Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The devil in the Prado
(four Sundays in the past already)
Velazquez’s views of the garden of the Medicis; Rafael’s “Cardinal”; El Greco’s “The Fable”, which looks more like a Toulose Lautrec; “The Embarkation of St. Peter for Rome”, a lovely Lorraine that confused me because it was labelled ‘Loreno’.
Above all, that star of acid rock from the 15th century, the graphic-art precursor of Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa and “Tarantula”. His room is labelled Bosco by the contrary Spaniards. Just so we overlook him. The Goo-roo, fortunately, knew there was some of the man’s work in the Prado somewhere, so we tracked him down in the basement level, far behind the door labelled Medieval Art.
“The Garden of the Earthly Delights”, a triptych where the upper portion of the central panel would be perfect for the cover of a particularly outré Floyd album – this from a man painting in the 1400s! And the Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, a design of simplicity and fevered imagination. Some of it made me queasy when I looked closely; no wonder the medieval Church panicked and burnt most of Bosch’s work. I’d never really looked at Bosch before. Now, when I want to check out every detail, I don’t have a Net connection. Gah!
The Spaniards seem obsessed with secrecy, with keeping their treasures to themselves as far as possible. The Musee d’Orsay (which must be my favourite art museum) allows photography as long as one doesn’t use a flash. The Prado didn’t even let me take a picture of the long gallery from the lobby (which I wanted to because there is a distinct resemblance to the main concourse of the d’Orsay, the two photos would have looked good together in my study). And of course there was the tragedy of the flamenco, where they wouldn’t let me take photos …
Perhaps I should play a Bosco on them
Saturday, January 27, 2007
If food could be the muse of love ...
Chicken a la Kiev is not yet counted among the Seven Deadly Sins, but it’s good enough to rate a place there. The basic premise – en envelope of chicken breast enclosing a bomb of frozen butter, then fried till the butter melts inside – is simple. And very tempting. I had this faint suspicion that it was a Raj innovation, but TGGG reveals that it is known Stateside. (Google also reveals that Joan W. Teller of
At Mocambo (not the Stevie Ray Vaughan album but the eatery on Calcutta's
Downer. We were at Mocambo last night and for the first time in 25 years, they didn’t have the Pavlograd on offer. By the time we inquired, however, we had already polished off –
· Chilli chicken Mocambo style. Little cubes of chicken dusted with cornflour and lightly fried, in a soya-based sauce with chopped chillis and spring onions. This is a far cry from the standard “Indian Chinese” style of chilli chicken. And it’s served with fine crisp potato shavings, the only instance I have encountered of Bangali jhuri bhaja on a non-Bangali menu. (This is actually the Better Half’s discovery, she being the Mocambo regular while I am an occasional pilgrim. The advantages of having an effective CEO for the family!)
· Devilled crab. Creamy, faintly herb-infused, served in the shell to be scooped out with a spoon and eaten with an expression of reverence. We liked it so much we ordered another round, peppered devilled crab this time, but that tried a little too hard. Too much red pepper and tomato puree. Verdict – stick to the standard devilled crab.
· Fish Meuniere, cocktail style. Bhetki fillets cut into finger-food size, breaded, fried and served in a coating of tartare sauce. Wonderful.
· Peshawari kababs. Good but not exceptional, certainly not good enough to elicit the usual reaction of a goofy smile and a murmured “Ah, Mocambo!”
By this time we were (surprisingly?) rather full. Consequently, the lack of Pavlograd was merely a minor tragedy rather than a disaster. We took a little time to order the entrée. And swore solemn oaths that everybody would share their serving with everybody else (there were four of us). K* decided that she had no inner space for the main course, so three dishes should suffice. The consensus was –
· Chicken Milanaise. Slivers of chicken and ham, mushrooms, served in a creamy cheese sauce with pasta. In view of my low-carb efforts, we asked them to ramp up the cheese and ham and cut out the pasta. They obliged. Words do not suffice, my friends. I am not worthy. Mmmmm!
