Monday, March 29, 2010

See Naples and die... the meaning of the saying in Italy that goes 'vedi Napoli e poi muori'…and no, it has nothing to do with the Mafia. Before I go on to describe why the saying is true, I should also mention that although I really had a good time in Naples, I am in no hurry to die (in case the Devas/Angels are listening and saying Thathasthu/Amen :D) !

The birthplace of Pizza Margherita
It would come as no surprise if I said that I had the best pizza in my life for the first time in Italy; it was in a small restaurant close to the Piazza San Marco (city square) in Venice….it was this moment of revelation where I thought to myself ‘ohhh…so that’s how a pizza really tastes like’ while the fresh mozzarella cheese mixed with the San Marino tomatoes were still melting in my mouth. Once I tasted the pizza in Naples, I have had to rethink those thoughts again.

The pizzeria, Brandi, in Naples is considered to be the birth place of Pizza Margherita. This was when the pizza was named after the Queen Margherita who had dined there and chose the pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil (representing the colors of the Italian flag) as her favorite.

I had the good sense to google for other good pizzerias in town (I was there for 3 days and had 6 meals, excluding breakfast and there was no way I was going to try just one pizzeria :D) and ended up having a really delicious pizza at the Pizzaiolo del Presidente (shown in photo below), apparently named so after Bill Clinton dined there and this was rated even better than Brandi.

Making pizzas in Naples is not just a trade, it is more or less a way of life. There is a society (Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletena) that goes around checking the quality of the pizzerias (that are members) as well as pizzas and if you fail the test, you can make no more pizzas. The pizza is cooked only in wood burning brick ovens and it takes at least 2-3 years of formal training for someone to become a pizzaiolo (the one who stretches the dough) gotta love Italy for this, not only do they never let down vegetarians but they take food seriously!

And my rule of thumb: if you can eat a pizza with one hand (either using cutlery or not) then its not the Italian kind….the real Italian pizza crust is soft and light and will need both hands !

And then there is Sfogliatelle...

No, no, that’s not swearing in Italian, it’s a dessert, looks very much like our samosa with multiple layers and is filled with vanilla or chocolate. While you enjoy the crunchiness, the chocolate melts in your month and this is when I think ‘ poor skinny models’ :D !

The 2000 year old city of Pompeii
Its 79 AD. A volcano erupts and viciously wipes out an entire city.

Its 1748. Archeaologists are digging for remains of a used pot, some weapons and lo! they find an entire city, preserved underneath layers of volcanic ash with so much detail that they can completely reconstruct how the city would have looked 2000 years ago - the city of Pompeii with its houses, cemetery, sports arena, market square, theatre and above all, the gladiator arena aka the amphitheatre. The ancient city boasts of both Greek and Roman ruins and thanks to Asterix, the movie Gladiator and my ever-ready-to-go imagination, I was able to picturize everything like it was and that was an experience worth every minute of the 3 hours I spent there all the while wondering why I hadn’t planned more time for it.

The place is fairly well-labelled and it was impressive to see the effort they have put into recreating the vegetation within the ruins to resemble the actual city as much as possible. The more time I spent there, the more I started thinking about Indus valley civilization that dates back to 4th millenium BC….many people are hardly aware that it was one of the earliest civilizations. What is sort of frustrating for me is their inaccesibility today because of their location and the safety factor associated with it (Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are in Pakistan), maybe I can visit Lothal in Gujarat…oh..well…I digress.

Pompeii is a must-see place if you go to Naples and here are some tips:
- Wear good shoes. You would think that this is a no-brainer..well, think again...I almost laughed out loud when I saw people women with flip flops and even worse, high heels, wincing with oohs and aahs….how hard is it to understand that you need good shoes to walk on stones and it is totally not the time to display your fashion sense ?!
- Take a guided tour if you have enough time or choose the next option, an audio guide.

