Friday, June 29, 2007



Okay, here's the story: I heard this tune maybe thirty-one years ago, in a club or discotheque -- it went straight to the bedrock of my being and remained there, WITHOUT A NAME, for all this time. Every so often, I would hear the sweet-hot saxophone solo playing somewhere in the distance and something would turn over inside me -- and I would still not know the name of the song.

Cut to ... ten days ago. At a FedEx counter in Long Island, NYC. I had to mail my passport to the British Consulate and was a bit tense (I HATE mailing my passport anywhere. I am convinced I will never see it again, etc etc). But the man behind the counter was exceptionally calm and confidence-boosting. Just as I completed the address on the mailing envelope, BAKER STREET began to play on the radio. On an impulse, I asked the man whether he knew the name of the tune and he said, after a slight pause "... uh, that's ... Baker's Street."

Ahhhhhh! Heavenly relief!

I have been sneaking off to YouTube to hear it every couple of days ...

Meanwhile, in Newport ... no, I've NOT been sleeping, even though I've certainly not been posting daily activities either. The past few days have been so pleasant I've been feeling too much like a seagull soaring on an updraft to write about it! But today's my last day and I thought I'd enter a few notes.

Day ONE (Sunday 24th June): I had a hilarious time baking bread -- it was a mess! I did everything wrong! And it STILL PRODUCED EDIBLE LOAVES! This is the amazing thing. I mean, when I say I did everything wrong, it was essentially a case of paying the wrong kind of attention to temperature. Instead of just planning in advance to ensure that the yeast was correctly set up to eat its sugar quietly and fluff itself up, I instead soaked it in milk that wasn't quite hot enough, then tried to keep it warm by placing it over a pan of boiling water, so that it got scalded, then I used it anyway and made all the same mistakes again with the dough. The wretched lump of flour-water-salt just sat in its bowl, looking miserable, while I attempted to keep it warm by repeatedly over-heating it so that its outer skin became leathery.

Finally, recognizing that this wasn't going anywhere, I shaped two short batons and stuck them in the oven, expecting that the result would be two very hot batons, now converted to stone. Surprise! The dough DID rise a little bit and it developed a nice little crust and though the interior was not aerated half enough, the sliced results were quite tasty and edible. I am now convinced that bread will make itself regardless of what abuse the would-be baker subjects the dough to ...

For dinner that day, G pan-fried some shrimp with garlic and pesto and we ate them with angelhair pasta. Delish.

Day TWO:
It was my turn to make something for dinner and I chose Shepherd's Pie. It came out effortlessly well -- I mean, if I had to quibble, I'd say it could have been a little more moist. But otherwise ... really. It's embarrassing.

G went out to the beach with a friend, in the afternoon. I made another two loaves of bread. And this time, realizing that room temp wasn't warm enough, I got the sequence of warmings and risings correct and ... ta-daaaaaaaaaaa! Two beautiful loaves! All nicely shaped and fragrant. At night, emboldened by this success, I went on to an encore using a packet of spice for CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA. It was totally easy and the only thing that wasn't quite perfect was that it took a little longer to wrestle into place than I would have preferred. But it was okay. With brown basmati rice.

G and I went to a local establishment called
THE ACCIDENTAL ARTIST where we both had a delightful time decorating unglazed pottery which would later be kiln-fired for us to pick up a few days later. I did two mugs and a square platter and G did two mugs -- but I could probably have spent a whole week in there and not had enough! As some of you know, decorating ceramic is one of the things I can do obsessively ... And at an excellent price: $7 for a walk-in individual, $5 each for two or more people who come together. Over and above that, you pay only for the unglazed mug, dish whatever -- a mug is $8, for instance -- and that's ALL. You pay nothing extra for the paints you use, or the brushes or the length of time you spend there. I was AMAZED that the place wasn't teeming with people. G and her sister and mom had all been there before, so she knew the routine. It was really FUN. Alas, I will not be here to collect the pieces, so they'll remain in Newport, awaiting my return. But I don't really care. The painting is what I'm interested in and the results are a secondary thrill.

In the evening, I followed a recipe I got off the internet but through my friends in Delhirium, Sunita, Sonal and Amit, for RISOTTO as made by JAMIE OLIVER. It's so simple and delicious, you'd have to be brain-damaged to get it wrong. I made tons, so we definitely have enough food now to last till when M and S return from their holiday in Maine -- reportedly excellent.

The previous day I went over next door for a visit with Y and R and their mom, Mrs A -- and had a fun time chatting. So I went over again today to talk with the mom, who is an old Newportian, from an old Portuguese family and full of wonderful stories. Also G made OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES yesterday, for delivery to Y's grandson T today, for his birthday. The cookies are called VANISHING COOKIES because they're so good and I'll testify to the fact that they vanish ...

