Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tour de France - Part XII

Carinne peered through her tiny bedroom window. The brown-skinned girl with black glasses and long black braids skipped past again. She waved. The girl waved back, not missing a step as she went out into the street.
Does she speak French, Carinne wondered." I might like to play with her, if she does. It’s getting boring visiting Grand-pere and Grand-mere with no other children to play with. Maybe I’ll even show her my new Barbie camper". (or maybe it isn’t brand-new, coming from Cousine Claudette who left it the last time she visited and never bothered to take it back.)
The afternoon faded into evening, with the last bits of sunlight glinting on the apartment windows across the lane. Carinne came up to her room after an early dinner, spent watching her grandparents make small talk over a dinner of bread and bifteck. Her grandfather was the owner of a little bakery on Rue de LaRochefoucauld, assisted by a young apprentice in the back rooms, while his wife tended to the patrons who stopped by for their morning fresh baguettes and croissants.
When would Maman come back and take her back home? Why did she need to go on these long trips, leaving her with Grandmere and Grandpere? Questions, questions…no answers.
The little brown girl was wheeling her bicycle back down the driveway from the courtyard over the garages. She didn’t look up to see Carinne watching. Doesn’t she have anyone to play with? Is she lonely like me, mused Carinne. Maybe I will try talking to her if I see her out tomorrow.
The next day, no sign of the girl. Nor the next. Carinne began to think someone had placed a curse upon her, like the evil bewitchment that falls upon La Belle aux Bois Dormant (‘Sleeping Beauty’). The little brown girl must have moved away. None of the other kids came out to play, the weather was as gray as ever as she slid open her curtains every morning. No word from Maman, either.
A week later, she looked out in the late afternoon out of sheer habit. And there went the little brown girl again, skipping down the driveway and the lane, red ribbons on braid ends dancing.
She opened her window and called out.
“I’m Carinne. What’s your name?”
The girl stopped in her tracks. “ Sujatha.”, she replied.
“Sud-ja- ta”, enunciated Carinne, uncertainly, trying it on for size and deciding she wasn’t sure if she liked it. “Where do you come from?”
“Would you like to play with me in the courtyard after you get back from the marche? I have a new Barbie camper we could share”
“ And I have a new Barbie, with two extra outfits! My father bought it for me when we were in Andorra last week on a driving tour of France” Suji exclaimed. “I’ll go and get it after I’m done with my errands.”
Sure enough, that is just what she did. They had many good times playing together, till Maman came to take Carinne home a few weeks later, at summer's end.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Attack of the Match Makers

When one reaches a certain vintage in years, you are very likely to be pegged for as knowing of ever so many eligible young 'boys' or 'girls'. As an Indian-American, the pressure on you to fulfil your predestined role of matchmaking Maami or Maama is quite immense, even if you barely passed the far-end of the 'age of eligibility' by about 30 nanoseconds. (Plus you have to get used to being addressed as 'Uncle' or 'Auntie' by miscellaneous persons who are barely 10 years younger than you.)

"Do you know of any suitable boys? Please call us or send an email with details if you know anyone who might match."

"What are your basic criteria?" ( Always a good idea to find out the customer specs and requirements before preparing a list of suitable candidates.)

"Well, he must be Telugu speaking."

"Is that all, I know at least two dozen eligible boys, shall I send you the list?"

"No, no, no. He must be vegetarian too."

"Oh, then the list will have only 4 or 5. What else?"

"He must be a doctor with a green card or a US citizen."

"No, no, no. A plain doctor will not be enough- he has to be a surgeon", interjected the girl's mother, adding another critical attribute. "We can't settle for less, after how we've educated our daughter."

"And he needs to be tall and fair, not older than 35 and with good horoscope and family background."

Even if I could come up with a "boy" who is all of the above, the problem would be that such a paragon might be already married with two kids, and unwilling to take on Wife # 2 because of antibigamy laws. Or even worse, divorced with two kids. Hmmm, maybe I should put in a word for Candidate C. My husband gives me a warning look before I shoot off my mouth mentioning names.

"Of course we will do our best, Uncle", he grinned at our matchseeking friends.

Now you see why I am totally unfit for this business: too much frankness and snark will get you only so far. A diplomat's delicate touch and tenaciousness would come in handy, I suppose.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tour de France - Part XI

Miss L had found out that Suji was an avid reader. She saw the voraciousness through the black rimmed earnest gaze, so different from the other children, who would open their books only on command. Such reading must be encouraged, she decided. She wrote out a note to the librarian,asking that Suji be granted unlimited access to the library, even without a pass during free periods and be allowed to take home four books instead of the regular two.