· Chicken Stroganoff. Limited by my low-carb regimen, I could not check out the buttered rice. A forkful of the chicken, however, was sufficient to prove the excellence.
· Lobster Thermidor. Now lobster is practically unknown in this country. We make do with large prawns. But within that limitation, these were large, healthy, well-fed prawns, prawns that not only ingested in full their daily quotas of calories but also dutifully toned their bodies beautiful in some crustacean gym, resulting in flesh that was pleasantly firm and well-toned without being “too too solid”, soft without being flaky, flavoursome … well anyway, they were very good prawns. Baked just right. In a lovely smooth sauce.
A revelation here. As per agreement, we were sharing the food when the Better Half pointed out that S* was gazing upon K* (HIS B. Half) with a quite unique expression. An admixture of longing and adoration that we have not seen in the decade and a bit that they’ve been together. Devotion. Passion, even. The BH was about to compare this attitude with my (perceived) indifference, when realization dawned upon her and she burst out laughing. S*’ adoration was not directed towards his wife. He was looking intently at the forkful of Lobster Thermidor that she was raising to her mouth.
One of the wonderful things about Mocambo (apart from the Shakespearean continuity – in Calcutta’s culinary scene, it is the “one fixed spot in a changing world” in terms of the décor and even the staff, we have grown old together) is that even the veggies on the side are superb. Until you’ve eaten there you cannot believe that carrot croquettes can be worth waiting for. And the potatoes are in a class by themselves. Some day I should ask how they get them that way. Damn the carb-free diet!
The signature dish – with my apologies to those who know the place better than I do – is the Fish a la Diana. Grilled prawns wrapped in bhetki fillets and poached in a light béchamel sauce. Quite divine. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my face.
We, or rather the other three, rounded off the nocturnal excesses with a Baked Alaska. The menu states that “Order must be placed in advance”. The steward was about to mention this when the BH (with the confidence of a person who has paid enough bills at Mocambo to fund a minor Himalayan expedition) pointed out that since we hadn’t yet eaten it, surely we were ordering in advance? The steward, usually taciturn, laughed helplessly. The Baked Alaska arrived shortly thereafter. Not as good as the fabled Sky Room product, but good nevertheless. (All RIGHT, I cheated on my diet. I had a tiny taste. So shoot me!)
As we ambled outside, I mooted a proposal to nominate the chef for a Padma Shri. The House was unanimous in its support (PJ ALERT!!! “Mocambo khush kiya!”) until it was pointed out that this might mean a quite unacceptable run upon his services. Like Munnabhai and Circuit reacting to the suggestion of a dry day, we looked at each other and simultaneously shook our heads. “Nooo-o-o!”
I hope the others forgive me for this post.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Non sequitur - hopefully the first in a long series
Stuck in office at 9 in the evening. If this had been
Techno turbulence. With the "seven minute deferred live" telecast, Cricinfo is now AHEAD of the telecast. In the best possible way. I see Windies 85/3 on the telly, turn to the PC and see them 89/5. Whoopee! (And sodomise impartiality, I'm not getting paid mega-bucks as a TV commentator, I can afford to have my prejudices)
And now back to work.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Flamenco is to salsa as orgasm is to foreplay.
Café Patas, some time after on a Saturday. The Goo-roo led me in past late diners and happy tipplers, down a long room to a counter in the wall. Bought our tickets. And waited for the door to open. Obviously
Chairs and tables on two sides of what we in
Frankly, at that point in time, with my eyelids gummy from lack of sleep, my head spinning from fatigue and wine, all I wanted was to get it over with and find a nice warm bed. What little flamenco I had seen on television was graceful but stylised, rather stiff. Huevos y Bacon and Pepe came to mind. Perhaps twenty minutes or so, then I’d prod the Goo-roo into a homeward cab. Meanwhile, the guitarist appeared, doffed his hat, struck a few chords, loosened his fingers on the strings. Nice.