In the evening I taught G how to play a great card game called RUSSIAN BANK and in the afternoon we went down to the Wharf to have lunch at a local eatery called PANERA. It was good, and later we walked a little further to the Gateway Centre to buy my bus ticket back to Boston ... sadness!

And that brings me up-to-date. Got to end this now or I'll never get anything done before I bundle all my belongings into the two tiny bags I've been travelling with for these past couple of weeks. My sister S sent me thrilling birdie gifts -- including a funny little clock that wobbles on a spherical orange base and the DVD of PAN'S LABYRINTH, which I watched last night (alone, coz it's DEFINITELY not PG-13), awash with tears but in a sad and beautiful way, because it's that kind of movie.

Oh -- and OF COURSE we went for walks in the morning, and to the grocery and ate tons of icecream -- yes, the ice-cream scoop is limp from overuse! -- but that's all standard stuff.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Travels With My Blog

This is the birthday flower I got from G, L, M & S in Newport! Isn't it CUTE?
Just so you know, I am currently reporting from Newport, having arrived here yesterday after a very pleasant stay in Baltimore with my cousin and family plus SNOWY, their totally darling little Maltese -- he looks like a curly white lamb except of course for his button-black nose and pink tongue! He barked himself hoarse when I arrived and then became extremely friendly (though he continued barking, because he wanted to play).

My cousin's elder child celebrated her 13th birthday with a day-spend at home with six other girls, a pizza-extravaganza for lunch with a chocolate-chip cake made by her Mum, followed by the Nancy Drew movie -- however, my cousin, his nine-year-old son and I peeled off to see a DIFFERENT film -- The Fantastic Four, starring Jessica Alba looking super-pouty at all times, even when she's smiling.

Friday evening we went out to the harbour, where the birthday girl had her first Frappucino -- my cuz and I had our millionth and millionth-and-a-halfth respectively -- while the other two had icecreams from Marble Slab. I blush to confess that one taste of the icecream convinced me that we could well afford to share another single scoop -- and she came back with a giant serving, that required the combined efforts of all three adults to finish! It was butter pecan with extra pecan (and something else too, but I've forgotten what).

In the morning on Saturday, I got a gift from the family -- THE ideal gift for me: a pocket-electronic Crossword Puzzle selection from the New York Times!! Naturally I opened it right away and we attempted to solve the first of the puzzles en route to the train station, but didn't get past the first few clues because I was too distracted by worries about time. My train was scheduled for 9.52 and we got to the station a shade past 9.30 -- and I still needed to pick up my ticket. BUT ... I needn't have worried. Through the marvels of technology, it was a breeze: I had already bought the ticket online the day before, so now all that was needed was for me to pop my card into the ticket-machine, confirm that the information contained in the reservation was correct and -- out came the ticket! It was totally cool.

The journey was a little over six hours long, passing through New York, New Haven et al, arriving in Kingston, Rhode Island on time, at 4.15. I was collected at 4.30 -- got home at quarter to five and then, not much later the five of us walked down to a Hibachi restaurant near the waterside, to have MORE DESSERT!

That was, of course, post-dinner, which was a yummy bar-B, outside in the front yard, with hamburgers and a highly recommendable shrimp item -- individual servings of fresh shrimp, loosely wrapped in foil, with garlic paste, pesto and butter (but you can add whatever you like to the packets) then left on the grill to cook -- along with pasta and salad. For dessert at the restaurant I had mixed berry cake, S and M had something called a "bombe" which was three flavours of sorbets brought together within a thin shell of white chocolate, L had a green tea sorbet and G had a chocolate mousse cake. I also got a gift package of very cute stuff -- optical-illusion card, optical-illusion notebook and optical-illusion novelty pen, with a box of very cute matches with ERASERS instead of striking heads and a tiny fold-out silver-foil lotus (well, actually, I think it's a Night Blooming Cereus) -- you have to see this to understand what I mean -- it starts out looking like a small flat item which unfolds to the size of maybe a five inches across, complete with a corolla of stamens inside!

After this feast we wandered slowly through the tourist-traps by the waterside -- the sky was still very light, at 8.30 in the evening and the air was just like pale iced tea with a touch of lemon in it -- delicious.

I'll be here for the rest of the week, so if I'm industrious, I'll blog the events of the day as we go along. If not ... I'll ... ummm ... probably be sleeping!

Happy Whatever! It's great to be 54.

OH! And the RAINBOW SWEETS telephone number: 802-426-3531 -- remember: some items can be ordered over the phone ...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Chickens I have known ...

