Saturday, December 31, 2005

2006 -- Hello!

Well -- top o' the ladder to everyone!

It's just past nine in the morning of the new year. We had a peaceful and friendly last day. Went upstairs for lunch, which was (as always) beautifully presented, delicious and accompanied by interesting conversation. At night the nearby residents' association club had an ear-splittingly raucous party that lasted at least till 2 o'clock this new year. The music was so loud it was shaking the foundations of this house, which is practically one block away. I can't IMAGINE what it must have been like to actually be at the party! I guess some people enjoy being deaf.

I began 2006 with a choco-bar! And I was online, writing a message to a friend right till the final minutes of '05. So I suppose that's an augury of sorts -- perhaps the twelvemonth ahead will be cold, sweet and filled with chocolate covered e-mails?

Whatever. I've add a couple of pix from the old year, taken in Vermont. If Stone's Throw Farm looks as good here as it does in real life, please credit that to my little Nikon 2100 -- hardly the most advanced of today's digital cameras, but it does what I need of it and with very little sweat or effort on my part.

One of my resolutions for the year is to Take More Photographs. Not because I'm good at it, but because I always regret NOT having 'em when I look back and see ... no pictures. My idea is to take pictures of whatever's around me, the street, the traffic, the people -- of course, like many amateur photographers, one of the things I am most squeamish about is taking pictures of other people (like on a street) -- I always worry that they'll object and then I'll have to -- whatever -- swallow the camera, blush and move on, whatever. It certainly helps that with a digital camera, I can compose the picture on the view-screen at the back, and don't necessarily have to hold it up to my face.

So ... may there be more pix, pixars, pixels in the year ahead!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

2005, Final Days

At the end of every year, I visualize myself reaching the final rungs of a long ladder, the ladder down which I have been climbing, day by day, ever since that year began. On the night of the 31st of December, however much I try to argue myself out of an improbable situation, I can sense my internal time-keeper gathering up her energy to make the leap up, up, UP -- right to the top of the next year's ladder, all in the course of that mystical no-moment as one year ends and the other begins! It would be so much more RESTFUL to imagine one ladder merging calmly into the next but -- no! I see the ladders laid out in a neat row, each one's top aligned against the tops of those that have gone before(I don't presume to guess how many there are ahead -- so I don't see 'em!).

It's been a peaceful and pleasant two weeks since we returned. I've spent the greater part of my time just gathering together my sense of being HERE, rather than en route to somewhere else.

Yesterday, for the first time since we've been back, we went for a long drive, to the bird sanctuary at Sultanpur. As with our expeditions at the beginning of 2005, our valiant charioteer was J, and the chariot was his supremely comfortable Pajero. This time, accompanying us were his son, Y, visiting from the US and our very dear friend and frequent visitor to this blog, A (I most often refer to him here as Amro). Aside from the horrific traffic all the way till just beyond Gurgaon, it was a pleasant outing. Inside the sanctuary, we saw quantities of dabchicks and egrets, painted storks, ibises and one splendid black-necked stork -- how elegant and courtly he was! The plumage for which he is named was not merely black but subtly irridescent, so that even at a distance (and through binocs) we could see a play of midnight colour along the long graceful extent of his neck. That, combined with the white of his body, the soot-black patches on his wings and his spindly crimson legs made him a very handsome sight.

There were quite a few Neelgai around -- we saw maybe 20? According to the ticket-wallahs at the gate, the resident herd numbers around 100 -- and we were close enough to them that my survival skills, normally in deep coma, stirred and raised a mild alarm. Today, of course, a whole day later and no longer within a hundred yards of a 300 lb antelope I can bemoan my weak nerves. Ah well. Next time I'll run up and cuddle 'em.

The bonus wild-life sighting occurred outside the sanctuary. We were in search of a suitable picnic spot at which to eat the main meal of the expedition -- stuffed parathas provided by Amro's parental establishment -- when eagle-eyed E spotted an unusual cat skulking about in the tall grass beside a mustard field. It was most obliging, I must say, because it didn't immediately vanish out of sight, but remained in view long enough for all of us to see the stripes on its back legs and the end of its tail and also the fine ridge of black at the very tips of its ears. It was about the size of a large domesticated tom, its body sandy-gold in colour. As if that weren't thrilling enough, we saw it (or its buddy) as we were leaving the area too. This second sighting was quite generous, because the creature actually sat by the side of the road and posed for a few moments, staring not quite at us, but past us, in that way felines have, as if humans and all our baggage are really too gross to be worth actually looking at.

