Waterfall | Vegas

I find that the beginning is the hardest to write, except for the end. I haven’t come here in a while, because I have been composing a beginning, and it has been taking me time.

A friend of mine had great success in Vegas, at the CES (not the casinos). She came back bearing news of victory and flattering press, of a job well done. She is highly talented, and determined, so I was glad for a well-deserved triumph. She spoke to me of waterfalls, of the roughness of the last two years, and of how she was glad to have me around, if only to irk her with my terrible attempts at philosophy. I guess she thinks it too politically incorrect to mention that my terrible musical skills makes it convenient to have me handy when attempting to flirt with poor musicians in downtowns. Off she goes north without me now, but we will see other waterfalls together. Sometimes, it surprises me how often we go through life, thinking ourselves alone, only to find that there had been grace unasked for all along, in friendships quiet and present.

Speaking of Vegas, the demos from the automakers made it look as if everything cool will happen this year. More and more assistive technology is making way to production. It makes me happy to see that. Thinking of those like my mother who didn’t learn to drive for various reasons and circumstantial causes, what is being done will help bring mobility and independence to a significant segment of us, one day.

I listened to a President’s farewell speech. It reminded me of waterfalls again. It may all look downhill from here, to some, but there is no denying that it was good, right then, with a well-meaning man speaking well, and speaking optimistically, of the next generation. It has been weary, here, and at home, with incessant political rhetoric and religion-based, class-based divisiveness, but even the weariest river winds to the sea, eventually. There must be equilibrium, someday.  I have been reading two books that look at these issues: White Trash, A Hillbilly elegy. I recommend them both, if you have the stomach for this sort of thing, since it is not exactly bedtime reading material, and ignorance does bring its own kind of peace which I personally can’t claim to dislike.

I saw lots of packing boxes at the Yahoo campus. I wonder what the merger with AOL will now bring about. I wonder what Altabba will do. It has been a rough, strange ride for them. I dug out my Solomon and comforted a friend who was working in their research division, but Solomon was little comfort to him. He is clever and good at marketing himself, so I hope and feel confident in his chances to land well on his feet.

What is named has significance. I am wary these days of naming on the blog. I reserve the hassle for those who matter a great deal. I am thinking now, of what it means.

I have been a paperwork fiend this week. I still have many more papers to sort through, but I am determined to trudge through. I haven’t yet started on my grand January diet, but I guess the fifteenth is a good date as well. I will have to drink all my wine before that.

I have lost some weight as a result of my trip. I am sure I will gain the pounds back, because cake and wine does my diet make, having plum cakes from home and cheap, delicious wine from my favorite grocery store.

This weekend – I had plans, though I have had to cancel them. Now I am too lazy to replan. So I think I shall stay in and write, unless adventure seduces me away from the warm blankets and my tea.

Happy New Year.

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Pavane (The Sibelius Chronicles)

This is my 500th post here! Also entering my seventh year, I think, of blogging here. It is not my oldest blog, but it is one that I have managed to drag about consistently, surprising myself at times, knowing my tendency to migrate myself about when it comes to blogging or journalling activities online.

Sibelius came with the rains. It could be worse, he tells me, as I serve him peppermint tea and try to get the mud off his boots. At least, he didn’t bring over the snow.

A nice Mexican dinner at a colleague’s home (cheese and chilis and much alcohol), coupled with some physical exertion, has left me well-fed and tired this weekend. I am in no mood for Sibelius’s hijinks. He manages to talk me into them nonetheless. Somehow, we end up getting new strings, which I had been putting off for the longest time, and playing Ravel’s Pavane very badly.

I made onion and cabbage bhaji,  which tastes nothing whatsoever like the street food in my hometown, or like my mother’s specialty rain dish served with hot tea. However, Sibelius doesn’t know any better, and he has no complaints.

Later, he made eggnog for us, and I swear again, to myself, that I will put myself on a no alcohol phase after the new year. My diet these days consists of alcohol, cranberry juice, tea, and coconut cake. It doesn’t sound ideal for my sorely neglected waistline. The cake is a marvel. It is delicious, buttery and soft, with browned coconut flakes forming a layer of yum on the top. It is surprising how well anything tastes when made for you by someone. In my easily imprinted duckling manner, I have taken to this delicacy with great affection. It does remind me of my curd-rice heydays, and my badam-milkshake days before that, where I had latched onto a single dish for months on end. My dietary preferences are likely a psychology major’s thesis topic wet-dream.

