Tuesday 7 April 2009

Spring is in the air

Christmas is long gone along with New Year's eve. The skiing holidays are nearly over and the year is well on the way. The colder, shorter days are getting longer, crocus flowers peeping out of the ground and baby sheep
jumping about on lush green grass drenched in soft sun shine. Well in short the spring is in the air!
A few weeks ago, we were driving to the UNESCO site of Kinderdijk,
along the tremendously monotonous Dutch country side. This should normally be an experience which does not fall under exciting! Not this time though, this time I noticed the signs of spring (may be it is the age!). It was a profound shock to realize that for years I took these things for granted! Until this time spring served only one purpose i.e. respite from colder winters!

Since I noticed this change, I can now hear the birds singing (which to me was just chirping until last spring). The most innocent face of spring I believe is that of the lamb! It definitely fills me up when I look at little sheep (lambs) jumping about in the fields.

The chicks (not human beings of opposite kind) are supposed to be the symbol of spring which of course we all know also denotes the Easter. If you did not remember then toy-r-us, McDonalds and Coca colas of this age would make sure that you do.

For Western Europe, most common give away of spring is Daffodils. These humble flowers grow everywhere and boy they grow fast. The yellow flowers with green leaves

and grass are a wonderful combination to look at. I wonder if ABNAMRO bank has copied their colors? Daffs have been very special to me as it was my first encounter with spring. This goes back to 1997 spring where one fine day when sun was shining is a chilly air I saw all 10,000 of them. The looked exactly as described by William Wordsworth in his poem. This goes to show that William Wordsworth was a great poet same can be said about the poem GawatPhulaa (Grass flower as per freetranslation.com) by Baalkavi. These poems must be good because I remember them after all these years!

The Netherlands is a very small country, but it has the most visited attractionthe Keukenhof of majestic tulips
which grow from 23rd March till 21 May. I go there every year some times even twice or thrice. Dutch think I am going loopy!

When I reflect upon the years gone by! I can say Europe has very distinctive seasons. But the part of India I come from does not have a drastic change in seasons so I cannot really pinpoint the changes in spring. I can remember though a pair of robins would have little ones during the spring on Parijatak tree (Night Jasmine if you believe Google) in our front yard. My father would never allow us to disturb them. Parijatak,

I suppose, also blossoms during this time. But again I might be completely off the track here. For an Indian, the spring is marked by Mango blossoms! Every house hold readies itself for the eminent Mango fest in May. Indian heart and culture is dominated by vibrant colors.

I think that is why the holi, the festival of colors, is celebrated to complement the changing colors of Mother Nature.

Japanese make most of their much awaited spring fest of Hanami (flower viewing) which is nothing but celebrating the very existence of cherry blossom. But it is also an excuse for wild drinking and karaoke singing under Sakura trees. Women in
their kimono and men (mostly legless due to overdose of Sake’) walking or should I say dragging around the Sakura trees would be a sight to behold. But then again I am imagining this all as I have never been to the land of rising sun or should I say Toyota, Nissans and Honda 

I wonder what the Norwegians’ do when then come out of ghastly winter of exceptionally long nights and drastic temperatures! I wish to share Glimpses of
Norway on the site below http://www.norway.com May be it will tell me/you what they do to celebrate spring.

Australians/New Zealander/people of Kiribati on the other hand are preparing for warm clothing as the winter dawns on them. I have even heard that they plan Christmas like celebrations just get into the winter mood.

Dear reader, I have not been to many countries and hence it would be great if you could share your experiences of spring celebrations. Please drop a line if it is worth your while.

I truly believe that every part of on this earth is beautiful in it's own way (This does not include the likes of fancy shopping malls, fast food restaurants etc) and stopping a moment and enjoying what the nature and the different cultures have to offer won't be complete waste of time.

So if you can celebrate and enjoy the awakening of Mother Nature, breath a little, live a little and open your heart because the spring is in the air.

Thanks for stopping bye. Stay lucky.


Wednesday 11 February 2009

La Cité de la joie

On the New Year eve, after a late night of rather disappointing firework display in Brussels, we hit the road the next morning heading towards La Cite du la Joie! New year ! New morning! The (second) women (in my life) from the navigation system, was not feeling too clever, and would not show us direction to Paris :(. Using my near pigeon navigation instinct and help from Belgian couple (who actually bothered to set foot out on a New years day) we managed to hit the right road and navigation woman got in mood and lead us to Paris in about 4 hours!

It was 2 PM and no point in going to Disneyland!,which was the excuse of the trip to Paris. So we headed to Paris for a trip down the memory lane.

Few stops of metro from Chatelete Les Halles to Montparnasse Bienvenue sort of set the tone for the evening. A 100+ years old metro system is NOT designed for a baby and pram and before we knew our backs and biceps made it clear that it was a bad idea! Changing metro or for that matter just coming out of the station is lot of work. Montparnasse is giant metro/train station and on an average it would take 10 minutes going up and down the stairs number of times and then finding yourself on the wrong end of the street makes you want to scream!

Living on 41, Rue du Cherche Midi and celebrating turn of the millennium in Paris was special. Not many French people get to live in center of Paris and we lived there for more than year! Thus the plan was to visit the places where we worked, dined and lived!

Finally we were in front of the L' Tour Montparnasse. The building where both of us worked was in front of us and it brought back the lovely memoirs of La Cite' de la Joie! Tragic the film might be, but this city is a city of joy and was I glad to be back there! You bet!