The history-creating volcano, Mt.Vesuvius
How can one see the ruins and not see the volcano that destroyed and ironically, also preserved it all these years?There is a bus ride from the Ercolano station to Mt.Vesuvius but if you want to get a really good feeling of Italian driving, you should take one of the taxis (they are reasonably priced)….if ever you have taken a bus or a taxi up on the mountains in Kodaikanal or Kulu, you would understand what I mean. Imagine Indian driving but at much higher speeds with some swearing in Italian and loud Italian football commentary in the background.

The 1.5 Km walk up the mountain to see the crater came in handy for burning off all the calories from the pizza but you forget all that when you get to the top and see the crater on the one side and get a view of the city on the other. Peeking into the crater gave me goose pimples !

Another must-see place if you go to Naples and here are some tips:
- Wear good shoes and stay away from white or other light colored clothes unless you think that the volcanic ash and dust might give your clothes a rugged look
- Unless you are pregnant and/or very asthmatic, you should attempt the climb. If you are not too fit, it might take you longer but there are 3 shops on the way where you can rest or get a drink.

The Godfather ?
Thanks to many books and movies, I have always associated Naples and Sicily with the Mafia. Anytime I saw someone well dressed with a long overcoat, greasy hair and earrings, I gazed at him for a split-second longer wondering if he was one of them….sadly (or luckily ?) I had no encounters with them but I did meet a Pakistani who told me that the Mafia indeed controlled everything. I then remembered the Naples trash crisis from 2008 where the Mafia was heavily involved and breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn’t anywhere near to witness it.

Haggling with cab drivers or TTR* – take your pick
Someone who does not know the ticket system in Italy or Spain would think that I am a chain smoker….I am always looking for tobacco shops since that's where you buy tickets for the public transport (for whatever reasons) and many times they will not have the tickets you need, so you end up buying the expensive ones (single tickets instead of day tickets), then there is the ticket validation that you do when you first use the ticket. Most of these machines are out of order most of the time and as luck would have it, it will work when the TTR tries to use it. So, this fellow says something to us in Italian and we try to explain in Italianglish that we tried but it didn’t work and the fellow keeps repeating the same thing. We wonder if we should just step off the bus or if we have to pay a fine, when a girl next to us said something to him that sounded like she saw our failed attempt. As soon as she started, the others in the bus started saying the same thing and the TTR left with a shrug. Napolitenas either love tourists or hate TTRs

Taking a taxi is not very expensive, if you know the distance, have an understanding of the route and can haggle with the driver BEFORE you get into the taxi. Well, thanks to Chennai Autowallahs, I am a master of that game.

Is Naples really Europe?
No one cares about pedestrian crossing or traffic rules
There are no proper plans for public transport
Buses stop anywhere according to the driver’s wish for people to board
Cars are allowed within the historic center and there are no pedestrian walkways
You haggle with cab drivers or you end up being taken for a ride (pun intended!)
There are street vendors everywhere who insist that you buy a Prada bag for 20 bucks!
If you do not hold on to your wallets 24/7, they will be gone.

Naples comes as a shock to many tourists and even to some Europeans who are unprepared for all of the above and are used only to cities like Milan or Florence that are completely in a different league. It was very amusing for me to watch a couple of English tourists struggle to cross a major road with cars whizzing by with no concern whatsoever for pedestrians and they were gaping at us as we were just darting through the cars and buses with practiced maneuvers….I was thinking ‘idhellam oru mattera, naanga ellam remo stylela** mount roade cross pannuvom’ (cannot translate this, feel free to use your imagination :D)

Anytime I saw a scooter (it was a vespa) or an apartment with umpteen antennae mount on the terrace or colorful clothes hanging from a balcony, I couldn’t help but grin…call it primitive, under-developed, developing or whatever, I don’t care….I have fond memories of them and its not everyday that I get to see them in Europe.

On the flight back, I met travel agents from India back from a 4-day trip on the Amalfi coast sponsored by Italian tourism. They were to promote these places back in India. I wish ‘Incredible India’ does something like that too, we surely have a lot more to offer than any other country (and no, I can’t be impartial when India is involved !). On another note, at end of the conversation they gave me a box of our very own Made-in-Bombay has to accept that this will happen only with desis, God bless them for that !