The kitchen is closed for the year now. There is plenty of spinach-carrot-pea-miso soup with noodles from today’s haphazard cooking to use up all the perishables in my refridgerator.

Now I have to start packing. There is so much emotional and mental packing to do, which leaves me procrastinating. I did draw some flowcharts and make a handful of tables. I feel better about that, at least. I know now what to do, even if I am still going to procrastinate about doing any of it.

I am less frazzled than I had been, though. I will be seen off, at least, and that matters to me. Regardless of the new administration, visa matters, and the uncertainties involved about trips international in nature, at least I will have someone to hug me off before I spend twenty odd hours on the plane, where I will have little distraction to keep me from dwelling on my life, my worries, family matters that tend to weight heavily on me in general, and my immediate and longer-term concerns. The questions of settling down, versus trudging on, the constant press of social and familial anxiety over my rather directionless foray through life, my own concerns about purpose and meaning – all of these are heavy everyday, and heavier over the holiday season.

I am sitting here drinking tea now, and I am thinking about Maurice Ravel, who smoked a lot, and was a dandy, and managed to make beautiful music despite all of that. Surely, I can get somewhere too, then.

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Scar | Scare | Scarf

A friend of mine had a medical procedure last week. The scars worry her now. They are quite marked and I can only wonder about the pain. I hope she heals soon. I am more concerned about that than about the scars.

Attacked by pimples over the last few months, I attempted a brave and bold method to get rid of them before Christmas. It seems to have worked. I am keeping my fingers crossed. One more week! I am looking forward to a quiet, wound-down, low-key Christmas. I am done with socializing for the year.

An old colleague of mine joined my current company this week. I am not too pleased by this development, mainly because this brings back memories of extreme incompetence mixed with terrible gossip. I like my gossip curated. At least, we shan’t be working together, and I am thankful for the small mercies.

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There was an earthquake scare yesterday night. I slept through it. I am used to tremors because of a train line in close proximity.

I have been trying to mentally pack, to figure out what I need to arrange and sort out before I leave next week. This venture has been futile because of my tendency to wool-gather and worry about 2017.

I am quite tired, after a few difficult years, and I am loathe to leave my comfy shell to risk draining myself emotionally.

It is unpleasant to give, to listen, to be patient, to be supportive, and all the rest of that package, when there is little effort to acknowledge or reciprocate.  It is bad enough that I work in an industry full of people who wouldn’t be out of place on Big Bang Theory or Silicon Valley. Dragging all of it home is inadvisable, and I am trying hard to follow my own advice.

Friends went to the SF Opera’s Aida, and someone broke into their car.  The spate of robberies and related incidents always go up around Christmas, I have heard locals say.

Sibelius plans to do one of his intrepid travel plans, zig-zagging across from east to west, and back east. I don’t have my usual level-headedness to talk him out of it. Maybe, hopefully, his mother will.

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There is a WhatsApp group for old community friends and my life is starkly different from theirs now. It makes me uncomfortable.

I saw a picture of Johnny Depp with many scarves. He could give Steve Tyler a run for his money. It also made me think of aging. He had been aging well through his forties, but now he looks a relic.  How will I age, I wonder? I must remember to eat more coconuts.

At least, the scarves are plentiful. I have a lovely one as a Christmas gift, which I will wear on New Year Day. I plan to leave no stone unturned when it comes to setting up auspiciousness for the next year.

Happy Christmas.


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Wreath | Our daily bread

I have to get a Christmas wreath for my door. It is a tradition, regardless of where I am, to hang one up to mark the turn of the season. I usually get to it on the first of December, but I was out of sorts today. It shall have to wait for tomorrow.

The past few days have involved tedious, repetitive, manual labour at work, something that I try to avoid since my constitution doesn’t like very much, especially as it is not an activity that I enjoy. My hands feel as if they are dead weights. Thankfully, a friend nagged me into visiting my shady Chinese massage house where they occasionally take male customers for discreet purposes.

I received my first Christmas gift! This reminded me that I have to write and post cards soon. I tend to be unsystematic about it each year, and I find that I send cards out either in early December, or very late and they double up as New Year greetings.

There is a masquerade ball to attend on this Saturday. My friend, fierce Christmas merry-maker that she is, has agreed to kindly accompany me. That will make the event more bearable. I am not fond of having to fraternize with colleagues outside Monday-Friday work hours. I have questions of vanity to sort out – Should I wear black? Should I dance if there is dancing? Should I comb my hair? I like having these questions to belabor about. There are no wrong answers, and the ramifications of swinging one way or the other are minimal. They are more preferable to the deep-seated, gnawing, life-sucking queries that have haunted me for years.

