Author Archives: Ria

Quebec Oh Quebec!

Quebec, oh Quebec… why did you leave me? After enchanting me with your delightful little cobblestone streets and quaint town squares and charming architecture and pretty little art shops and beautiful parks and delicious food and your charming French-accented English speech and your many many alluring ways, why did you leave me? Yes, yes, you are right, I’m sorry… Yes, it was I who left you! Buckling under the pressure of life’s million little cares, I had to leave you. But this I promise you… I’ll be back. And we will spend many an enjoyable day together… Promise!

Obviously, I enjoyed the trip to the province of Quebec and especially to its capital Quebec City very much. Surrounded on three sides by the waters of St. Lawrence and St. Charles rivers, Ville de Quebec (Quebec City’s French name) is one of the oldest cities of North America.

 
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Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608, a French explorer and diplomat. It was the first permanent European settlement in the territory of present-day Canada and the capital of New France, the French colony till 1867.

Old Quebec, a historical neighbourhood of Quebec city, is utterly charming. Its cobblestone streets and quaint shops bring forth images of Europe. No wonder Quebec City is sometimes called ‘Petit Paris’! Old Quebec is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

 
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Upper Town in Old Quebec is located on top of Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond) promontory, provides a beautiful view of the St Lawrence river below. A statue of Samuel de Champlain stands prominent on the square.

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The Chateau Frontenac, said to be the most photographed hotel in the world, is an imposing structure and dominates the city’s skyline spectacularly.

 
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Built in 1893, the hotel was the site of the Quebec Conference in 1943, where Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt met to discuss world war 2 strategy. If you would like to check out the rates for a weekend’s stay, here is the link.

 
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Also, located in the Upper Town is La Citadelle, a functioning fortress. Quebec City is the only fortified city north of Mexico. The ramparts of the city stand strong even today, along with the citadel. Work on the citadel was started in 1820, and guess why? To prevent attacks from the United States! Seriously… in 1812, the US had tried to conquer Quebec City and other parts of Canada which were British holdings while fighting a war with Britain over the blockading of the oceans by Britain. Needless to say, the attempt failed and today the citadel is a National Historic Site of Canada.

 
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Century-old great looking houses of the for-generations rich and famous populate the residential areas of Upper Town. Historical sites and beautiful parks add to the uniqueness of the area.
 
Lower Town, located at the foot of the Cap Diamant, is the commercial center of Old Quebec. This is the location where Samuel de Champlain built his original settlement, remains of which can still be discerned and are marked. I can doubtlessly say Lower Town is my most favourite spot in the entire city.

 
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Place Royale, a public square was named so in 1686 after a bust of King Louis XIV of France was placed in the square. Once, this was the commercial center around where the merchants and businessmen lived, who during the French-British wars moved to the Upper Town for its safer environments.

 

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At one end of the square stands the Fresque des Quebecois (fresco for the people of Quebec), a huge mural on the face of a building. Completed in 1999, this mural encompasses the local history of 400 hundred years in a canvass of 420 sq meters.

 
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In addition to the daily life activities and the four seasons, 16 of the prominent historical figures are also represented. The details of the creation of this mural are very interesting.

 
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On the opposite side of the square is the Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires (Our Lady of Victory church). Built on the site of the Champlain’s first residence, it is one of the oldest stone churches.

 
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And then there is the Rue de Petit Champlain, the most picturesque street ever.

 
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In addition to wonderful arts and crafts shops and restaurants, the narrow stone-paved street has a little area with benches and swings and live music where you can sip your wine and chill out.

 
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The whole Quartier Petit Champlain area is indeed beautiful.
 
By the way, Rue de Petit Champlain is the oldest street in North America! Yep, I know, I have been repeating the word ‘oldest’ a lot! 🙂
 
To be continued…

~Ria

23 Jul 2015

Drifting in Daylight in Central Park

Today is the official first day of summer, but the weather has taken on the airs of summer a while back. And what a summer it is shaping up to be! An imminent trip to Canada (Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa), an invite to a summer wedding in London and an end-of-summer visit to San Francisco… not to forget the list of events happening in and around the city and there you have the perfect recipe for a perfect summer!

 

Central Park, a joy to visit any time of the year, is at its best in the spring-summer seasons. Add to it an incredible art show nestled among the greenery and you have one of the best summer experiences ever!