The Island of Capri (which is a short ferry ride from Naples) is probably the most frequented place in Italy by rich party-loving people. But it also a great place for a weekend-getaway from the city. If you have enough time in Naples, Capri is definitely worth a day-trip. The archealogical museum in Naples can easily occupy a good part of a day while a walk through the historic center or a visit to the Naples Underground can keep you busy for the rest of the time.

In short, Naples is a great place to visit, just keep your mind open and bags locked !

*TTR: It is actually a travelling ticket examiner but for some reason, the person is referred to as TTR (instead of TTE) in India.
**Remo style: In the tamil movie Anniyan, Remo (Vikram, the hero) crosses a busy road (near the beach in Chennai) backwards to prove a point (!?)

Copyright for Vesuvius aerial photo:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pesum Padam

What happens when the hero is introduced?
He is flying (and not in a plane)
Things around him are flying (can range from flowers or vegetables to bikes and cars)
He is quietly spending time with his friends

What happens when the heroine is introduced?
She is dancing or at least getting wet in the rain
She is smiling for no apparent reason for doing some mundane task (like catching an auto, or choosing a book or drawing a kolam)
She is lost and/or stranded and needs help

What happens when boy meets girl ?
The world around them stops and they start walking towards each other in slow motion
They bump or collide into each other, even if they don’t their clothes or bags or books do.
The movie comes to an end.

What happens when the luscious heroine jumps up and down in front of the villain?
He falls in love with her and wants her by hook or crook
He misbehaves with her and the hero comes to her rescue
He ignores her and minds his own business

What happens when the villain realizes that the girl loves the hero?
He tries to kill the hero
He tries to kill her because no one else can have what he cannot have.
He magnanimously wishes her good luck and lets her go

What happens when the hero has to choose between his love and duty?
He chooses duty and sings a sad song
He makes sure the heroine follows him around like a puppy before he finally explains to her the reason for rejection
He changes his mind when the heroine threatens suicide or is dying

What happens when the heroine is dying?
She tells the hero that she wants to die on his lap
She tells him that they will get united in their next life
She dies with her hand outstretched and her make-up intact

If you scored more than 12 points, you are fully qualified to watch any ‘regular’ movie in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, irrespective of if you know or understand the language. If you have a negative score, either you are not from India and/or for some weird reason, you have not seen Indian movies !

It was this qualification that made me watch and completely understand Magadheera a few days ago (and the fact that there are a lot of Hindi and Sanskrit words in Telugu). Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie and would gladly watch it again. It is a story of 2 lovers who die with their desires unfulfilled, are reborn after 400 years to be united. It has all the predictable elements but the screenplay deserves applause. So does Ramcharan who does complete justice to his role. The story that happens 400 years ago is picturized grandiloquently (and you should ignore the fact that a Rajasthani royal family speaks sundara telungu) and the horse riding/chasing as well as the suyamvar are simply brilliant...just brilliant !

I usually cringe (or atleast pretend to cringe :D) for any knight-on-a-white-horse type scene but I have to unashamedly admit that I rewinded the scene, where hero chases the heroine (who is traveling in a PTC bus) on a horse to tell her he is crazy about her and watched it again....was just too cool !! It was also refreshing to see the hero himself perform many of the stunts. Seeing him ride the horse was so much more convincing than a long shot with some poor stunt guy.

The editor would have done better by completely removing the scenes with Brahmanandam that are not even remotely funny and by sparing us all the trouble of watching Kim Sharma awkwardly dance. The director could have also avoided the very cliched and corny father-son (Chiranjeevi-Ramcharan) song and dance but I guess that was necessary to appease the front benchers even though it would have made the movie at least 30 minutes shorter and crisper......oh..well...these are the times you bless the fast forward option.