It is my favorite season of the year, but I am yet to settle into my customary Christmas-spirit. I find myself in a state of unusual uncertainty about the holiday season. There is a tepidness to my festive gaiety. Copious consumption of hot chocolate hasn’t helped with that yet. I wonder if I expect 2016 to spring a final, curtain-down surprise.


Most of the New Testament was difficult to get through for me, when I had been a child studying catechism. It dulled in comparison to the colors and the stories of the Old Testament books. Yes, Paul used to write good epistles, when he could veer away from his sanctimoniousness. I liked John’s Revelations, which is a poster-child example of what mushrooms and lysergic acid can do for you. The most memorable, though, was the Lord’s Prayer. Mathew’s Gospel is one of the most accessible books in the Bible, self-contained, and explains matters neatly without being verbose. The Lord’s Prayer is a stellar example of these qualities that this book has. It is pithy, catchy, and easy to memorize. Most of us born into that religion know it by heart. Give us this day our daily bread. What do we need to live? What is bread? I had asked these questions back then. Now, far moved from belief and faith in gospels, I have a better inkling of what I need as my daily bread. There is nothing in my life which caters to the need. The need to give and take, to find balance in my personal and professional interactions, has been substituted often through writing, through creating and telling stories. Writing had been a balm in many situations where the cards were stacked against me, where there was more taking than giving. Things, predictably, are derailed when I am denied the ability to find solace in that. I find that I try, as I must, to make do with less today so that it may bring me more tomorrow. The struggle seems unceasing on some days, but everything that began must end. I have more faith in the wisdom of Ecclesiastes than in the promises of a gospel.

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Bluebirds

Closing out November. This was an interesting month in the country where I live. It was also an interesting month in the country I was born in. 2016 has been a tumultuous year, for many of us, depending on where we live. Globally, there have been changes alarming and drastic. Hopefully we will wind down to a quiet Christmas.

2016 started out with Bowie dying. I was listening to his last album tonight, in a fit of glumness, and I found I could not be glum anymore, not when his graciousness in meeting death and illness was so transparently present in his music. He was still a blue-bird, dashing and charming, theatrical to the end, willing to entertain as always, while not hiding the truths of his life for those who chose to delve deeper later.  Thanks, Starman!

In my personal life, it has been a bit of an up-and-down this year, especially post-vacation, but nothing as bad as the last few years, and for that I am thankful. It has been mostly logically expected situations though the heart does have its way of overruling the mind inconveniently and ever so often, and I am still mostly intact in my vacation-derived joys. I think I am determined this time to not let externalities break my joie de vivre too much. There are concerns about a trip home, about some paperwork etc, but tomorrow can’t be a reason to make today worse, when today has its share to tussle with.

For all of 2016’s miseries and unexpected drama inflicted on the world, it has been a quieter one for me, and hasn’t even been that bad compared to the earlier years; I am grateful. I am still mostly naive and trusting, but I am also finding in myself the strength to say no, which I consider a blessing. I have chanced to meet better people in general, in my work life and in my personal life, and that in turn has improved the quality of my own life and thoughts a great deal. Even in my disappointments this year, there has been a quiet contentment – mostly everyone involved had tried their best to be honest and fair, nobody had set out with malice in their intent – and the endings that had come had been truly for the best. It usually takes me years to make peace, to heal myself from harm and disappointment, but 2016 has been refreshingly different. Maybe I am growing up. Maybe I am finally seeing people who are more compatible with my temperament and working style.

For now, Bowie’s given a lot to take joy in. I am reminded of Thoreau’s bluebird, carrying the skies on his shoulders, flying free. I have seen a bluebird too this year, one that came to my roost in the summer, and left in the winter. It was a creature with heaven above and earth below, living in a way I dare not live, light of heart, short-sighted, not having any of my careful, detailed plans and schemes. It made the summer delightful, certainly, looking perfect amidst the flowers in the garden and the blues of my curtains and table-clothes. And in the winter, it deserted my garden for familiar and old places that still had warmth. Goodbye, bluebird. Stay safe in the winter!

 

 

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Gang of Three

I was able to find the time to read three books this week. This is the first time in many years that I have had this luxury!