The curtains parted again and a large lady in black emerged to sit beside the guitarist. Then a larger lady, also in black. I blinked. Finally a rather handsome couple stepped up on the stage. He was obviously Latin, lean-hipped, square-jawed, with long wavy hair flowing below his shoulders. She looked a little like Martina Hingis, but the eyes were far more fiery.
The first large lady suddenly set up a wail. The guitarist sprang in with a glissando and a sudden percussion effect. The performance had started.
And I was lost.
THIS was flamenco? The energy, the sheer energy of it all! This was intravenous speed! It had about as much relation to the staid posturing I’d had in mind as a panther has to a cream-fed tabby. The heels tapped and raced, drummed up a storm on the boards. The man’s hair flew. His jacket twirled, his arms framed air, his fingers snapped like castanets. Then she joined in. Sedate at first, so icy I almost saw the fan and the mantilla. The guitar snarled, cajoled, implored. The voices soared. He went into another impassioned series. And she caught fire. Gradually. Her fingers, her feet, her eyes. Oh yes, her eyes!
It was almost too intimate. There was none of the flirtation of salsa, no to-ing and fro-ing. Just a whole-hearted immersion in the spirit of the dance. Passion stripped so bare I felt I should look away. Physical enough to raise the sweat, yet so graceful that any moment frozen in the camera might capture the rhythm and the mood. Pirouettes so fluid I almost saw the camera-blur following the arms, finishes crisp as if cut with a knife. Fatigue or not, I was awake again.
They took a break after an hour or so. I went outside to clear my head with cold air and a cigarillo. The crowd was eclectic. A couple of mamaquitas, a terribly young dandy impeccable from shoeshine to knotted scarf, the think-tank of a mobike gang complete with their babes in alarmingly low-rise jeans and fur-trimmed knee-boots. From the expressions and gesticulations, we were united in our appreciation of the experience.
The next hour was even better. Carmen had a couple of long solos. Her rhythm was faultless, her expression sublime and tortured by turns as if she were molten in desire for a man she loathed. Raoul (or was he Carlos?) came back on for some passes that impressed with their physicality, but Carmen owned the evening. He was good, but too young and raw, even with her smiling support and the “Oles” from the audience. He was body, she added soul.
Towards the end, the largest lady in black bombazine joined her protégés. Suddenly, with a step and an upflung arm, she shed her years and her flesh. It was as if a hippopotamus had been transformed into a dolphin. She strutted, she twirled. The audience roared, Ole’d, swept up in the victory of art over time. An encore, another. And a final heart-stopping cameo from Carmen before the guitarist took his bow.
Outside, we buttoned up and stepped out. A fair way home, made longer because we couldn’t take the alleys – the Goo-roo’s phobia of muggers. No matter. I stepped lighter in memory of what I had just experienced.
Salsa? You can keep salsa.
Flamenco is to salsa as orgasm is to foreplay.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
In the dark before the dawn
One Wednesday morning, 7 a.m.
There’s something I particularly love about this butter-yellow lamplight in the dark before the dawn. 7 o’ clock in a hotel room with the sounds of distant traffic near the Hauptbannhof and a cup of coffee seducing me with little swirls of steam. It’s going to be a cold day. The skies cleared last night and I can almost feel the wind through the glass, flags snapping, trees swaying while the moon side-steps the last scudding clouds. Overcoat day ahead.
Yesterday evening was very “Homeward Bound”. Dog-tired from a day in the Messe – miles between the halls, up and down stairs, fair office, designer’s office, participants’ demands – I found myself at the train station just after six. A bitter wind in the early dark and no idea how to get back to my hotel, not even clear which direction I should travel. A sharp-eyed Frau helped me out there, but she said I should travel two stations and not one. I played my hunch, got off at the first station and was immensely reassured to find myself outside the deli where I’d scoffed a sandwich in the morning.
I like shopping for food. Whole-wheat bread studded with nuts and seeds, butter, a “Mediterranean” cheese, some pate. Chocolate milk, soda and a tiny nip of “Chantre Weinbrand”, whatever that is – it smells like brandy but I really don’t give a damn, I want it as a sleeping pill. A leisurely meal in my room while MY music plays. Much better than another series of cabs and an over-priced array of under-cooked food.
