Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

“Orange, the blend of red and yellow, is a mixture of the energy associated with red and the happiness associated with yellow”.
Orange is ‘joy, warmth, heat, sunshine, enthusiasm, creativity, success, encouragement, change, determination, health, stimulation, happiness, fun, enjoyment, balance, sexuality, freedom, expression, and fascination’.
The ‘Orange’ of my travels from mandarins in Taizhou(China), sunset in Kasauli (India),a Brooklyn brick house, cables in Gurgaon (India), a worship idol (Hong Kong).
Orange

Allahabad Rickshaw

A RICKSHAW JOURNEY. …An Introduction to an ongoing ‘Fantasy’.

‘These hauntings make up the invisible story of our lives, the shadow side of the resume, if you like.’ Pico Iyer in SUN AFTER DARK…..Flights into the Foreign.

A scene replays in memory, the year 1958 and father, holding on to marigold and rose garlands, waving from the door of the railway compartment, on way to Bombay (now Mumbai) to board the P&O liner* for England. Air travel was in nascent stage and any trip to the western world was by sea.

The railway platform had turned into personal fiefdom with friends, family, business associates wanting to be part of the epical send off. Father had been a popular and active member of Rotary Club, the Masonic Lodge, business associations and neighborhood committees, explaining the massive turnout at the open platform of Allahabad railway station. Another reason could be that apart from prominent and political families including the Nehru family, only a handful of Allahabad citizens had ventured to foreign shores. Decades later, in 1975 and in comparison to 1958, it was me and my eldest brother when I boarded Air India flight at New Delhi airport for my first journey to the USA. Going abroad had become a regular travel feature.

Father kept in touch with snail mail and picture postcards from ports of call sailing through the newly commissioned Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea with stopovers in Egypt, Gibraltar, Spain, Italy and France and breaking journey in England. The picture postcards addressed to me carried instructions to show them to the German Principal of my convent school, St. Mary’s Convent. I was a shy 6 year old and the very idea of waiting outside her office to share a personal letter was unthinkable.

He had returned after six months to a tumultuous welcome and for days our house turned into a community hall with an enthralled audience listening to his travel tales of ‘hand shake with Queen Elizabeth 11; witnessing a fox hunt and the musical bowl he had been presented with; about the spectacular Eiffel Tower (Paris)and the Coliseum (Rome); the mysterious Bavarian Forest, Vienna, Amsterdam, Geneva, Venice, Scotland, Edinburgh and other cities and monuments. The coveted items were the tape recorder, Swiss chocolates and watches, my German blonde doll rolling her blue eyes and saying ‘Ma’ whenever her stomach was pressed, a sky blue can-can dress that was one size large for me and I had refused to give it to my cousin, and other western apparel and gifts for me and my brothers. There were envious innuendos on my mother’s French chiffon saris, how they were a compensation for the six month absence and looking after a household of five children and equal number of hanger ons and helpers.

We all basked in the glory of father’s trip oblivious that this bug was being transferred to five siblings who would be mapping out their journeys, India centric trips and business ventures, to Australia, Cyprus, USA and Canada. We lost our father to cardiac failure (1960) before he could take our mother to America. Their bags packed, tickets and passports ready but he was destined for another journey.

The siblings did not let go of his dreams. The eldest and youngest brothers set off for Australia on completion of studies, to expand the family jewelry business, the second brother to the USA, Stanford University and World Bank to pursue higher studies and employment and third to George Washington University, USA and later on human rights missions to East Timor and other nations. I was not one to lag behind and kept afoot of my four brothers with Summer school in Stanford University, stays in Oman and Hong Kong, travels to USA, Canada and Asian countries including my own, India. The third generation continues to unravel the journey thread.

‘The Rickshaw Journey is about small steps to realization, confrontation and re discovery, journeys linked to the soil and mind. ‘. this is an introduction to a travel memoir in the writing…..