The first is SPQR (Senatus Populus que Romanus). It was a belated birthday gift from Sibelius. It is doing the rounds at his institution and has given rise to a new wave of interest in the Twelve Tables and the ideas around citizenship. He thought I might like it because I have inflicted a great deal of terrible Latin on him, misappropriated from the Aeneid and Cicero’s works (Caitline speeches).  I loved it not because of the Latin, but because of how detailed and well-researched the book was. It looks at the first millennium of Rome, from an early settlement to a little, bustling town, to the city it then became, and finally the heart of an empire. It examines the motivations of the Senate, the people, and how the balance between them led to the evolution of a democracy. The republic did not last. It gave way to the reign of the emperors, and the book looks at how the alteration of the old system ruptured the fabric of their state. I am averse to historical books, because they often cast speculation as fact, because they cast opinion as truth. This one was remarkably and refreshingly honest, marking speculation boldly and clearly when it ventured into the territory, backing up each fact with exhaustive citations.

The second was recommended to me because of the current political situation. It was Philip Roth’s Our Gang, a political satire portraying, supposedly, the times of Nixon. Though I have liked a few of Roth’s works, I can’t claim to find a great deal of reading pleasure in his writing style. He is sometimes too blunt for my tastes. Our Gang was an interesting story, and I found it did reflect some of the questions, concerns, and worries that many sections of the public today have about the current political situation. Roth might not be the writer I seek out everyday, but he is clever and sharp. It is as much a book of our times as it was a book of his times – an easy read, crude too often, but incisive, and pokes fun at so many parts of our society, at what we vote for, at what we vote  against, and offers some commentary on why things are as they are.

The third one was different, in a genre I don’t often venture to. It was a gift from a Kafka-doused cynic I know at work.  It was Jorge Luis Borge’s collected fictions. It was my experience with a work from him. I enjoyed the book immensely. Each of the stories was different, and yet the strains of mathematics and culture, of a strong sense of human caprice and virtue, was prevalent throughout. Aleph was, perhaps, the most beloved one. The Lottery of Babylon was one of my favourites. I giggled a lot at Pierre Menard’s attempts to redo the Don Quixote. Hakim’s story was too close to reality, as it goes to how to make cults and religions. Some stories were more solemn than the others. All of them were distinctive. I think I may be tempted to read Aleph once more soon, when I am able to read books at leisure again.

I capped it all off with a day of listening to Lady Gaga’s new album. It is a good album. Some of the songs I liked immediately. Others grow on me as I listen again. She is an excellent performer, of course, but I like her raw talents too – her voice and her lyrics are both strong enough to stand on their own, even without theatrics.

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Big Easy | Thanksgiving

I made one of my impulse plans last week.

After the meticulously put together first plan fell apart with a whimper, I was at my wit’s end as to what to do over Thanksgiving break. So I hied off to New Orleans. Sometimes things fall into place without planning. It is shameful when that happens. Serendipity is not in my list of favourite things. In my case, the flights were going via Atlanta. So I backed off from my fierce decline of Elisabeth’s gracious Thanksgiving invite, and asked her if she could host me, please. She must have seen it coming. There was less than the expected amount of I-told-you-sos. I am grateful for that.

When her offspring heard of my altered plans, he took over the plan, and even managed to coordinate his outfit to have both the scarlet of his institution and the blue of Louisiana. He insisted on playing jazz all the way to our destination.

It was old and new, untouched from memory and drastically changed, to see the Rally’s and the Publix stores, to see the long queues outside the social security offices, to see the fall foliage at Emory, to see my southern magnolia sapling taller than it had been the last year, to see Elisabeth’s dogs and hot-house plants, to see placards of Trump and Clinton. I have fond memories of living in Atlanta, though those had been difficult times. I remember that the food had been warm and the people too.

New Orleans was different. Where Baton Rouge had held echoes of the recession and the tumult of changing times, New Orleans managed to be big and easy. She seemed suspended, mostly, in a state of timelessness. Though the reverberations of current-day politics were present, they were muted, compared to the other places I have travelled through, compared to the worry prevalent in the San Francisco area.

I have to admit that I did not enjoy the French Quarter as much as I had expected to. I had expected it to be lively. I had not expected it to be a mass of repressed humanity taking great pleasure in having permission to carry plastic glasses of alcohol on a street. It is sad that an otherwise beautiful place, full of art and performers, can be weighed down by people who find it a safe haven from the laws about alcohol in the open; those laws remind me of the Prohibition era in many ways. I am not the finest connoisseur of alcohol, but I don’t see why it is so regulated by these arcane laws. It only leads to desperation and darker alleys. Much of the French Quarter, understandably so, is halfway between what it perhaps once was, and what people need it to be now. The caricature was not what I had been looking for, but I was fortunate to find more in other parts of the city.