Isn't this the most attractive little bird? She's called a SEABRIGHT (don't know if that's one word or two separate) and she's a variety of bantam. I spent a good half hour chasing her all around the garden, trying to get her to pose and finally managed this picture. I don't know if the image that appears on-line will do her justice, but she always looks to me like a doodle in black ink on very white paper. Hen-a-doodle-dooooooo!

So yes, I am still in Vermont. I always start taking pictures just before I'm about to leave because right uptil then, it seems sort of silly to try and tie down images when reality is streaming past at the rate of thousands of interesting things to look at per second/minute/hour etc. Just yesterday, for instance, we went to my favourite restaurant -- RAINBOW SWEETS of Marshfield of course -- and had a huge dinner, topped with a dessert that can only be described as sublime -- chocolate, almond and cherry torte. OOOhhh. And it was still warm ... aiyayaiieeeeEEE, as they say in Asterix in Spain.

I had planned to post the telephone number of Rainbow Sweets here, but I forgot to bring it downstairs with me, and am currently immobilized in my seat here with the laptop on my lap and the very precariously connected telephone lead plugged in -- why do they make those little plastic connector jacks so fragile that the spring-clip loses its ability to remain locked into its socket? So that people like me, who use laptops are forever sitting in rigor mortis when we're online, in terror of twitching so much as an eyelash and thus losing the connection?? Anyway. As a result of this problem, I do not dare get up to fetch the number now, but will do so tomorrow morning.

The reason it's worth posting the number is that a few items can be ordered by telephone -- and I thought it would be worth sharing this important information with the world. Of course, the main attraction at RS is Bill, the proprietor and raconteur-extraordinaire of the establishment. Wonderful as the food is, it's Bill's outstanding charm, humour and kindness as a host that makes the experience one-of-a-kind. Where else can you go with small children and -- the youngest diner is as charmed and happy as everyone else? Truly, Bill is a rare and wonderful being.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Very Belatedly ... the GENERAL ASSEMBLY report

It's atrocious to post reports so long after the events that inspired it occurred but ... it was either this way or NO way. So, all things considered, I'm glad to be getting down to this, finally.

A little background about GENERAL ASSEMBLY. I began writing the play late last year (around November, I think, or October latest), at the invitation of Neera Jain, commissioning editor at Ratna Sagar, in Chandigarh. She wrote to ask if I had any existing plays that would be suitable for High School students (in India, i.e.) and when I said I didn't, she wondered out loud (by e-mail) if I'd be interested in writing one for a selection she was putting together. Her selection criterion was simple: she wanted a "classic play".

Well! That set me a challenge, didn't it? Because of course we both knew that no can (or should) SET OUT to write a classic-anything. The only reasonable approach is to write something that is true to one's beliefs and experience -- if it turns out to appeal to the tastes of a large number of people over a long period of time, and if the reason for that appeal is not mere vulgarity then ... MAYBE ... the thing might turn into a popular classic over time. But without the element of time and the opinions of large numbers of people, whatever else it is, it's not a classic.

So anyway. I LIKE challenges, so I said to Neera that I'd think about it. I had two ideas and began working on both (in the sense of, I began both) then settled on GA. Initially the complete title was "... of the GALACTIC UNION" but I preferred the shorter title ultimately. I completed the first draft in January this year, sent it off to Neera and after she returned it with comments, I added in the construction of the bomb -- resulting in the current version. Then I sent it off again and for a while it seemed like Neera would be able to use it in her anthology but ... that's not how it turned out.

Instead, what happened was two things: one, I gave it to Scholastic for an anthology of contemporary plays for young people that THEY were putting together -- general editor Sayoni Basu, collection editor Anushka Ravishankar -- and it was accepted for publication. Two, I brought it along with me to Boston, in March. I had been very kindly invited by Claire Conceison (Assistant Prof., Dept of Drama and Dance), at Tufts, to present an illustrated lecture about ... umm ... my journey as an author/illustrator.* At the time I met Claire, I offered her GA to read, saying that I would be very thrilled if I could hear a reading of the play, perhaps by some of her students.

And that's what happened.

Cut to: a meeting between me and Brendan Shea, the young final year student who offered, in his FINAL WEEK at college -- it has to be an indication of his confidence and sense of preparedness for his exams, that he even had time to spare on such a project! -- to direct a rehearsed reading of the play, at TUFTS, scheduled for just after the exams. Brendan had read HARVEST, so he'd already had a little exposure to my work and I think we both enjoyed the meeting at Starbucks, at the Arlington Centre. It was a surprisingly cold but very sunny morning, and I was practically an icicle by the time I walked into Starbucks that morning, but the pleasure of the meeting was enough (well JUST ABOUT) to keep me warm for the walk back to my niece's apartment, about 10 minutes north. (memories of major brrrrrrrrrrr ...)