It was ALMOST small enough to be mistaken for a domestic cat, but ... there an apartness about it, a reserve, that proclaimed its freedom and its independence from the yoke of human companionship.

When we got home and looked it up in "Indian Wildlife", its identity was confirmed: a Jungle Cat.

Oh -- and yes, of course the parathas were excellent -- mooli, cauliflower and potato. And yes, we even had a minor almost-loss: E left his fleece jacket behind in the mustard field he visited briefly (while attempting to escape the photographic attentions of Amro!) and realized it only after we had left the place. But we returned and the jacket was recovered before anyone else captured it. Then back we went, back through the forest of fly-over support-struts that have sprouted all across the access routes into Delhirium, and into the grey, dusty, chaos of the traffic.

Finally -- in case you missed 'em -- there're a couple of new links in the column on the right. I don't like to keep too many links going, so alas I have removed two blog-links that were there before. But I find I hardly ever visit any blogs aside from the two that that have been there from the start -- lazy, that's moi! -- so any disappointment is regreted.

And here's one last link for the year -- the site of the Swiss artist who dreamt up the triple-jawed beastie that froze our popcorn to our numbed fingers when we saw the first of the ALIEN movies -- a little something to curdle your blood at the end of the year: R. GIGER rrrROWRRR! Audio ON, please ...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Recently Received Delight!

This graphic is a simplified version of a map that appears in a must-have book called THE ATLAS OF EXPERIENCE. It was given to me by our friends/hosts in Berkeley. They've given away dozens of copies to friends, they tell me. And no wonder: it's one of those books that you keep out in a place where many people can find it and smile over it.

It LOOKS like an atlas, but it READS like a witty, charming and thought-provoking deliberation upon life. The picture above is only a very general approximation of the complete map. Go check out the compleat version at World Of Experience. Enjoy!

Twelvth Bulletin -- Home Again!

.. that was ten days ago, actually, after a warm and friendly and very well-fed stay in London. I would have blogged about it while I was still there except for the shadow that fell over my clan-family: one of my elder cousins died, very suddenly, in his sleep, in his home in Budapest. He was just 54, so it was a dreadful shock for everyone, especially his two sisters, wife and two grown children. My uncle in London was as always wonderfully resilient and despite his own sense of deep bereavment(the cousin was my uncle's elder brother's son), organized the funeral. I wasn't there for it, having left the day before, but everyone says it was very moving and very fitting (I'm not mentioning names in order to keep this blog from popping up in the public tributes to my cousin who was a very well-regarded international banker and has been greatly mourned in banking circles).

So it was against this background that I had, despite it all, a very pleasant stay with my cousins, uncles and aunts in London. This visit was my first at the new home of K & S, the cousins with whom I always stay when I'm in -- why doesn't London have a pet-name, like New York? Something like the Big Apple? -- Old Londinium and it was absolutely fabulous. It's a renovated Georgian home, and S has out-done herself. She is an outstanding home-maker -- I should know, having stayed at FOUR of their houses -- and this one tops the lot. It's positively EDIBLE: I would say it has the flavour of heavy cream and raspberries; champagne and orchids; moussaka and hot french bread. Totally YUM.

The return to Delhirium was quite pleasant, all considered. Our flight got in at the very decent hour of just before 12 pm. The immigration queue was one hour long but really, aside from that, re-entry was wholly painless. Our outstanding domestic maitre d' was waiting for us with tea and toast and lunch -- and the house was clean and dusted. Later the same night, our friend Maude from Providence arrived (flying in from France, where she had spent a week or two), so it was all very convivial again. The speed of international really shrinks the globe, huh? It's hard to be aware of the vastness of the distance travelled when it takes a mere night to wake up on the other side of the world. Oh and -- Virgin Atlantic continues to get top marks from me. This time, instead of watching movies, I played their in-flight quiz games practically all the way from the UK. Very cool. But the flight was NOT packed, which is a bit worrying. I want the airline to do WELL! So that I don't have to choose the competition, the next time I fly.

Year-Ender Messages We Shall Never See

In reaction against the treacle-y Year Ender messages from friends and family around the world, I composed a small sampling of those we might like to see ... but WON'T:

Dear All --
Of course, we have had a wonderful year. Being True Believers, we ALWAYS have wonderful years, every year. The same is true of our entire Family -- which means all True Believers: a year of outstanding martyrdom and perfect joy. We are proud of every single one of you, both present and martyred. We expect the same of you next year and for all the years of glory ahead for all of us.

