paris in the springtime–with a weekend to live it up!

Come walk/sail/ride with us through the city of amour:

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[Credits: OJ and her Olympus E-PL2 DSLR. And the stunning capital of France.]

But would I bore you by droning on about the touristy usuals: gawking at the Tour Eiffel, hopping on and off the Batobus, elbowing Chanel-crazed Chinese tourists at the Galleries Lafayette, whispering up at the Rose windows of the Notre Dame, taking in views of Paris from Sacre Coeur, downing one too many nutella crepes, cruising the Seine, nibbling at escargot and pain au chocolat, pinching oneself in disbelief at the Louvre, traipsing down the Champs Elysees?

Excitement of another kind lies in a political rally, a mere dozen days away from national elections, where a tourist from California was swept up in a frenzied crowd chanting “Nicola! Nicola!” and waving the colors we know as the Juliette Binoche movie trilogy. The mob hustled, the roar grew louder, the police were on high alert, children were passed from shoulder to shoulder, and little old ladies strained to wave to the President, who, having finished an impassioned speech, drove away in a massive convoy. Couple that with the Paris marathon and I’d call it a pretty eventful weekend. Even if we missed the Moulin Rouge thanks to a strep infection.

Ceej and I parted ways, he to Geneva, me to London, and we knew we’d meet in another country, another city, but he knew, and now I do too, that there is none like Paris in springtime.

Come Meet Me in Gay Pah-ree

23 Apr

The trip to Paris began with a blunder. On arriving at Ebbsfleet to board the Eurostar to the city of luhhhve, the puzzled stationmaster shook his head and said ¨But this train left at 5.58 in the morning!¨ So much for a darn 24 hour clock.

A 100 pounds poorer (how I would love to substitute the word ´poorer´for ´lighter´. Don´t let me distract you now. Carry on.) but not to be vanquished, I was on the next train to St. Pancras, the station from which subsequent trains would leave. Fresh ticket issued and a sandwich consumed out of sheer boredom, (missed trains clearly aren´t excitement enough), I awaited the boarding announcement by counting men in pink shirts. Having been exposed to only Yanks in my youth, apart from our very own desi boys, European men are a subject of fascination for me. They´re…well, so….different. And they wear pink. Yes, I´m very descriptive that way.

Cut to me on the train, chugging along the Chunnel, admiring yet another pink-clad person, and reading this interesting collection of narratives. Gare Du Nord station arrived soon enough, and there I went, hopping off the train, into a taxi and zooming along the streets of Paris, who welcomed me with light and Louvre and a tilt of the head that sighed Óne more admirer´. Oh these stunning cities. How hard it must be to be them.

¨I´m here already,¨ he had said over the phone, and I went up to the hotel room. No, scratch that. I´ve seen seashells that are larger. As I sorted my things and readied to end my 36-hour, multiple time zone day, there was a knock on the door. There he was, smiling broadly, and I hugged him in excitement and relief.

(To be continued…)

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.