 

Drifting in Daylight, organised by Creative Time in partnership with Central Park Conservancy, is an eight part performance, display and participatory show running for eight weekends at various locations in Central Park.

 

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Starting at the northern end of the park, you see S. S. Hangover, a fishing boat reimaged to look like the boat in a party scene from the mystery movie ‘Remember Last Night?’ (apparently no one does; hence the name of the boat!) sailing on the Harlem Meer. The boat carries six musicians playing a classical composition by Kjartan Sveinsson, musician and composer.

 

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Notice how fat the Pegasus (okay, plump; we don’t want to offend the creature!) on the flag looks? According to the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, creator of the show, that Pegasus is a ‘symbol of the artist struggling to reach sublime heights’.

 

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The first time I visited the show, it was sort of pouring and this was one of the two performances that went ahead despite the rain.

 

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What is the perfect symbol of sunset in a park? An ice cream cone, of course! Spencer Finch captures this symbol with his ‘Sunset in Central Park’ ice cream truck. The truck is fully powered by solar energy and the colour of the ice cream, varying shades of the sunset, is from the pigments extracted from a painting of a sunset over Central Park. He intends each soft serve cone, free of charge, as a poetic gesture revering the sun and nature in the park.

 

Central Park has always been a favourite spot for movie scenes to be shot. Taking inspiration from these movies, David Levine presents the show ‘Private Moments’. Scenes from eight famous movies are placed into their original locations, actors dressed like the characters re-enacting the scene in a continuous loop.

 

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A scene from Bullets over Broadway

 

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Another from The Royal Tenenbaums

 

So now when I see a person not dressed to suit the season, the first question is, “which movie?” 🙂

 

Karyn Olivier’s ‘Here and Now/ Glacier, Shard, Rock’ is a pictorial representation of the life of the park, connecting the past, present and future. It is a transformational signboard in three sections, which alters your perception every time you move. The scene fluidly transforms from the blue glacial waters which formed the rocky underpinnings of the park to the present day topography and back. The scenes are knit together by a shard of blue pottery from the Seneca village which was moved from the location so that the park could be established.

 

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Printed using the lenticular technology, the panels of the huge signboard evoke a true seamless 3-D vision.

 

‘Cartas al Cielo’ (Letters to Heaven, in Spanish), an artwork by Alicia Framis, presents a link between the earth and the sky or heavens, as reflected on the mirror-like surface of the sculpted form.

 

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Viewers are encouraged to write letters on the cards provided, addressed to someone who is not on this earth anymore. The cards, dropped into the globe, are collected and at the end of the show will be symbolically forwarded. Apart from the physical cards, the sculpture is a poignant reminder of the relationship of the earth and the sky and the here and the departed.

 

‘And all directions, i come to you’ is a contemporary dance performance that moves through the North Woods of the park. The dancers move through the rough pathways of the woods, their audience following them.

 

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Their presence is airy, their movements delicate, ethereal. Though choreographed, the movements seem so spontaneous and magical.

 

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Don’t let their gazelle-like appearance deceive you; these dancers are a hardy lot! This is one of the teams that kept performing all through the rain, that too on the muddy pathways of the woods!

 

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Presented by the conceptual artist Lauri Stallings and performed by nine artists from Glo, the experimental performance platform founded by Stallings, this is one show that you can watch for hours without the fear of getting bored ever.

 

Central Park is a haven for bird watchers… And Nina Katchadourian’s ‘The Lamppost Weavers’ replicates the habits of birds of using human objects for building nests. Made out of basket balls, footballs and old shoes, these points out the connection between wild life and human utilitarian items.

 

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These pseudo birds’ nests hang from the lamp posts, but the Department of Transportation did not want the real lamp post arms used for anything other than actual lamps. So the curators of the show had to build pseudo arms to hang them from!

 

‘Black Joy in the Hour of Chaos’, presented by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, is an animated, energetic performance of dance, music and poetry. Inspired by present day racial politics, the performance looks back to the movements in the African-American history and the legacy of hip-hop.

 

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Following the style of the second line parades of New Orleans, the performance, on the Great Hill of the park, is lively and vibrant.

 

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Each of these shows is unique and contributes to making the whole an unforgettable experience.