Cut again to about one month later. May 14th was the day chosen for the reading. I got to the auditorium about an hour before it was due to begin, which gave me a little time to talk to the cast of fourteen -- here I have to pause to say that this would be the very first time I would hear the play being read with one voice per part. It's got a large number of characters -- in line with Neera's initial commission, which asked for a play that would cater to a large number of students -- and though my two nieces and I had read it out loud in Madras in January/February, I hadn't seriously expected to round up the full complement of a dozen voices at any time on my own.

The reading was held at Tufts U's Balch Arena Auditorium, which, as its name suggests, is the kind of auditorium in which the audience sits in tiers around a central pit. In this case, Brendan chose to seat the audience on one side of the pit, while the 12 main readers stood in a semi-circle facing them, with music stands on which they placed the scripts from which they read. In keeping with the play's requirements, there were four animal-shaped cut-outs (in white construction paper) arranged in front of the semi-circle -- well, three, actually, because FLIT, the dragonfly was posed enigmatically at the back, along the edge of the upper balcony, facing the audience. The remaining two readers sat to one side, one of them reading stage directions/announcer's voice and the other awaiting his turn as RAUF.

Here's the list: (sent to me by Brendan)
RAUF - Will Shaw
MITTOO - Brian Smith
AKU-AKU - Armen Nercessian
NANOOK - Brendan Shea
MUSTAFA - Laur Fisher
ASTRID - Caitlin Johnson
ALPHA - Erica Finkel
VIJAY - Luke Yu
YOKO - Molly O'Neill
TONY - Dave Adler
ANDY - Timothy Wagner
WORKS-AT-CASINOS - David Jenkins
MARIA - Stacy Davidowitz

If you've read this far, there's a chance that you're starting to wonder about the play ... So here's a quick overview: it's set in some future time (okay! okay! No groans from the audience please! Maybe it's a little more obvious now why this play wasn't included in a collection of "classic" plays ...), and all the action takes place in the common room of the delegation from Earth, at the General Assembly of the Galactic Union, taking place on some (unknown) other planet. The eleven human members of the delegation are locked in argument, as time counts down till the moment when they will make their presentation. Part of the point of the play is the squabbling -- the fact that the delegates are unable to present a united front or to agree about their agenda. There are a few animals who have been included as part of the delegation and eventually it is one of the animals that is chosen to address the assembly. The play ends with that speech.

When my nieces and I read the play out loud amongst ourselves, it helped me get a sense of the general flow of conversation and ideas; I also read it out loud to my friend Sunita at her home in Delhi, because she was kind enough to indulge me in my whims and out loud to my mother (in Madras, during the same period that my nieces and I read it -- we couldn't read it FOR my mother, because she would have found it difficult to follow three separate voices reading together) on account of her waning eyesight. But hearing a reading with one voice per part is really the ONLY way to be reasonably sure that the conversation overlaps in an intelligible manner, that there isn't too much bunching of activity and that characters have enough time to develop their points of view for the brief (half hour) duration of the piece.

So ... what can I say? It was wonderful to have an opportunity to hear the whole thing, in separate voices. It seemed to me that each of the actors put in just the right kind of energy into their performance -- special mention must go out to MITTOO and WORKS-AT-CASINOS here, for their virtuoso farting (mouthed, of course!) -- and it certainly allowed me to hope that if the play is ever performed, it'll gallop along with enough chuckles to keep it afloat till it gets to the end.

I especially enjoyed the pre-reading discussion with the cast and if I have any regrets it is that we DIDN'T opt for a post-reading talk-back. That was my choice -- but I realized almost at once that if only we'd had it, I would've had an opportunity to thank the cast and Tufts U for the reading. I thought that the cookies-and-sodas after the reading would give me ample opportunities to chat -- but that's not the same as being able to say a formal (and sincere) thank you. All I can do to make up for that lapse is, if/when the play is ever published as a stand-alone item, I will mention this reading. I can't be sure it'll ever happen, of course, but I have a notion that it would be really quite amusing to publish the play with illustrations (by me) of the different characters, suggested props and ideas for improvising costumes/set with a minimum of expense and fuss. The human characters are meant, of course, to represent the many different races and nationalities of our planet, but highly exaggerated, so there's much scope for zany dressing up.

For the moment, of course, the first published appearance of the play will be in Scholastic's collection, due out sometime next month (I think). I haven't heard from Sayoni recently, but I'll post links once I have more information.

*I was planning to blog about it, but didn't get around to that either. There's a reason for all these missed opportunities ... but at least as regards the workshop, I thought perhaps it would be a little teeny bit smarmy for me to report about myself here. That's not really the purpose of this blog.