Friday, September 26, 2008

Tour de France - Part IX

Laura launched into a detailed description of her genealogy : American mother, Swiss father, an Italian grandmother on one side, a German one on the other... Suji lapped up the details like an eager little puppy. She went home and announced, wide-eyed, to Amma "My new friend Laura has family from a dozen different countries!"
"Is that so?", Amma sounded highly amused, but mercifully kept the sceptical tone out of her voice. Suji would have been really angry had she detected any ounce of amusement in Amma's voice.
Laura was in a different homeroom, but Suji at last had a regular playmate who shared her lunch breaks and recess with whom she could play and share secrets with. Laura had straight short chestnut hair and bangs that kept falling into her sparkly blue eyes, which she kept tossing away every so often, as she laughed her way through the day.
Laura had invited Suji to her birthday party, and she was all excited about picking out a gift and going down to Laura's home. From what Laura had told her, Laura's mother was divorced and had a boyfriend, whatever that meant. Suji didn't quite understand the reference to 'divorce' and had to look it up in the dictionary- something about ending marriages. 'How could a marriage be ended?" puzzled Suji, as she tried to imagine what it would be like.
The much-anticipated day arrived. Appa took Suji down to Laura's home, driving his snazzy new Citroen hatchback. It was an apartment in a nameless block in another Parisian suburb, surrounded by trees and concrete walkways snaking around a few patches of lawn. Appa escorted Suji to the door, promising to get back an hour or so later when the party ended to pick her up.
Balloons, party games, party hats, birthday cake with candles, opening the presents, mini-tour of the house- Suji had a lot of fun by the time Appa came to collect her. That night, back in her cosy bed though, she still mulled over the mystery of the divorced father, who occasionally had Laura over for a visit, and the fact that Laura had shown her mother's bedroom and mentioned casually that the boyfriend shared it with the mother. What could all this mean? Suji fell asleep before she could figure it out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Road Kill

This was a term that I was unfamiliar with, until I came to the United States. Sad mangled carcasses of squirrels, chipmunks, the occasional deer shoved to the side of the road or highway- all these constituted the casual casualties of automotive traffic colliding with the wilderness that the roads supplanted.

We even stopped, for the lack of a standard eatery, at the Roadkill Cafe on 'Historic Route 66' , en route to the Grand Canyon, last month. Their motto:"You kill it, we grill it", inspiring visions of burly rednecks bringing in the carcass of their last encounter with a three-point buck on Route 66, ready to be dressed, roasted and served on a platter to a side of fries and ice-cold beer to wash it all down. But what in the world could a group of predominantly vegetarian customers find in the Mecca of Ribs and Wings?

The menu was eye-popping in its nomenclature - a sampler below:
Crispy Toad
Splatter Platter

Swirl of Squirrel

Fender Tenders

We turned hurriedly to the next page, scanning through all the gag-inducing names till we found 'French fries', 'Rice pilaf', 'House salad' and other innocuities. After checking with the waitress to make sure none of these had meat in them( she did threaten that the salad might have bacon bits in it, unless the cook could confirm otherwise), we placed our orders and examined the one menu card that got left behind at our leisure.

Which is when we discovered that the Crispy Toad was just Jalapeno poppers (deep fried hot peppers with a breaded batter and cheesy filling), Splatter platter was another name for ketchup and assorted deep-fried veggies. We could have actually ordered those, had we not been put off by the names!

So much for the Roadkill quality of the food! We had a hearty laugh out of this dining experience- the food was good, despite the shock we received when reading their names off the menu card.

Which brings me back to a sort of philosophical question that I pondered along with M while driving to the library a few days ago. A red squirrel lay flattened in my path as I drove down the hill.
M : "Poor squirrel!"
Me: " It must have hurt when it died, but right now it doesn't mean anything to it. It's just the body of the squirrel lying there. What do you think happened to the spirit?"
M: "It's gone to heaven. I think the squirrel's at some place where it gets plenty of acorns, even golden ones!"
Me: "But consider, there's no body to feed. Why would the squirrel have a need for acorns once it has no more body and is just a spirit?"

And we stopped it there, because we had arrived at our destination. Is there a squirrel heaven, what would it be like...these are questions to think about for another day, I guess.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Trying Time

I randomly clicked on the icon winking at me from the desktop 'scar2.doc'. Something about a boy letting off a sonic blast of anger in response to his classmate making fun of the Indian food at an 'International Culture' day celebration. Hmmm...sounded familiar. Was it...yes, it was a recounting of what happened some years ago when S was still in elementary school, from his perspective.
The essay/story was an almost clinical dissection of the emotions and rage that flooded his mind when he realized that one of those being dissed ('these ladies put ants in the food') was his own mother, and that he in his initial ignorance of the precise context of his 'friend's remarks, had laughed along with the others. His conclusion was surprising- not that over the years he had developed a tolerance to these kinds of niggling incidents which form part and parcel of not looking or behaving like the majority, but that it didn't hit home until his family was the butt of the intolerant comments. It's never more painful than when it becomes personal.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tour de France - Part VIII

It was on one of the walks that Suji got an impromptu invitation to visit Pilar’s house, located practically next to the park. Pilar was flaxen-haired and pale, the daughter of a British diplomat, but it was rumored that her mother was Spanish, thus explaining the strangeness of her name.