 

Drifting in Daylight forms the center piece of Central Park Conservancy’s 35th anniversary celebrations this year. What is special about this show is the way it deviates from the typical performance or installation art. It has that element of surprise that adds to the thrill of enjoyment, as you discover each of the pieces along the meandering paths. And as you make that discovery, you also discover that each artwork fits so perfectly and naturally to its surroundings as if born right there!

~Ria

21 Jun 2015

An Amazing Street Play

Back in New York… or shall I say the freezer? I had thought that below a certain level of cold – say minus 10 – it is all the same, which is too cold. But no, no, no… there are 50 shades of cold below freezing! And the bone chilling, face freezing cold of this winter of 2015 is the worst I have ever known. One look outside, and I was ready to get back on that plane and go back for another two months! That too, after a flight of 14 hours… Yeah, exactly like Punxsutawney Phil who saw his shadow on Feb 2nd and went back into his burrow for another 6 weeks of slumber!
 
Okay, let me be honest here… I did escape a major part of the brutal winter.:-)
 
Spent about two months in the beautiful tropics. Of all the things I managed to see and do this time around – blue oceans with sandy beaches, hikes on green mountains, visits to tea estates and factories, houseboat rides on backwaters – what has made a lasting impression on me is a street play I saw in Calicut, Kerala… yes, that sliver of a state in the south western corner of India.
 
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The aim of the play was to focus attention on the rise of superstitions and their exploitative tendencies in the Kerala society.
 
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It was organized by Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP: Kerala People’s Science Movement – not a literal translation).
 
KSSP is a unique social scientific movement in Kerala that came into being with the dual aims of bringing science and scientific thinking to the common people and influencing the direction of scientific research into channels that will benefit the people. It is unique in the sense that among all the socially relevant popular movements anywhere in the world, there is no other such organisation that has an exclusive focus on science and scientific mindedness. And if Kerala has topped the United Nations Human Development Index despite its high population density and low per capita income, making it stand apart from the rest of India, KSSP and the scientific temper it has managed to popularise, have a major role in that achievement for sure.
 
The brainchild of a group of scientists and science writers, KSSP was formally established in 1962. KSSP’s concentration on active communications and education has paid off big time, making it an integral part of the Kerala social fabric. KSSP is the largest publisher of science and technology themed books in the state of Kerala. It also publishes four periodicals, two of them meant for children. Science quizzes and talent tests are conducted at primary and secondary school levels and science clubs are organised throughout the state. KSSP has carried out successful campaigns against industrial pollution, deforestation, unwise water management policies, etc.
 
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In addition to traditional outreach mechanisms like lectures and symposiums, and articles published in newspapers, KSSP uses ‘kala jatha’, an art form encompassing elements of street theater and folk story telling traditions to increase awareness and nurture a scientific outlooks among the population. Teams travel throughout the towns and villages of the state performing in front of audiences large and small. The kala jathas spread socially relevant messages based on scientific facts and generally promote scientific thinking and reasoning among the populace.
 
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The performance that I was fortunate enough to see was part of ‘Nattu Pacha’. Google Translate gave me ‘indigenous green’ as the English synonym, which even I know is nowhere near the intended meaning… would ‘the goodness of the countryside’ work? Roughly, I would say.
 
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As part of Nattu Pacha kala jatha, ten groups of performers travelled throughout the state and performed the play at over 400 venues. The main factor behind the success of the effort is nothing other than the dedication of all those involved.
 
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I do not remember the names of the actors; this was not a performance that hinges around a few stars… this was a joint venture in the true sense of the word. With the minimum of props and costumes, the actors brought out the story of what happens to a hitherto peaceful village when religious powers, supported by exploitative commercial interests, move in and take control of people’s minds.
 
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It was like, in a manner of minutes, a barren playground turned into an elaborate stage, riveting the audience’s attention.
 
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The ease with which the actors slipped in and out of character is amazing, especially when you consider that none of the participants are professionally trained actors. And I loved the background singers who equaled if not surpassed the actors.
 
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The next time I’m in Kerala, the first thing on my to-do list will be to check for any interesting activities organised by KSSP!
 
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~Ria

P.S. I’m sorry that in a small blog post, it is not possible to even touch upon all of KSSP’s activities; so, read about it all at the KSSP’s own website.
 