It’s a little over half a mile from the train station to the hotel. My hat twitches in the wind as I cross the bridge over the rail tracks. The hat – Sunday night in
I can’t recall being so alone in an urban landscape. There are cars, but I encounter only three pedestrians and a cyclist between station and hotel. Out to my left the new
A story about a solitary man walking back to a hotel room down a lonely road, past vacant lots and a looming waterworks, is far more likely to end in pain and murder. Or a particularly nasty apparition.
I’ve just been shooed off a tram where I was the only rider. I find myself in a deserted back alley, walking between rows of parked cars with the wind whipping up my coat. A shiver creeps between my collar and my hat brim. The pools of lamplight are safe havens amid the shadows. I walk faster. At the corner, I take my direction from the waterworks, eerie in its dimly lit vastness and its silence, and turn right.
The road stretches past a rusting factory, a railway underpass gleaming with recent rain, a weed-grown track behind a sagging gate. I turn up my collar, pull down my hat and, keenly aware of the dollars in my hip pocket, try to look confident. Apart from the cars surging past there is not a soul in sight. This is an alien landscape. I fear I’m lost.
Then, just past a crossing, I see the big garage I passed in the morning. Like the shaded parts of a trick picture, the landscape falls into place. The Gothic wasteland morphs into curtained windows, lawns, the lights of an old peoples’ home. Just a couple of hundred metres to the hotel door.
My budget hotel suddenly seems very welcoming. With warmth and light and food on the table, even a hotel room can be a home for a night or two. And the bed is very comfortable.
Clear day outside my window now. A few pink clouds and jet contrails. Lights in the sky, airliners queued for the busiest airport in southern
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Friday, January 12, 2007
The Goo-roo is one of the most generous and hospitable men I have ever met. A sweetheart, as She Who Must Not be Named would say. Peace be upon her flocks too, and blessings upon her store, for introducing me to the Goo-roo over the Net. My stolen weekend in
Not without hitches, though. As I checked in at
How does one while away 6 hours of a 9-hr. flight when Somnus goes AWOL? I marched up and down the aisle. I did surreptitious stretches in the space between the galley and the loo. Counted rows. A benediction upon Shahani, Queen of all her tribe, who took pity upon me and plied me with coffee and conversation, from the skies above Ashgabat till we began the long glide down into Frankfurt.
The plain in Spain as espied from the plane. Those stippled patches are olive plantations.
Disembarking at Barajas, I followed an endless succession of signs that pointed to “Salle des equipajes” (an approximation, Senors et Senoras, a mere approximation) only to find myself miles away, possibly near the French border. As unshaven bandidos snapped their bandanas at the Banderas (sorry, that just came), I was informed that I was in the SpanAir luggage hall. In a different terminal! The long trudge back had its compensations. First I found the Goo-roo lounging (in an attitude at once alert yet morose, quite a feat) outside the Arrivals gate, then I found myself beside my suitcase and outside the barrier. Without ever passing through immigration. Voila! I was free!
So it came about that at on a Saturday I found myself outside Café Patas and also outside a boatload of tapas, the latter conjured up by Gustavo who runs the “Juana la Loca”(1). Gustavo is Uruguayan. He wreaks his revenge upon the descendants of the colonists by alluring them with his viands and then pauperizing them with his demands. Myth has it that if he served meals instead of just tapas, two Michelin stars would be his for the asking.
The tapas bar was truly a revelation. (Vegetarians, please avert your eyes.) A 25-yr.-old white wine (good, but I’d reely druther hev a Pimms, thenk yew sow metch). Fish in a delicate butter sauce. Squid. Crusty bread with herb butter. Fried cod with a piquant dip. Oxtail that flaked apart when touched with a fork. Afterwards, an exquisite Tokaji – Tokay to you and me – that even a Philistine like me could appreciate, especially with a cigarillo that sneered at the Cuban genre. And just before we stepped out into the cold, a bill that would have housed and fed a family for a week. My insides curled into a ball and whimpered at the sight; the Goo-roo, cool investment banker that he is, took the tab and even left Gustavo a bribe for future delectation. (Such is wealth, but it does not always come with such spontaneous generosity.)