All in all, a good choice for a friday-night at home with some take-out :)

PS: I request you to pray (with me) to the dear Lord to not have Vijay star in the tamil version if they ever decide to remake this movie!

Gold fish translator
Suyamvar - practice used by the royal families where the princess chooses the groom based on some sort of competition

PPS: I am sorry if you get a HTML error, the javascript worked when I tried it in a normal html file but the blogger template keeps messing it up.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dinosaurs - (A)live !?

When I first saw the walking with dinosaurs ad, I immediately decided to see the show (in spite of it being in German – seeing Godzilla in German wasn’t fun, but was a good way to learn the language since you know what the dialogue is going to be from the English version)…but what I had not counted on was the fact that I had already been pampered by Spielberg and Crichton, with the former giving a larger-than-life meaning to the latter’s words.

The show was for 80 minutes (with a 20 minute break in between) and was more or less like a live discovery channel documentary on dinosaurs….note the keyword is ‘live’. It was great to see the dinosaurs walk across just a few feet from me and it was amazingly realistic (I almost nodded when the host told us that we should use the camera flash at our own risk as the dinosaurs might react unexpectedly to modern technology!), but a walk with the dinosaurs also pushes up your expectations to something more exciting and dangerous than just the bellowing of a Tyrannosauras Rex. When you especially see a group of raptors, the mind automatically switches to the Jurassic Park mode and the tidbits about how they are very sharp and hunt in groups cross one’s mind and then when they just eat pieces from a carcass and leave the stage, you can’t help but feel extremely disappointed.

Two Brachiosauras in Love ;) :)

Tyrannosauras Rex with its baby (did you note the dinosaur-tamer in the arena ?)

The journey basically began with a paleontologist (I couldn’t help but think of Ross, his watch with the dinosaur-tail-hands-pointing-to-the-time, and all the dinosaur related stuff he did to drive everyone else crazy!) who explains everything from an egg hatching to reveal a baby dinosaur to the flowers and bees (which finally came into existence in the Cretaceous period) , with all the right stops in between – pre-Jurassic, Jurassic and post-Jurassic periods (depicted with a couple of Triceratops). The music, lighting, and the video screens (for those not positioned well to view the stage) were all right and it would have been one of a kind, had they included a fight or a chase (ok..maybe a chase is too much to ask for considering the size and weight of the dinosaurs!) or something a little more exciting for someone who is not 6 years old and is not scared of a dinosaur crying out in rage at its child being attacked or a carnivore spotting its prey !

Although one can appreciate their efforts in bringing the dinosaurs ''alive'' into the arena, that excitement wears off after a while when you realise that all they do is to walk around and the herbivores occasionally eat conifers while the carnivores try to scare them away.

You should go to the show only if you fall into at least one of the following categories
- you got free tickets to the show (duh!?)
- you have kids who are less than 10 yrs old (all the kids were hopped up with excitement!)
- you are a dinosaur-dude (like Ross :D)
- you have a girl friend who scares easy and is likely to hug you every time she is scared ;)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A bomb....

...when you hear these words in your vicinty, the reaction you have is much different than when you read about it in the news....(innate selfish human nature !)

I first heard it in the Munich airport 2 weeks ago, I was on my way to catch a plane to Heathrow and I got there earlier to change some money. I dropped-off my bag, got some english pounds (really new crisp notes :D), went through security check, passport control and was at the gate in less than 20 minutes and I was completely surprised!

The airport seemed so empty that it was eerie...while I was wondering if I had missed a bomb threat or a pilot strike in the news, I heard someone say in a very scottish accent something about a bomb (I didn't quite get that 'something' because it was a scottish accent or at least I thought so)....I had this weird feeling in my stomach but let it go and went to sleep as soon as I boarded.

When I reached London, I was prepared for a torrent of questions, fingerprinting, body scans and everything possible since I had heard horror stories of going through Heathrow and to make that worse, there were signboards everywhere saying "Immigration rules are more stringent now than before and we request your understanding" (I never really understand what that means though!)....the immigration counter was empty but for 2 others (uh...oh...weird feeling in stomach back) and the only question I was asked was ''are you in UK for business''...I nodded, she stamped.