 

22 Mar 2015

Thangassery… a Gem on the Seashore

After visiting my friend Dilly at Thangassery, I had this question that I could not find an answer to… why hadn’t I visited the place earlier? Dilly and I have been friends for donkey’s years, I knew of the beauty and historical importance of the place… maybe it is true that there is a right time for everything!

 
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Located near Kollam in the south western state of Kerala in India, Thangassery is a beautiful seashore town with a unique cultural heritage. Established as home to the Anglo-Indian community (which includes all people of European descent), its contributions to the cultural milieu of the region are invaluable.

 
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The word ‘thangassery’ means gold town or gold village, referring to the distant past when spice trade was conducted here using gold coins. It was also known as ‘Dutch Quilon’ till the 20th century.

Thangassery has a long history, going back to the colonial times when European powers jostled for domination in the Eastern territories. The first European power to appear in Thangassery were the Portuguese, who leased the area of Thangassery from the queen of Quilon (currently called Kollam) in the year 1502, to be used as a trading post. The dilapidated remains of Forte de São Tomé (Fort St. Thomas), built by the Portuguese in 1518 to protect their enclave, can still be seen in Thangassery.

 
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The fort that rose up to a height of 20 feet, is under the care of Archaeological Survey of India and is currently being restored.

After almost a century and half, the decline in the Portuguese power in Europe and the colonial territories led to a Dutch victory at Quilon. In 1661, Fort St. Thomas and Thangassery passed into the hands of the Dutch, who developed the area further. After another century, the fortunes of the British were on the ascendant and the Dutch had to surrender Thangassery to the English East India Company in 1795.

 
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Many of the Portuguese and Dutch soldiers and traders had married locally and settled in Thangassery. This cultural mixing has always enriched the life of Thangassery in many ways. The grid pattern of the roads existing in Thangassery town even today was established by the Dutch. The only other place where I have seen such a perfect grid of roads is my own town, NYC! 🙂

 
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There are several food items that have come out of this mixing of cultures, where local ingredients available in the tropical climate of Kerala find a place in traditional Portuguese and Dutch recipes and get reborn as amazing items. And I thought I had tasted them all. Imagine my surprise when I discovered ‘orappam’, a kind of white halva with a definite coconut flavour, that belongs right at the top with the best of them!

 
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Thangassery lighthouse, established in 1902 and still functional, is one the attractions of the place. The view from the top of the lighthouse is worth every one of the 193 steps you have to climb to get there.

 
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Starting with the tranquil basin of Kollam port protected by the Thangassery breakwater, extending 1.1 mile into the sea…

 
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your eyes will sweep over the vista of the Arabian Sea in a 270 degree arc to land again on a rocky shoreline studded with graceful coconut palms.

 
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Moving further, your gaze will settle on the green landscape dominated by the church steeple…

 
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to end up back at the colouful fishing boats pulled on the shores along the Thangassery Beach Road.

 
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A view that you will never tire of, I can guarantee!

 
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The circular wooden staircase of the lighthouse itself is a work of art.

 
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Standing at a height of 144 feet, the lighthouse has a luminous range of 26 nautical miles. The lighthouse has been in continuous use since its inception.

 
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One of the oldest printing presses in India from where the first book in Kerala was published in1578; Mount Carmel Anglo Indian Girls School, the first convent schools for girls established in 1885; the Infant Jesus Church, a Portuguese-built church that goes back centuries… Thangassery’s claim to fame are many. Still, old timers here are quick to point out the changed circumstances in the town. Large scale migration of the younger generations seeking better fortunes has taken its toll on the local community. Old life styles are disappearing with the influx of outsiders into a hitherto close-knit community.

Though many believe that the golden years of Thangassery are long gone, I found the place charming and delightful. My only regret is that I did not make this trip a long time ago!

I have posted a bunch of photos from Thangassery here…

 

~Ria

01 Feb 2015

A brand new year… with no elephants!

If there is one event that signals the winter festive season in New York, it is the lighting of the Rockefeller tree. This season it was to be on Dec 3rd. And of course, I wanted to go and watch the tree come alive in all its glory. But alas, it was not to be. NY police barricades to control street protests against police actions that question even the motto of ‘Courtesy, Respect, Professionalism’, had effectively prevented any public access to the tree lighting ceremony. Did the shadow of the conflict between the police and mayoral institutions put a pall on the city’s annual festivities? Or was it just my imagination?
 