There is a lovely and impressive sculpture garden, around the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art. The last sculpture garden I saw had been in Seattle, and perhaps the occasional attempt at it in the Golden Gate Park. I enjoyed this one. The museum is lovely, though the air-conditioning is twenty degrees colder than the outside.

We went to the World War II National museum, and walked through the vicious, sad costs that war had made humanity pay. My travelling partner and I have strong opinions on pacifism and neutrality. While we discussed them, we managed to offend a gentleman whose father had served proudly and well. At times, it is easy to forget how deeply raw and emotional involvement in a cause like this can be. When you have given life and blood, in many, many ways, it is necessary for your sake, for your family’s sake, that you believe in what you fight for. I may be using the wrong words, but English perhaps lacks the perfect word to capture that two-way dependency between faith in a cause and fighting for it. Yes, having faith in a cause helps you to fight for it. Having to fight for something, even involuntarily, goes better if you learn to have faith in it.

The Jean Lafitte Preserve was another lovely gem. The marshlands reminded me of the voodoo novels and the John Grisham books I had read under the covers of my childhood bed. The mist was lifting from the water as we walked the first few miles. We later took a boat ride, on a contraption that reminded me so of that film Anaconda. I am not fond of reptiles, holding Eve’s grudge faithfully. I am still not sure how my travelling partner managed to trick me into going near them. Despite the reptiles, the preserve was beautiful, cloaked in secrets and possibilities, just as I had imagined it when reading those novels.

We attempted oysters bravely. After our last oyster marathon at Bodega Bay, we were a bit wary. These had no repercussions, thankfully. They were Gulf oysters, bland compared to the New England or the Tomales Bay ones, but because of that, they allow for many versatile combinations of spices and cooking methods. We had them chargrilled, scandalous as that sounds.

In keeping with the tourist traditions, we had beignets and coffee at a famous place. I asked for my sugar on the side and did not touch it, averse as I am to sweet things. Sibelius, proper American that he is, ate his with the sugar powder on his beignets.

I had so many new and tasty dishes this time around, starting with the dinners at the usual, recommended places and wonderful, wonderful brunches at whatever random places in the city took my fancy. I am not a carnivore on most days, despite my liking for oysters, so I had to launch a hunt for Southern vegetarian food, oxymoronic as that sounds.

Now it is time for Thanksgiving. I am delighted to be here, among friends. I am delighted that I don’t have to worry about cooking or plan anything. My daily life has been chock-full of people who are content to let me take initiative when it comes to work and grunt-work both, and it has been tiring. So I am delighted to be here, where Elisabeth rules with an iron fist, and I have no vote, and all I am required to do is play a duet, and to eat everything that is put before me.

Little Rachel is curious about my origins, because she has heard a friend say that Indians are Hindus, and we spent half an hour idling away on the wikipedia page about Saint Thomas Christians. A good deal of the rituals have Aramaic names, Elisabeth says, sharp as always. What do I say? A popular joke among the nuns at my  grandparents’ church, where I did catechism for getting my first communion, used to be that we are culturally Brahmin, religiously Catholic, and liturgically Jewish. As a child, it had not made sense to me. As an adult, I accept that there was no sense to it, except that a group of people wanted to have a sense of identity. Religion is an identity grouping, at its base.

Conversation moves to my hair. It is shorter now, much to my mother’s dismay. She grumpily said I might have waited until January before such drastic changes. Elisabeth says the longer hair suited me more. It will grow, I tell her. It doesn’t seem like a comforting answer. It gets me only a glare and more iced-tea.

I am writing from my little corner by the hearth, my feet trying to pick threads out of a worn and fraying carpet that my hostess refuses to replace for sentimental reasons, and cuddled up in the heat of a military-issue, olive blanket. After this, I will go make myself some proper tea, a night-time habit of mine that is much maligned around here.

I am reluctant to return, now that the vacation is over, now that I have to get back to reality, where choices and complicated circumstances still wait impatiently. I liked the procrastination, but now I have to go prepare for my Christmas trip home, for some paperwork related to my visa, for a life which is duller and lonelier, though I find joys in it nonetheless.

We will have the dark chocolate meringue pie tomorrow! Too many episodes of Southern Living, and Game and Garden, have elevated my hostess’s culinary skills. I learned to make excellent fried green tomatoes under her tutelage, four years ago. Maybe that is what  I will do when I get back. I will prepare them, and have them with tea.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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