I was headed to Southampton and when I got there, I heard something about a bomb....(weird feeling getting worse)....then I heard some more....they found a bomb, traffic is closed etc. and by this point I was really thinking of things I had wanted to do and never got to...but what I found even more disturbing was my morbid fascination and excitement in learning all the details about the bomb in the vicinty (oh..I should stop watching law and order and other violent movies !)....then came the biggest was an unexploded world war II bomb that was discovered ! Apparently, Southampton was bombed heavily during the war and bombs showing up like this was quite common.....!

I ended up feeling guilty for my excitement and it was for nothing...oh...dear !

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hakuna Matata

...if that doesn't ring a bell, either you have not seen Disney's Lion King movie or you just need me to refresh your memory. It's one of the classics that was always dear to my heart and when I knew the broadway musical was playing in London, I decided to make it one of my first stops for two reasons, the great reviews and how everyone says that going to theatre in London in a must-do.

It was a typical London evening...windy, slightly cold when my friend and I rode the tube and landed in Covent Garden and marched right in to the hustle and bustle of the city. A short walk from there would get us to the Lyceum theatre, but wading through hordes of people (even for someone who is used to Ranganathan Street) was not easy. We made it in the nick of time and didn’t even pause to admire the theatre interior (which I did after the show) when a voice announced ‘the show will commence in 2 minutes’ and it started right on the dot at 7:30 pm.

I was very surprised to see how packed the theatre was given that the Lion King Musical had been running since 1997! A google search had revealed that the show lasts 2 hours and 40 minutes and since it was my first time in a theatre watching a musical, I was a little skeptical, but when we finally had the interval after 1.2 hours, I realized my legs had gone numb since I had crossed them and had not changed position for the entire time – now you know how engrossed I was!!

The opening itself was remember the movie right? The sun, the animals, the music – well it was the same and this time the effect was doubled because it was live and you never realized it was people playing the animals. When a couple of giraffes walk across the stage, you don’t notice that they are people on stilts with really long giraffe-neck hats until you stop to wonder how they actually do it! The elephants actually walked through the audience to get to the stage!

The characters who played it were perfect – the little Simbha and Nala adorable, the grown up versions perfectly fitting the mills-and-boon description (for the animal world, ofcourse :D), the father Mufasa commanding, his brother Scar charmingly wicked ! I thought the idea of all the people wearing huge masks as hats was brilliant because it made them look like real characters without unduly covering their faces with paints and masks ! The photo shows Simbha and you can see the lion's mask-cum-hat he is wearing (wonder if there is a another word for this).

The stampede in the which Mufasa is killed deserves special mention for how realistic it was – you can imagine trying to create a 1000 animal stampede on a 100sq.m stage. Hakuna matata doesn’t disappoint one bit, the colors, the music, the formations – everything is a treat to the eyes and ears! Like in movies, the interval was exactly at the right moment, when little Simbha grows up to a handsome young man…err…lion and you cant help but grin thinking of the plight of the villain when Simbha manages to catch up with him….it so looks like the beginning of a happily-ever-after !

During the interval, the only snack we managed to find was springles and I was cursing myself for buying it and more so for not eating it during the break itself since the crunchy noise was distracting me from the dialogues :D!

The Meercat Timon with his humor and sarcasm and Pumba, the warthog completely live up to expectations. Simbha meeting Nala again and falling in love is shown with a clichéd but still enjoyable dance sequence. The scene where Simbha hears his father talk to him and realises that he should go back to his kingdom definitely deserves a special mention, was well thought out and well presented. I thought the climax was handled a bit hapazhardly and there were so many things happening in the scene that if you saw one, you missed the others… just being picky !

I should mention this chubby African lady who begins the show with a high pitched note (reminded me of the kulavai satham in tamil movies). She was sort of the narrator but she did more than narrate, she cracked me up every time she came on the screen with her antics!