It was my first time in France and first encounter with French language and people. I was living alone in a studio apartment in Odeon (Near Saint Sulpice if you have watched The Da Vinci code then that is where Silas kills the nun.) It was a small studio apartment on 5th floor and as very few buildings in Paris have a lift it was climbing staircase up and down everyday. I lost quite some weight in those 30 days.

Alberto Pizza, the gyros joint, the bakery where I used to pick up croissants for 50 centime (now 10 times more expensive) each! Then there was a hippopotamus outlet on Boulevard de Montparnasse. These were the places we used to go for lunch in Paris. Paris tops the list of most number of Michelin star restaurants in a city. And no I have not been to any .
But in general food in Paris has been great.
Typical French dishes I love would be first and foremost confit du canard! A preserved duck breast with most delicious sauce and can be bought in a can!! I think this is the only food, except pasta-sauce, I would by in a tin. It is generally served with French Fries (I would seriously be upset if you think French Fries are the ones sold in McDonalds) Second is the list is Crepe Sucré or salé with du cidre. This is a simple sweet or savory pancake along eaten along with a jug of apple cider.

This is a typical dish from Northen / North western part of the country. Soup a lónion will be the third in number which can be number one dish if you find yourself in the middle of winter. Incredibly fatty and equally delicious soup, is always served very hot in a even hotter soup bowl. A very cheap version of this French onion soup is served outside of France. This soup looks like an onion clear soup with pieces of fried (burnt more like) onion swimming in the soup. This French Onion soup along with French fries should be banned and people should be given a life sentence if not capital punishment. Best memories of soup a l’onion is from a restaurant on Mont Marte and cofite du canard in a restaurant on boulevard Montparnasse.

In Paris the restaurants serving food from others parts of the world have also adapted to the liking of French society. Normally French people would eat with chopsticks when they go to a Chinese restaurant. The Indian restaurants also make an effort to make the place look neat and tidy. The presentation of food is better than any other Indian restaurant in Europe. One day I went
to an Indian restaurant. I was presented with starters and salad as decoration. I ate the starter dish as well as the decoration. The waiter looked at me as if water was on fire!

The French colonial pallet, is represented by numerous North African, Middle Eastern cuisines, also adds to my French food experience. I would prefer Lebanese food (Mezze) or Mediterranean food to anything else. Moroccan tajin and couscous is also pleasure to eat. The Lebanese restaurants are mostly located in/near Emil Zola quarter of Paris. It is like Tapas, bunch of small dishes all served at the same time without any fuss. Make sure you eat this very slowly to enjoy and more to the point to finish the food.

As a good food fan I am, I also have developed a liking for good films. In the early days in France, I watched French TV and films (especially the films by Louise du Funes like Grande Vadrouille, Les bronzes (snow, desert road) etc. If you are feeling low, best remedy is to watch one of the films! French also have a good taste in music, perfumes, fashion as you must have heard or seen. A perfect suite seen in Paris, is not to be seen anywhere. I like YSL suite but weather I can afford it or not is a different cup of tea.

French men and women are generally impeccably dressed. When I worked in Paris, French men used to carry a small briefcase to house news paper! I found that thing quite distasteful. The working day starts by shaking hands with male colleagues and kissing (!) female colleagues. This is something you would do in other countries as well but the French do it everyday twice! That is a bit too much. What worst is when a group of people gathers in a restaurant, first 10 minutes are spent on greeting and kissing each other.
Lunches in Paris were special, we used to take 1.5 hours of lunch in various restaurants around workplace. All good warm food and in France a descent salad would fill you up quite well. All those restaurants mentioned earlier were our usual hangouts for Lunches!

Brasserie, in France, is same as a public house (aka pubs) in the UK. It is common meeting place for people from the area. Even to date Brasseries display news headlines on a board outside. They would serve drinks, salads warm food etc. Brasseries take name from their brass lined furniture. French waiters are very skilled people. The waiter would make sure that all dishes are removed from the place in one go single handedly (I mean using both hands) and always with smile. French waitresses on the other hand would find it difficult to smile and my research shows that it is not just me but generally their attitude stops them from smiling.

Generally everyone complains about the French for being complaining by nature! But I found them very friendly and open. They sometimes do wake up on the wrong side of the bed but then who doesn't? French were the first people who invited me for dinner at their home. As a very typical European culture I entered the house through the back door and kitchen. This in Europe means a informal friendly welcome!

Mention of France brings wines, perfumes, fashion, clothing etc into one’s mind. Just the thought of people spending a lifetime mixing flavors, fragrances to create a good wine, perfume, mixing colors to create new shades new cuts and making a costume fills me with joy. French have been knowingly or unknowingly competing with US and UK. It can be le Coq Sportif, Lacoste against Nikes,Reeboks or Peugeots, Renaults versus Fords, Airbus versus Boeing, French open versus Wimbledon and US Open, Alain Bernard versus Michael Phelps. This competition has gone too far and they are also selling arms to bad guys in Africa just like US.

We were walking on these small roads, alley ways in and around boulevard de Montparnasse and all these memories flashed through my mind and felt good. We kept on talking about things on our way back to hotel. A cold, wet and windy miserable day well spent down the memory lane!

From the land of castles (From the Sun King Louise XIV of Versailles to Micky of Marne La Valleé) and the city of joy, this is me signing off!

Thanks for stopping by!

Stay lucky!