By this time I was light-headed from wine and fatigue, I had gone almost 48 hours with about 3 hours of sleep. There is, however, no performance at the Café Patas on Sunday evenings. Since I was to fly out on Monday, it was Saturday night or not at all if I wanted to catch some flamenco. So we walked a circuitous route through bright avenues – the Goo-roo is paranoid about getting mugged, also about expiry dates on food, but more of that later – until we reached the mouth of a little cobbled alley lined with brooding houses and curlicued balconies, like moustached Senoritas who suspected we wanted to ravish their infantas. Two doors from the mouth of the alley a small crowd smoked intently outside a brightly lit doorway. The Fundacion de Flamenco y Conservatorio de Café Patas.
More of which later, because I also need to work.
I had a steak for lunch today. With a huge boiled potato smothered in sour cream (don't the Teutons like butter?) and an unpretentious Pinot Grigio. Which was all right, except that as I cut into the steak I suddenly realized that it had about the same colour and texture as my face.
Agony, really. I’ve been up at 14,000 feet where the vast outdoors are one’s privy (don’t ask). I’ve been in Mussoorie and out in the boondocks when it was snowing. Then WHY does it happen that when it’s warmer in
Luckily our exhibit designer knows about these things and suggested “water-proof Vaseline”. (My Gaydar is not very reliable, but I think he is - no, I do NOT mean he is reliable - so I didn’t ask any further questions about Vaseline). As the young Macaulay once said, “The agony has somewhat abated.”
And now for the standard two degrees of separation story. Fellow blogger (Bong, of course, though now in
 Thomas Babington, 1st Baron Macaulay, 1800-1859. I loathe him for ruining Bangali enterprise through his avowed (and successful) intention of “creating a nation of Baboos” and for his dismissal of Oriental learning. On the other hand, he did draft the Indian Penal Code, which I consider great craftsmanship. Anyway, the story goes that when he was about three-and-a-bit, he was taken to visit some relatives. Where he spilt some hot coffee on his velveteen breeches. After the fuss had died down, he was asked whether it still hurt, to which he gravely replied “The agony is somewhat abated”. Zounds!
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Sailing to Byzantium
Some time early last Saturday ...
Flying westward ahead of the dawn, a losing race. After three hours of Campari-induced sleep (I was good, Ma, I only had two. Oh OK, AND some bubbly), I wake to a darkened passenger cabin. And the glow of the moon through the porthole. I lean over and peer out.
Magic. Below us is a landscape of whipped cream swirls and chocolate streaks, a maelstrom formation of snow-shouldered mountains that run together, flatten, roll, a vast frozen carouse of the ice-giants. All the way to the horizon, even from 38,000 feet. Under a crystal moon, light seems to hang in the air, drawing strength from the ice below, a dance of cold and whiteness.
I don’t need to pull out the little screen that tracks the plane across the world. Only one region in the world can look like this. The Pamir Knot. The roof of the world. Magnifique.
I take in the picture in great lungfuls. What luck to wake up at this moment. And yet there is a smidgin of guilt because I’m seeing this the easy way, from an airliner floating far above. Sven Hedin comes to mind, and Younghusband crossing the Hindu Kush. Somewhere down there and away to the left under the belly of the craft, surely, is the pass where young Francis had to tie strips of cloth over his shoes to cross an ice-field.
But hey, why should I feel guilty? He chose his own road. The intrepid explorer. Onward to glory and all that. Besides, he was just 24 at the time. Me, I’m old and past it. Hedonism over Hedinism every time for me. Young lady, if you will NOT serve breakfast just yet, could I please have another Campari? Squeeze of lime, dash of soda, two ice. Thanks.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Blog thoughts, returning
I stopped posting on my blog in late September. I was changing jobs and that involved tying up a lot of loose ends, so I really didn’t have the time to write decent or at least entertaining posts. Now I’ve been in the new job for nearly three months, settled in all right, travelling a fair bit – I have both the material to write about and time in which to write about it. So I should go back on my blog, shouldn’t I?