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Summertime 2013. This is my first summer trip to this sprawling anathema mythicized by  navigational cover ups: the winter chill when Central Park curls up in its snow blanket; the glitter and gold of Fall; the sprightly pink glow of Spring when cherry blossoms perk up the city and Summer of blue skies and surf and exodus to the beaches and the greens. The constants are the icons tuned to mesmerized outsider footsteps….Times Square, Brooklyn, Bryant Park, the rattling elevators of Macy’s, the gentrified malodorous Subway system, the stoic red brick row houses of Queens, Central Park, the aging dowager with countless Botox uplifts or a grandmother welcoming strays into her fold, the arty labyrinths of East Village and the glitzy MET and Broadway and like a greedy visitor I rush from one paid gig to a free one balancing my time and dollars as much as I can.
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“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies”.― F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby, my initiatory foray was to Gantry Park in Long Island City, a waterfront boardwalk presenting a spectacular view of Central Manhattan skyline including the Empire State and the United Nations buildings. The sun, probably sidelined by wedding photo shoots glared down on the young couples but, in compensation for rude behavior, brightened up the manicured gardens and the restored gantries of the twelve acres along the East River. The gantries are reminders of an industrial past of rail car floats and barges and with another permanent fixture, the 120-foot long and 60-foot high neon Pepsi-Cola sign, an epergne of the Park. I have not seen the movie The Interpreter (Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman) but told that the sign features in the last scene.
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The next water-side trip was to Rockaway Beach, a two-hour journey from Manhattan by train on a clear, welcoming week day. Rockaway Beach is a seven-mile stretch of sand that extends the entire length of Rockaway Peninsula in Queens and as we walked along the boardwalk the peaceful ambiance was at odds with the recent devastation by Hurricane Sandy. The beach, made accessible a week before, had families, sunbathers (some in the buff), youngsters and residents from nearby condos carrying their chairs, umbrellas and sun glares extracting  maximum of the sun and surf. Rockaway Beach ended up as a clear favorite over the commercialized Coney Island.
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Aqua remained the flavor of the trip and we added Coldspring by River Hudson to our outings list. The seventy-five minute train ride from Grand Central along the scenic river front stops at the single platform connected to the Main Street, a quintessential 19th century façade of cottages, eateries, and gift and art shops. Coldspring, a trading hamlet (1800s) and a foundry town (1818) attracted New  Yorkers and tourists with its salubrious environs and the accompanying sailing, hiking and historic sightseeing facilities, art galleries and antique shops as a weekend getaway. The shuttle service lady tried to convince us to take the Boscobel tour or we would we miss an opportunity to see a neoclassical mansion (on way to Garrison) with a panoramic view of the Hudson River and the highlands. But we preferred the bracing promenade walk along the river made fresher with ice cream from Moo Moo’s Creamery and admiring the acrobatic skills of sea gulls from the Bandstand
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Another new find was the trendsetting, innovative, culturally diverse Astoria across the East River. In the 1800s Astoria was the recreational playground for the Manhattan rich and whose residential traces are still around 12th and 14th streets of what was then Astoria Village and now called Old Astoria. The Dutch, Germans, Italians and Greeks were next in queue with their delis, bakeries and pizzas, showcasing their cultural and culinary skills. South Asians, South Americans, Middle Eastern and European communities added to this potpourri of cultures and smells that linger in facades, shops and cuisine. A walk down 30th Avenue, Steinway Street and Ditmars Boulevard including the rumbling old Broadway station and congested alleys, is a lesson in émigré culture. Astoria is a popular film and tv locale, the block of 37th Street between Ditmars Boulevard and 23rd Avenue used as external reference as the block where George Costanza’s parents lived in the popular sitcom ‘Seinfeld’, and in the month that we stayed in Astoria we came across ‘shoots’ on the streets and restaurants. Visited  Socrates Sculpture Park, an outdoor museum and public park where artists create and show sculptures and multi-media installations; the Isamu Noguchi Museum designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi; Astoria Park along East River, a place to spend lazy winter and summer afternoons; the Kaufman Astoria Studios presently undergoing expansion to accommodate more shoots and Bohemia Hall, the oldest beer garden in New York City, founded in 1910 when Astoria was largely Irish.