Suji liked Pilar. She was kind and never teased her, like the other kids did. She chatted with her amicably on the playground even as others ignored her. Pilar was an only child, and didn’t hesitate to occasionally boss Suji around like the younger sibling that she never had. Suji had somewhere along the line, picked up the bad habit of punctuating her descriptions with the word ‘damn’ and ‘damned’. Pilar frowned “You shouldn’t be saying that word. It’s a bad word.” Suji was nonplussed- Pilar of all people, saying that the word ‘damn’ was bad. She resolved in a hurry to never use it again.

Suji was agog with curiosity at this unexpected invitation to Pilar's house. This was the first unknown house that she was visiting, apart from the tiny apartments of a few family friends. What wonders might she see?

The interior of the house was dark and cool despite the blazing brightness outside. The girls clustered in a group in the drawing room, talking nineteen to the dozen. Suji looked around with curiosity - Dare she explore while the others in the group were preoccupied with their chatter?

She tiptoed into the unlit dining room, the table set with silverware and service and a luscious looking trifle topped by a pale green berry, glistening alluringly. Suji looked around at the sideboard and buffet, but her eyes kept wandering back to the trifle. The green berry beckoned to her, catching the solitary ray of light penetrating the blinds.

With a swift movement, she stepped forward to the table, picked the berry up and popped it into her mouth, moving hurriedly away from the scene of the crime. She bit down on the berry, and let out a little yelp. It was horrendously bitter. Her teeth came down on the hard pit with a sickening crunch. She spat out the mangled remnants into a pocket tissue, crumpled the mess into her coat pocket and slunk out of the room. Who knew that a close encounter with a gourmet variety of green olive would turn out so badly?

There were no more invitations to Pilar's house after that. Pilar moved away soon, off again to a destination unknown as her diplomat father was transferred to another embassy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Walking the Vegas Strip

With my husband and children and my parents. Blazing 100 degree heat, despite sundown. Acres of neon signs. The crowds- quite unbelievably Disney-like in their demographics despite the more generous-than-average show of skin among the ladies (at least, to a frumpy Pittsburgh hausfrau such as me). Construction dust from new buildings rising where old ones were flattened. Occasional pimps hawking their wares with enticing cards strewn all over the sidewalk.
We ventured out to see the night sights of Vegas after attending the Lance Burton magic show for which we had earned discount tickets the hard way. Plus we anticipated having a good dinner at the only Indian restaurant on the Strip. We walked past the Paris casino, almost charmed by the night lighting that turned it into a Paris facsimile after dark.

At the restaurant, we barely beat a sudden influx of hungry diners by 5 minutes, and got our orders placed in time for a quick dinner.We stepped out again into the warm night. Vegas in August is no joke, with no night breezes to render it more bearable until much later, when the desert surrounding it drops temperatures to the 60s for the night.

We dodged the crowds towards the famed Fountains at the Bellagio, walking past a flashing fire truck, which picked the inopportune moment just as we crossed in front to let out a deafening siren, as it entered the busy traffic on the Strip. We nearly suffered a collective heart-attack and a bout of temporary deafness, as we continued our walk on the bridge towards the fountains. On the bridge,we paused to watch from the side a stirring rendition of a Sousa march, fountains rising in synchrony with the music.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in a better viewing position to the side. Just as we started to enjoy the next round of the fountains dancing, my mother pulled away form my right with a sniff of disgust and moved sharply away to the rest of our group, whispering to me, "Keep away from that drunken guy." I was left standing next to the 'drunken guy' and his cohorts. He started mouthing obscenities loudly even as his friend apologized to us for his inebriation. I moved as far to the left as the crowd would permit, ignoring the glassful of beer being waved under my nose, determined not to let this spoil my enjoyment of the next fountain dance, an artful chorus-line song choreographed with crossing sprays of water rather than showgirl's legs.

(The video above is from my camera- I could manage only a short clip before the memory got filled out.)

That's the Strip for you, with many reminders of the hard-core partying and gambling that hides behind the family-friendly veneer that Las Vegas tries to project.

I was able to convert about 1/2 of my husband's better video to .avi format. Here it is for a better feel of how it was like to watch the fountain in action.

Blue Skies and Red Rock

We visited Sedona, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, driving down there from Las Vegas. I didn't know what I had been missing by the way of blue skies, which I always found to be quite beautiful in Pennsylvania summers and autumns. And then I saw these:

The first photo is a view from Oak Creek Canyon, along a picturesque winding road down from Flagstaff towards Sedona, the second a view at Slide Rock state park, where the main attraction is a series of natural water slides in an apple orchard, and the third in Sedona proper, across from the town's best pizza place.

Our Grand Canyon photos all turned out curiously washed out, as though we were merely posing in front of a photo backdrop rather than the real thing, which looks much more vivid than this example. The setting sun did provide some great photo ops on the Bright Angel trail, however.

We got lucky enough to see an elk on the way out of Grand Canyon National Park, S did a U-Turn in the van for us to click away, annoying the driver behind till she too saw what we were at. Soon enough, there was a line of 3 or 4 cars doing exactly the same thing as us, cameras flashing away.