But I’ve been thinking about my blogging. It started out as a search for affirmation. I hadn’t written for a long time and I needed to know whether I could write worth a damn. Now I know there are 30, maybe 40 people out there who like the way I write. Some of you are even kind enough to say so. And some of you are scathing, but funny. Of course it’s all about the comments. There’s this sense of community. People we know, cyber-presences we even like, without the need to be polite or to get dressed when you interact. People who are around without ever actually getting into each other’s space. Perfick, as Pop Larkin might say. Quite perfick.
Thanks for dropping by, folks. Getting to know you has been good.
I’d love to be a writer. A person who makes a living by writing. I’d love to write stuff that’s clever, put together words that can stir the reader, make him think, laugh, react. And at the end of it, earn his admiration. A good writer. A story-teller, a thinker.
That means work. Research. Thinking. Planning. Plotting. Writing. Reviewing. Re-writing. And the business side – finding an agent, a publisher, all that jazz. It’s a long process, it doesn’t happen overnight (unless you’re Siddhanth Dhanwant Shanghvi and get a good press for the most utter mush.)
Because after all, I want to be a successful writer. Of course, being read is itself a kind of success. But do I have the stomach to spend a year or two writing a book, getting it published, then watching it sell 1322 copies in three years? It would kill me. Because I’ve had things easy in life, I don’t know whether I have it in me to buckle down and go through the grind. There’s no fire in my gut, I don’t really want anything badly enough.
That’s the rub. To produce something good, something of value, you have to want it badly enough to give part of your life to it. If not your whole life. And I’m having too good a time in my life the way it is. Do I want to change my life? Do I want it badly enough? Only one way to find out, of course. Go out on a limb so that I have to write if I am to survive.
Difficult. My day job pays the bills, keeps me in a nice flat in a nice part of town, sends me to interesting places. Do I dare give that up on the off-chance that enough people will like my book to pay for it, pay me to write more? Nope. I do not dare. “Time to turn back and descend the stair / with a bald spot in the middle of his hair”.
Besides, I don’t even know what I’d write about. What moves me?
More than anything else, I like humour. The most under-rated genre of creation. Oh, it can pay well. Dave Barry probably makes far more money than, say, Julian Barnes. But we still have the entire “burbling pixie” syndrome. The Master was just about as good as it gets, but was he ever considered a writer? People have a sneaking guilt about laughing too much. Just because the world is mostly a pretty terrible place and human beings are quite vile, we feel that we should go all sombre and long-faced and stop laughing. Silly, because the only way to deal with a crazy world is to laugh at it. “Nothing is real / and nothing to get hung about”.
I love my city, but do I know enough to write about it? I don’t think so. Not enough about the geography, let alone the history. Going everywhere in a chauffeured car, I don’t feel the city. This is the right time of year to try that out, February onwards we’ll be back to sweat and B.O. It’s an idea. But who will overcome sloth to implement it?
Travel …. I just read two Pico Iyer interviews (thanks to the Griff) and Mr. Iyer says he plans his travel, does a lot of reading about it before he starts. He also says he takes copious notes and then “leaves them on the other side of the room” while he writes, now that sounds a lot like me. I had a week in
So basically, I need to get off my ass and write. If I want to gain readership, I should write about Ibiza. Or Jessica Simpson. Or Greg Chappell. Just start writing. ANYthing.. Then keep adding to it whenever. The end result – if it ever ends – will appear to be cobbled together, but then I can only become a writer by writing. And by reading, as the Bouncer pointed out once.
So I guess that’s what I shall do. Set aside an hour every day to write. Anything. And perhaps in 2008, there will be more of me to read than there is on my blog.
Meantime, there’s always the Simple Desultory Philippic.
Have a good one in 2007, blog-folks.