Isn't it wonderful to have no doubts, no fears, no tears? Glory! Glory! Forever! Forever! Your loving, O


Dear All,
It's been a great year. I went out and got eaten by a wolf -- who had previously eaten up old Gra'mum. Amazingly, we BOTH SURVIVED, because a woodsman came and cut open the wolf. Fortunately for G'mum and me, the wolf's digestive system was so very sluggish, we didn't suffer the SLIGHTEST acid burn. Even our clothes came through unscathed.

The wolf of course was TOTALLED. And the woodsman was hauled away by several animal rights agencies at once for having destroyed a unique specimen of wolf, that was both able to swallow two humans whole AND speak in English too! It's all very sad.

However, that was all some time ago. G'mum and I are entirely recovered. On the strength of my trauma, which is being seen as a specialized case of Child Abuse, I've got scholarships to Radcliffe, Brown and Yale. I plan to major in Survival Strategies for the Modern Girl Child.

G'mum has her own hugely popular reality show on TV called Surviving Grandchildren and Their Wolves -- of course I probably don't need to tell you any of this, since you're all probably glued to your sets every weeknight, waiting to see which grandparent gets swallowed next.

Mum and Dad are okay -- though of course I don't get to see them much, what with all the press attention following the attack. Sad thing about old parents, huh? They never entirely enjoy their kids' success. Can you believe -- they want me to STOP wearing my red riding hood! Huh! Considering that I've stopped wearing any OTHER clothes, taking off the cape might be a little ... ummm ... REVEALING, if you get my

Well that's it from me. Wishing y'all a similarly successful
twelvemonth! Your beloved Red.


Another dreadful year *sigh* Dunno what to do about THEM. Yuck. How I hate the pests. Yes, yes -- floods, droughts, plagues -- I'm trying! THEY just keep on reproducing, of course. I thought rabbits were prolific, but these simians? Ohhh gollygollygolly. NOTHING STOPS 'em.

But I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve. My virus programmers are a really creative bunch, for instance. And I can always pull off a well-positioned quake or two -- though I HATE to do it. So many of my beloved rocks and plants and beasts die too, in the chaos. THEY never seem to understand that if only there were fewer of them, there'd be fewer catastrophes too ...

Oh well. This is all very bad-tempered of me. I'll end this now. There are ever more nasty dams to worry about, and nuclear facilities and malls and motorways ... aaaarggh!

Whatever. Have a good one! Your ever-loving, G

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Eleventh Bulletin -- London Calling

A final round of dinners and lunches in Berkeley, stacks of oreo cookies, gallons of tea and a rainy last two days and -- we were off. Flew to Boston overnight from SF, a bleary, uncomfortable flight, with only apple juice to nourish us. Of course there was a choice of other fluids, but what I'm pointing to here is the changed circumstances in the skies above America -- the new brusque and food-free atmosphere, with all services stripped down to the dead minimum. No little baggie of goodies -- no flimsy eye-mask, no unusable knock-down toofbrush with miniature tube of chalky toofpaste, no little booties for the feet, no seat-back screens for the movies. Nope, it was back to the Jurassic era of air-travel, with those small bright monitors hanging in a row from the spine of the aircraft and 2$ headphones and no escape from the movie all night long.

In another sense, though, it was a sort of relief not to have to feel grateful for the utterly insincere "hospitality" airlines typically dish out. We ate a giant toasted sandwich just before emplaning and that was quite enough to last us the six-hour flight to Beantown. Got in to my niece's pleasant and cheerful home by around ... oooh ... 8.30? She was still there, but about to leave for work,so we said our helloooos and g'byes before ripping open all our luggage for the final pack-down before the flight out of the US. We had a breezy, enjoyable two nights and one day in Boston -- with the inevitable faint panic in the final hours, trying to decide which combination of hand- and cabin-luggage was best -- keeping in mind the ten day halt in London, E's side-trip to Helsinki, two lap-tops and ... well, you get the idea. Four months of suitcase living and accumulated bric a brac compressed into two strollies, one suitcase, one duffle-bag like a giant frankfurter stuffed with pure lead, two backpacks and one computer bag. *sigh*

The security team at the airport scolded me for being so dumb as to take my laptop out of the case (--good--) but then placing it on top of the case itself rather than in a separate bin (--bad--) and then forgetting to separate two bins (--criminally bad--) ... my stuff finally went through in five separate bins, shoes in one, heavy coat and light jacket in another, backpack in a third, computer case in a fourth and computer in the fifth. Ah well. At least I got through without being strip-searched. Which reminds me --in San Francisco I got random-screened with their new sniffer machines. I went through a separate channel and stood in a small glass chamber and several jets of air suddenly PAFFED around me -- painless but a bit startling -- after which I was released. *shrug* Whatever.