Anyways, I was happy to escape from the cold, literally as well. Adding to my thrill was an invite from an old old friend (no, the friend is not old; only that our friendship goes back a long way!) had invited me to go visit her in her hometown in Kerala. The plan was to combine some local sightseeing with all the catch-up from the past few years. An excellent start to a new year!
 

The first stop on our travel was Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve at Thekkady, on the border of the southern Indian states Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Formerly known as Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, it was declared a national park in 1982.
 

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We had booked rooms at the Periyar House, within the boundaries of the park. What awaited us at the entry gates to the park was bad news… no vehicles are allowed inside after 5.30 pm! And we were about three hours late! The security guards assured us that this was for our own protection as the wild animals tend to wander at night, and may not like our presence. They told us stories of how a herd of a dozen elephants had gone up to the doors of the Periyar House on New Year’s eve.
 

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But then we saw many vehicles being let inside. Those are forest guard trainees and they live inside the park as well, we were told. We couldn’t imagine any wild animals that would selectively attack only visitors, leaving the forest guard trainees alone. So we decided to argue our case. After much telephoning over the next hour, finally we were allowed to enter, with the warning that we should get to the guest house and go in with the least amount of noise.
 

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View from Periyar House
 

Along the mile-long drive to the guest house, we looked around with anticipation… to no avail. No elephant, no tiger, not even a wild squirrel! Was it a harbinger of things to come?

Periyar National Park covers an area of 300 sq. miles, most of it covered by evergreen forests. The central attraction of the park is an artificial lake, formed when a dam (Mullaperiyar) was built across the Periyar river. A boat ride on the lake is a ‘can’t miss’ activity when you visit the area.
 

I have seen innumerable photos of elephant herds frolicking in the waters of the Periyar lake, brought back by visitors. So it was with heightened anticipation that we got on the boat the next morning. And, if we were lucky, we could even see a couple of the majestic Bengals… of course, of the tiger variety, not Cincinnati! After all, the area has a population of over 40 adult tigers!
 

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The enchanting view of layer upon layer of mountain ranges surround you as you embark on the boat ride. Stumps of the trees that got submerged when the lake was created can still be seen sticking out of the waters of the lake.
 

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Water birds find these tree stumps ideal for nesting.
 

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For the entire boat trip, our eyes scanned the shores looking for animals come to drink from the lake. No luck whatsoever! All we saw were a few wild boars on a far shore, that too, only for a couple minutes. As we got off the boat, I could hear mutterings… ‘maybe it was too hot for the animals’, ‘maybe another day’… yeah, maybe another day.
 

Though 35 species of mammals live in the area, the only ones we saw were bonnet macaque monkeys and Nilgiri langurs.
 

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The bonnet macaques, called so due to the tuft of hair on their heads that resembles a bonnet, are very common here.
 

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We even had one visit us at our room window, probably looking for a snack!
 

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The area is well known for its 143 species of orchids, in addition to a wide variety of other flowering and medicinal plants.
 

The concept of ecotourism is taking strong roots in Periyar National Park with programs being run with involvement from the local communities. Among the wide variety of activities are bamboo rafting, nature walks, guided treks, adventure trekking and camping.
 

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For me, surely there is gonna be a next time… elephants willing!

~Ria

21 Jan 2015

New York City Marathon… a not to be missed event!

Someone recently asked me… what’s so special about the marathon? Why are people, generally not interested in athletics, so keen on running it? The easiest answer was ‘prestige’. Prestige and pride. The sense of accomplishment. The immense way it makes one feel good about oneself.

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It is not about the running – in fact, running is the least of it – it is all about one’s self perception. The discipline and dedication needed to get to the level of training required for a marathon is tremendous. And of long duration. To prove that one can adhere to the punishing schedules with the accompanying scarifices for as long as it takes, to oneself more than to any others… there are not too many achievements that compare, at least in my opinion.