I usually stay away from reviews and try to watch movies, esp. those that are acclaimed as good, without knowing even a bit about the plot and if possible, the cast, since that helps me enjoy the movie immensely. But in this case, although I knew what was going to happen, I still couldn’t wait to see how they actually did it! Not only did the show leave me very impressed but it also painted a nice picture for a Broadway musical in my mind…next time someone invites me to one, I won’t think twice about it.

Copyright for pictures: Disney

Monday, March 15, 2010

Life through a convex lens

Anyone and everyone that knows me also know that I always and I mean ALWAYS go around with a camera. There have been times when I have forgotten my wallet but I don’t think I have ever forgotten my camera! My first camera was an analog yashica....I call it mine although I cried and forcefully took it from appa when I was 10. He was my first Guru w.r.t photography. I used to stand and stare at him patiently taking pictures, everywhere we went and he would also make us pose and afterwards he would meticulously get them printed, put them in photo albums and label and store the negatives carefully ! There are 3 suitcases full of photo albums in our house today and every time I start looking through them, I need at least a whole day to live through them. Oh..well...I digress....

Coming back to photography, although basic physics and howstuffworks taught me about aperture and objective lens, appa was the one who taught me how to load the film, how to wind it during and after, angles, when to use the flash (those days you had to manually switch on the flash and set it up) and above all, he had an eye for pictures and thankfully, some of it rubbed off on me too (I am not giving myself airs, let's say I am an optimist :D) . Although I still use and love my analog yashica (they do not make such lenses anymore), I am a staunch fan of Canon. I think I have purchased at least 4 of them in the last few years for myself and for family or friends. I now possess a canon SD 870 IS. The main reason in buying it was that it fits in the pocket of my pants and the quality for this level of compactness is really better than most others in the market.

Over the last few years, I have collected gigabytes of photos, some of them good, some interesting and some just for the sake of it. I have had many people appreciate them, so I suddenly had an idea of creating a photo blog (start meesic: papara papara papara payn…..) to display a select few…..and as a thank-you, I named it after my canon.

In general, my photos strictly display the ‘I love people more than places’ argument substantiated by the reasoning that I can always find pictures of India online but I cannot find pictures of my family in India online, can I? well, probably with Google’s total disrespect for privacy that can happen in the near future, but you get my point, don’t you ? But in the blog, I would restrict displaying people pictures in an effort to protect their privacy.

I did consider using Flickr but it is overwhelming to see the great pictures and the even greater talent in there and since I believe I have a long way to go, I decided to start simple with a blog. I know its quite ambitious to maintain 2 blogs with regular posts and so I will smartly not commit to updating both at the same frequency :D

So here is hoping that my readers enjoy my photos and help me get better……if I do end up winning a Pulitzer, I will include each of you in my thank-you speech, deal ;) :D ?!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The temple tour

What does this remind you of ?? South India, traveling in a car or a van and seeing at least 3-4 temples in a day ? Well, you are right about the latter but bang wrong about the former since the temple tour was in London…that’s right…I said London. I saw three temples in a day (and four in all, during my brief stay) and that is a record. The only time I have done this before is when amma or some perusu gets over-excited about a pilgrimage trip in South India and decides to take me along !

The first stop was the Mahalakshmi temple in Eastham – obviously, in the desi part of the town. The temple itself was small (but nice) and what completely shook me was the poo kadai at the entrance, I mean finding malli in winter in Europe is just too overwhelming for someone who lives in Munich. I entered the temple to find it pretty crowded because of the Satya narayana puja that was going on and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw rows of desi couples all set with their Puja saman….to me it looked too real, too desi and although I knew London has a huge desi community, seeing it was a very different experience. Perumal and Thayar were brilliantly decorated and the swamy vigraham itself was beautiful. I felt a shiver pass through me when the archagar (with a nice iyengar namam) placed the sadari on my head and gave me theertham and thulasi.