LONDON! Ah, London -- but a pause here before I go on to sing the praises of VIRGIN ATLANTIC. All ye travellers out there, poised to buy your tickets for destinations diverse, hear this and make your adjustments: VA is the best. It all comes down to seating. Any airline can offer duplex apartments to their first class passengers -- but it's the quality of the economy seats that defines a classy flight. And VA delivers. We were comfortable and cramp-free, breathed easy and felt well-loved. The food was pleasant and the movies were inexhaustible -- I'd have gone blind if I'd watched them all. Of the two I saw, one was perfect airline fare -- light but well-acted -- Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins -- set against the backdrop of the London Blitz and with naked beauties in the foreground. MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS -- go see it if you can -- if nothing else, to enjoy the surprising and refreshing lack of prudery about bare flesh. I don't know how VA gets away with it, or whether there's been a sudden loosening of moral corsets in the air (perhaps to offset the repressions on earth?) but at least two movies on this flight featured full frontal nudity -- just brief glimpses, to be sure, no lingering, no close-ups -- male and female, with neither any twinkling pixellation nor any steam-of-porn. It was Just Bits o' Bare Skin. And rather nice bits too. Anyway, so you get the idea, FLY VIRGIN. And no, I've not been paid to say this. I really and truthfully had a good flight.

My stays in London are always pleasant on account of being warmly and lovingly enfolded in the bosom of my family. This time is no different. I am always indulged to the hilt and eat too much and feel nostalgic for England's gigantic coins -- "small change" indeed, huh! -- can't be sure why nostalgic, exactly -- there must be some reason, but I can't hunt it down right now. Too sleepy.

Before I pip off for the moment, two excellent movies to report. I saw both in the US, but feel they both need wider exposure. They're both documentaries and since I'm not entirely compos mentis at the moment, I'll just make a dab at the title of the first one: "THE REAL DIRT about Farmer John" (I'll come back laterand correct it, if I need to) -- and you can find out more about it at: The Real Dirt. The second one's called "RIVERS AND TIDES" and is about the British artist Andy Goldsworthy.

THE REAL DIRT is the true story of John Peterson, who grew up on a farm and loved the land and during the sixties allowed his farm to become a place where agriculture and rock music came together to make a moment of art and beauty and craziness, then almost had to give everything up until finally returning once more to the land, to collective agriculture, to organic crops and people and soil and growing plants and the land, the land, the glorious land. It is a marvellous, witty, cleverly made and strangely moving story with a powerful message: FOLLOW YOUR DREAM. Just do it. Even if it sometimes results in running around wearing bee-costumes and singing funny songs with your girlfriend, in a corn field ...

RIVERS AND TIDES is inspiring and beautiful in an entirely different way. You can google Andy Goldsworthy's name to see his work, but the film is powerful because you can see him PRODUCE his work -- out of random bits of icicle, out of shards of rock, out of simple dandelions, out of sunlight, water, time and his love for the materials he works with. His work is often ephemeral: he might scratch a pattern onto the surfaces of a line of fresh green leaves, place them on a rock in order so that the pattern links up and becomes a jagged line, then watch them as the wind ruffles through his art and blows it all away. He might build a structure out of twigs, big enough to be a nest for a man-sized bird, then watch with an expression of tolerant amusement as the incoming tide swirls it all away.

By making art which doesn't last, it seems to me that he cuts deep towards the heart of what makes a thing a piece of art -- it remains ultimately indescribable of course -- but the pleasure he gets, which becomes visible in the simplicity and beauty of his creations, is surely what it's all about. The sense of doing something because it MUST be done -- not because of deadlines or being immortalized in stone or earning a living or putting food on the table -- yet also involving all of that, since he has four small children, and as for deadlines, even if he didn't have commissions of work to fulfil (which he does, as one of Britain's highly acclaimed contemporary artists), he has the tides and seasons to contend with -- the sense of being caught in a tide of his own art as surely as the leaves he places so reverently on the water ... THAT is powerful and inspirational.