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Training for a marathon brings structure and organisation to one’s life, often calling for life style changes. The fact that one can take all that in stride, and focus on a goal not tied to any financial goals… isn’t it proof enough of a person’s strength of character? Yes, that’s it… being able to prove that one has that kind of grit and purpose is what makes it so great. And of course, the bragging rights granted for life, doesn’t hurt either! 🙂

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Spectators line the entire 26.2 miles – 26.219 miles to be exact – of the route the runners take, cheering them on. They bring placards and signs and personal messages to encourage the runners. The spectator involvement is so great that it actually amounts to a vicarious participation in the event. The energy of the crowd is palpable and contagious.

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I went there to see the event and take some pictures… and came back with a hoarse throat with all that cheering!
 
The New York City Marathon route passes through all five boroughs of New York City, starting in Staten Island and going through Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx (passing through Manhattan) and ending at the Central Park in Manhattan. It is held on the first Sunday of November.

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NYC Marathon has the largest participation among all the marathons run anywhere in the world, with both professionals and amateurs participating. Anyone who will be 18 years of age or older on November 1, the following year can participate in the race. This year, 50,530 participants finished the race with an average time of 4 hours 34 minutes and 45 seconds.

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Wilson Kipsang of Kenya won the 2014 NYC Marathon, along with the $ 500,000 World Marathon Majors championship, with a timing of 2 hours 10 minutes and 59 seconds. The second place – with a difference of 7 seconds, yes… seconds! – was taken by Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia.

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Among the women competitors, Mary Keitany claimed the first place with a timing of 2 hours 25 minutes and 7 seconds, just ahead of Jemima Sumgong by 3 seconds, both of them from Kenya. Mary Keitany placed third in 2010 and 2011, but hadn’t run in the race the last two years as she was on maternity leave.
 
The NYC Marathon is organised by New York Road Runners and has been held every year since 1970, except in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy made landfall around that time.

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Demand for participation is so high that runners are selected by a lottery system. The start of the run is at 10:10 a.m, though it is regulated by a staggered start for different groups. The time limit for the completion of the run is 8 hours 30 minutes.
 
Running time is recorded by a computer chip attached to the runner’s bib, which records the crossing of timing mats located along the course.
 
Several TV stations in and around New York broadcast the marathon live. It can also be watched online.
 
However, the NYC Marathon is not just an ego boost for the runners; it has a major economic impact as well. Through the event, millions of dollars are raised for non-profits and charitable organizations. It also generates millions of tourist dollars for New York City.

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Several organizations support their own team of runners and have an active presence at the marathon over the years.

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Guides running with a participant in a wheelchair to help him along. In 2000, a new official division was introduced for participants using wheelchairs and handcycles.

 

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Some of the messages on the shirt fronts of runners are quite interesting. This guy has definitely scored some points with his honey!

 

 

The runners have their names on their official bib and often on their shirts. We, the spectators, are encouraged to cheer by name, especially if we see someone tiring. However, we were told not to shout “almost there” as it might have a negative impact!
 
 
You can always see some interesting costumes at the run.
 
 
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If you ever – ever – feel dispirited, inadequate, lethargic… or are on the brink of giving up on anything, all you need is a visit to the NYC Marathon to change your mood, to pick you up, to boost your candoo attitude sky high! The cheering of the crowds is enough to pick you up and hasten your footsteps even before you reach the runside! If you haven’t done so already, do add it to your bucket list!
 
BTW, I saw my first Salvation Army bell ringer of the season today… Also, holiday muzac is on everywhere… in the malls, in the elevator, even in the train station! WooHoo!
 

~Ria

23 Nov 2014

Zombies, Zombies Everywhere… Are You Scared of Them?

It is not that New Jersey lacks a place in the Guinness Book of World Records… no, not at all. The tallest sand castle… the most wooden train whistles blown at once… fastest time for carving 1 ton of Halloween pumpkins… largest group Stop, Drop & Roll demonstration, whatever that is…. New Jerseyans hold plenty of world records. But the one that was lost… the one that slipped through, that was the most precious of them all! Yes, I’m talking about the one for the Largest Gathering of Zombies!

 
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In October 2013, the Zombie Walk at Asbury Park boardwalk wrested the honour from the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, with 9,295 zombies parading and partying till late. But alas, Asbury Park and New Jersey lost this year on October 12, when Minneapolis assembled 15,458 zombies! Come October 2015, it will be an interesting contest to watch. Of course, my money is on the Garden State! 🙂

 
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A Zombie Walk is an organized gathering of people who dress up as and pretend to be the ‘living dead’ or zombies. Usually, there is a parade where they get to flaunt their clever costumes and the fantastic makeup. And boy, is some of that makeup inspired!