Suji was delighted, taking every opportunity she found to run down to the library. She loved to kneel between the book cases, riffing systematically through the spines till she found her favorites. Sometimes, Champ, the librarian’s black poodle, would trot up to her, waiting patiently from a possible doggie treat as she petted him for a few minutes. The treat never came though, Suji had no clue that it might be something Champ would enjoy. Then it was on to the next library patron, who might be hiding a small snack in his pocket.

The Book Exchange cupboard under the stairs was another magical place. Musty and dusty, reeking of old books long forgotten, most kids stayed away from it, not caring for the contents largely placed there by avid bibliophiles seeking a gentler retirement for their outgrown favorites.

Suji surreptitiously brought a couple of unwanted books from home and placed them in the cupboard, picking out a couple of much desired books in exchange. Some books on the bottom shelf were even marked “borrow and return any time”, so she delved into those with a special vigor. There were hard bound editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books, that had Suji curled up in her bed, reading as if her life depended on it, even as she ignored Amma’s calls to dinner. Those books would move with her from the old apartment to a newer one, and not return to the Book Exchange cupboard till they left Paris.

Appa would occasionally pick out Enid Blytons for Suji on his frequent business trips to London. Suji carefully ripped up the covers of old Span magazines and learnt to cover even those brightly colored paperbacks to protect them from wear and tear. All through this , the inflow of library books never ceased: Raggedy Ann, Little House books, Pippi Longstocking, Moomintrolls, the chronicles of Narnia (The Horse and His Boy was a particular favorite)…

There were even a couple of French books to vary the charm: a translation of a Mallory School series book of Enid Blyton's called "Le Theatre au Malory Towers" and a nondescript translation of a mystery adventure "Secrets au Clair de Lune". Suji was particularly taken by the description of the secret cabin where the protagonist went with her little notebook to write.

What to do about the lack of a secret cabin? She could remedy that by placing a bedsheet over the old dining table and crawling in there with a torch. That would have to be her 'secret' spot to write in the notepad. Suji started filling the pages one after one, lists of favorite books, doodles and drawings,anything and everything that she thought that she wanted to keep secret, though from whom, she didn't know. There were no really close friends with whom to share these secrets.

Monday, December 8, 2008

TV Ad Favorites

I mean, the ones which are so terrible that they command your attention, and have the whole family running in to view them just for laughs.

Anything by Billy Mays, in his trademarked shouting gravelly voice:
(All words have been mangled in this recreation, beyond the product names)

"Mighty Putty... will make anything stick to anything"

"Oxiclean... pulls out any stain from any fabric"

"Fixit... will cover any scratch on your car"

All these are offered for the measly price of $19.99 or $9.99 + Shipping and Handling (the mysterious terms that should make you quake in your shoes- what if the S&H turned out to be twice the advertised cost of the product?)

I was surprised to find out that the redoubtable Billy Mays has a local link, being a native of McKeesport, a manufacturing town SE of Pittsburgh ( I've driven through it in a quest for a tunnel-free route to work.).

Another terrible TV ad favorite is the one with lyrics about how wonderful Pittsburgh and America are, and soaring music to match, only to descend into bathos advertising "George Moving and Storage", which begs the question: Is that a hint to the wise that Pittsburgh is the kind of town to move out of at the earliest opportunity?

Then we have the inimitable rapid-fire patter of clean-shaven Richard Bazzy for some Ford dealership. I never can make out a word of his sales pitch, but we gawk at the TV for the duration of the ad, where he's probably trying to fit in 30 seconds worth in a 10-second spot.

Who said local ads aren't fun? They're the funniest ones on TV!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tunnel Vision

I started a new job on Monday, and for the past three days, have been trying alternate routes every day to work. The commute goes through two tunnels, of which the first is the most horrendous traffic approach devised by those devilish road designers. Three major roadways and two shared parkways make for a bottleneck without peer in this region. The second tunnel isn't too bad, since I'm driving counter to the main flow of the traffic through it, and it also doesn't have major merge points before it.On a weekend, the same stretch that took me 30 minutes this morning, would have been covered in all of 5 minutes.
Coming back, I hoped for a better against-the-flow timing, but got mired in school traffic, with crossing guards holding up their stop signs as they waved packs of kids across the road.
Tomorrow, determined to stay out of the tunnel-vision crowd, I've used the maps at to plan a route that takes me away on side roads. I will need to time it and see how long it takes.