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Another must visit, for me, is Madison Gardens for its changing art installations and neighborly existence with the sleek Flat iron building and the gawky, cheesy Eatelly lost in its cornucopia of cheeses, pastas and wines. Few blocks away is Manhattan China Town with its Made in China goods and smells stealthily encroaching on Little Eately, the Italian section of Manhattan. The day we had gone the Madison Square Park was hosting friendly table tennis, me missed tennis player Serena Williams who had inaugurated the event. I sat on the bench enjoying the myriad activities, the frisky chipmunks, the pet dogs and Orly Genger‘s ‘Red, Yellow and Blue’ undulating structures of hand-knotted nautical ropes painted in the three colors stretched across the Park. Last year, in 2012, it was Jaume Plensa’s forty-four feet tall white marble dusted ECHO placed in the center of the expansive Oval Lawn. The peaceful visage of towering statute appeared an anomaly in the cacophonous surroundings but after a melded in with the surrounding limestone buildings.
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Nature took a backseat to free Summer theater, musicals and film shows. The first feel- good outing was the eclectic houseful show of Shakespeare’s ‘Loves Labor Lost‘, critiqued as ‘a mash-up of past and present to metallic sounds’. We were lucky to snag front row seats, the shows are free and the queues begin early morning for the evening show. Another culture freebie was the 12 noon snippets of Broadway musicals at Bryant Park, Manhattan, and despite the blazing afternoon sun the crowd flipped to Mama Mia songs. The HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival tradition, on Monday nights, is again a free bonding opportunity under the night sky. Our choice, the 1979 movie ‘Norma Rae’ (Sally Field had won an Oscar) was slightly off-key for the setting, more of an addendum to activities all around.  There are other venues where one can enjoy free open air movies and best way is to check out New York summer activities and attractions websites.
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Crammed in with all the food and societal outings were trips to funky neighborhoods TriBeCa (TRIangle BElow CAnal Street), NoHo (NOrth of HOuston Street), SoHo an upscale arty locale for galleries, lofts, boutiques in Lower Manhattan, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and the artistic side of Brooklyn with ongoing art and theater shows and not to forget imagethe Brooklyn Ice cream Factory, the oldest ice cream place in New York operating from an 1922 converted fireboat house in vicinity of Brooklyn Bridge.
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Ice cream was followed, next day, by ‘Smorgasburg’, a mix of smorgasbord and Williamsburg, an open air food festival held every Saturday on an empty lot on Williamsburg’s East River waterfront. There were more than 90 food stands selling Asian, Middle Eastern cuisine, chilled soups, fresh juices, noodles, barbecue foods, requiring an appetite and an unlimited patience to queue up for your share of the treats. One could re charge their low low energy stretched out on the sloping grounds along the East River soaking in the afternoon sun. The Sunday market combines flea market and food.
imageSummer in New York is not all buttoned-down but quirky too as we gawked at the participants of the National Underwear Day in their tightly whites and neon-elsie’s giving competition to the Times Square’s kaleidoscopic facade. The under wears were okay but had to admire the spirit as not all bodies were sleek and uncluttered.
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Central Park remains my favorite and every visit presents something new and this time it was the lone egret or heron preening on the Pond bank, oblivious to the clicking cameras, reflecting the New York attitude of aloofness as they hustle their way through redolent subway systems, past tourists and slackers, the endless line of iconic yellow cabs, the glitzy consumerism and traces of antique. They stopped… when commuters swiped their passes on seeing us struggle with our subway passes or for the moment of peace at the World Trade Center where the in flowing waters of the two fountains makes one pause and reflect on futility of rushing at breakneck speed, of conflict and competition.
The summer-ly sheen rubs on to us as we leave the city smug with having experienced another static make-over of New York.