The walk after visiting the temple reminded me of a less crowded Pondy bazaar….jewelery store, pullayar statues, oodhubathi vasanai…I was smelling home….!

The next step was the Murugar temple. This brought back a bigger flood of memories because it was this typical temple you see in everywhere in Chennai, with multiple sannidhis housing multiple vigrahams – from Pullayar to vennai covered Anjaneyar, a Dwajasthambam, a place for Navagraham and even a used ther ! The only thing missing was the prasadam…unfortunately there were no dhonnais with chakara pongal or vennpongal in it.

The temple Kopurams I saw were all ivory colored and I was wondering why they do not get it painted in colors like in India. I believe its either too expensive to do and/or too difficult to maintain because of weather conditions.

Since I had heard so much about the Swami Narayana temple, we decided to visit that as well. I was simply stunned by its beauty that I didn’t even remember to pray all the time I was there. The only thing I did was crane and stare at the ceiling, then at the pillars, at the arches and then repeat everything all over! Even when looking at Swamy – Rama and Sita or Rukimini and Krishna, I spent too much time looking at them, how well they were decorated and somehow the beauty in the place was too much for me to shut out and concentrate on prayers.

The temple tour came to an end just before I left London, when my friend suggested making the Ambal temple my last stop. As we walked in to the temple, there was a huge hall with a LCD screen that was displaying Ambal. My friend points to it and says ‘Swamy paaru’ and I think to myself ‘enna dhan technology develop analum, vigrahathuku badhila LCD screen konjam too much’ and I say so to my friend who bursts out laughing as we enter another hall that houses the sannidhi. Then I smile with comprehension and realize that the LCD was just a quick preview :D !

Yes, it was my first temple tour outside India. It was also the first time
- I left my snow boots at the seruppu stand in a temple
- I walked into the temple with socks on and wearing a jacket
- I did a hurried pradakshinam because the floor was too cold (and I had these mental images of running around the Sirrangam temple when the sun is blazing hot struggling with the really hot stone floors in spite all the water that is poured on them to keep them cool)

PS: I cannot translate all the tamil words in this post because some of them aren’t even tamil, they are sanskit words mostly used in the context of temples and related stuff.

Gold fish translator:

Poo kadai – flower shop (in India)
Malli – jasmine

Kopuram - (temple) tower
Vigraham - (sanskrit) idol
Seruppu - slippers/shoes

enna dhan technology develop analum, vigrahathuku badhila LCD screen konjam too much’ – irrespective of development in technology, replacing an idol by a LCD screen is simply too much !

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Holy Land Experience

I am in the land of Sherlock Holmes – This was my first thought when I landed in the Heathrow airport, closely followed by a pang of guilt, since I was also going to meet a school friend of mine that I had not seen in 7 years (Btw, did I mention that I was in the UK for work :D ?). But I was suitably excited when I finally met her and her husband and on our first day together we happily headed to the most famous address in the world – Baker Street 221B.

Like the museum pamphlet claims, you can belong to one of three categories: one, you have heard of Holmes; two, you have read some of his works; three, you have read all of his works multiple times and can give an extempore speech on any one of them. It was gratifying to see that they never considered a category where you had not heard of Holmes….that’s blasphemous, you know (or they believed that if you left everything else London had to offer and came all the way to Baker Street you should have an inkling of who Holmes was)!

I first saw the baker street tube station (London underground transport) :), then I saw the Sherlock Holmes silhouette in the station :D, then I saw more silhouettes pasted everywhere in the station :D :D, I came out of the station and noticed an old man advertising the 'Sherlock Holmes walking tour' and handing out Sherlock Holmes visiting cards :D :D :D....I was in the land of Sherlock Holmes !

Needless to say, my hands were ever busy with the camera and my eyes worked overtime, trying to observe every minute detail (wonder who does that :D!) and take in every possible item and associate it with one or other of his stories. What I loved was some of the scenes from his short stories that were set up in the top floor of the house. It gave me a chance to test my ‘Sherlockian’ knowledge and now I know that when I read those stories I can attach faces to the names even better than before.

Here are a few: Try your hand at guessing the stories they represent ;)

Clue: She is holding tresses of her own hair.

Clue: This is one of the cases, where Holmes supports the ''criminal'' but the only one where he never comes in contact with the ''criminal'' itself

Who is shown in this pic?

If you said Holmes, you are not very far off. It is actually Professor Moriarty. I always thought of him as Holmes’ alter ego since he was almost as brilliant as Holmes and his description inevitably reminds me of Holmes and it was startling to see that in reality.

Well, if you insist on being a spoilsport and talk about Holmes being a fictional character, then you would find the letters, sent to Baker Street every year from people who believe in Holmes, hilarious. I found them amusing too but to me it reinforces the impression a character can create on you (and I secretly believe the Conan Doyle is a real life Sherlock Holmes….how else can you write so much about the art of deduction?!). Here is a sample.

What I missed was Mrs.Hudson. The website claims that you will find her there but the lady I found at the gift shop (who was dressed like Mrs.Hudson, apparently) did not even remotely fit my mental image of her. And there was also a disinterested guy reading a book in one of the rooms, obviously the guard. Oh..well, at least they had the good sense to set up a museum and have it open, when I was in London….

PS: There is another reason that I call it a holy land experience. I will write about that in my next post.

Friday, March 5, 2010

1 year of blogging gave me..... least 50 regular readers – 27 blogspot followers and many others – thanks to blog readers and blog aggregators e-friends, people I have never met but keep in touch with that Google decided I should follow them in buzz.

...motivation to write in Tamil after 18 years

...audacity to ‘publish’ an article in German :D

...2 articles in the local newspaper offer to co-author a book

...a flurry of enquiries about Studying in Germany and I love playing the mentor :D

...a travelogue to share with my colleagues and friends

...a forum to discuss, participate in charity and related activities and publicize the need for it

...a marketing platform - 2 companies thanked me for promoting their products and no, they neither asked me to nor paid me for it, I would like to think of those as my good deeds for the day :D

...a driver that tripled the time I spend in reading - am running out of english books at the Munich library, God bless e-books !

...a simple way to overwhelm Thatha on his 70th B’day outlet to reminisce about the family- homesickness can really do weird things to you !

...a way to preserve memories – if ever I am in the ‘Ghajini’ stage, I don’t need a diary :D !

and above all, it makes me feel alive (Blogging makes me feel alive, does this make me a nerd and am I secretly proud of it ??), provides me with an independent outlet (since talking would mean imposing on someone else’s time) and of course clears the clutter in the attic !

Interesting stuff...

I discussed crème brulèe with a Google engineer from San Francisco and I generally don’t discuss desserts with strangers !

Most of my readers are from Germany, the US and Australia (Blog stats show 14 countries). India is 4th in line – the hmmm-interesting part is I know just 3 people in Australia and the eyebrow-raising part is that most of my family is in India.

The fun part – definitely the compliments...after all, vanity is my favorite sin. How can one disagree with Al Pacino :D ?!

Appa said I should write for magazines...Oh..well...parents...

A friend said I should write a book...

Another suggested I write a newspaper does 'Gossip and the city' sound :D ?! I can make that a book and possibly a movie later ;) !

Another said I deserve a ‘Blog with most topics’ nice this sounds instead of 'why do you have an opinion about everything under the sun' ?!

Dewdrop gave me a blogger buddy award a couple of days ago....THANK YOU (this is not just for the award, you know that right ?)

For a few hours I spend every week, this doesn’t seem like such a bad yeah, I’ll keep going...and needless to say (and I am still saying it :D), I just completed a year of blogging !

PS: This is probably the right time to ask about suggestions to improve, I do have a couple of ideas but feedback from the readers would make a lot of difference, right ?

Gold fish translator:
Thatha - Grandfather
Appa - Father
'Ghajini' - refers to an Indian movie (in Tamil and Hindi) about short-term memory loss
Hit Counter
Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)