 
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The general idea is to create a sense of horror and revulsion, often providing clues to how they met their ends.

 
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Looking at some of the getups, I was really wondering how it was achieved and how much time was spent in the effort.

 
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And blood… copious amounts of blood poured liberally all over. Often, free blood is advertised and distributed by the organizers to ensure that the lack thereof doesn’t make the gore any less scary!

 
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The lurching, stumbling, groping way a zombie is supposed to walk, with eyes skywards and arms extended, must definitely have originated with the zombie themed movies.

 
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And how some of them keep in character throughout the walk is amazing! But then, there are others who cannot resist the temptation to smile for the camera, forgetting that it is totally un-zombie like behaviour! 🙂

 
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Initially small zombie gatherings used to take place in the flash mob or improve style, mostly spur of the moment affairs.The first official zombie walk was in Toronto, in 2003. A small group of people, intent upon saving Halloween from commercialism and putting horror back in Halloween, dressed themselves up as the walking dead and shuffled through unsuspecting neighbourhoods.

 
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It became an annual affair, growing in size every year, with zombies in their thousands participating in the recent years.

 
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From Toronto, it spread to other cities. Currently most major cities, all over the world, have organised Zombie Walks, with the spirit of competition growing as well.

 
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In addition to run of the mill zombies, some participants represent characters from history or fiction.

 
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She must be the youngest participant this year!

 
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The Asbury Park Boardwalk where the annual New Jersey Zombie Walk takes place.

 
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The parade along the boardwalk.

 
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And maybe I haven’t seen enough zombie movies, I’m yet to understand why they hanker after ‘brains’!

 

~Ria

21 Oct 2014

Possible Jumper…

I think I have mentioned that the salt mine that employs me, is located in Times Square. Yes, right bang in the middle of the universe. Yesterday, we were all at work when the public address system sputtered up. Usually that thing is used to announce fire drills, but this was in the afternoon and fire drills happen in the morning. Could it be a real fire? “Attention please… 42nd Street is closed between 7th and 8th avenues due to police activity. There is a possible jumper somewhere on 42nd.” What? Possible jumper? On 42nd? In a minute, we were at the windows.
 
From the 14th floor, where I’m located, we had a direct view of that part of 42nd Street. This is what we saw…
 
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There is this guy in a white shirt sitting on the wall of the terrace. And there are cops in different uniforms on the terrace, but most of them are keeping their distance. There are a few near the guy and actually talking to him. But even they are being careful not to get too close as they do not want to trigger any unwanted action.
 
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It is 3 pm when the announcement is made. We don’t know how long he has been out on the wall. Looks like he is on the building that houses the ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ museum and ‘Dave & Buster’s’ diner.
 
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Right next to Madame Tussaud’s. Must be around 12th floor height as he is slightly lower than out 14th floor.
 
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The road below, 42nd St, has been closed off to all traffic, including pedestrians. We can see the police tape and vehicles blocking the traffic on one side. And the police below have positioned an inflated thingammie right below where a person would land in case he decided to jump.
 
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See, that things is taller than a person! Meanwhile there are non-stop comments and conversations on our floor. What could motivate a person to go to such a drastic measure as committing suicide? Someone expresses the opinion that a person seriously planning suicide would never do so in such a public fashion; he wants to get something, that’s all. Some others are quick to refute… there are so many instances of people actually committing suicide in a very public fashion… what about that? I zoom the camera and look at him…
 
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He seems to be quietly talking to the cops nearby. But not really looking at them. What could the cops be talking to him? What is there to say? Come on down and everything will be okay? I was fervently hoping the cops would be able to get through to him. Anyways, they were talking…
 
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And I notice… the position of his legs. Apparently he is more relaxed now. And he is leaning towards the cops now. By this time, it is 4 pm… my usual time to leave for home. But there is no question of me going home, leaving that guy perched on the wall; I have to see the end of this. We are off and on going to the windows, checking up on progress. Things seem to be at a standstill. The talking continues. It is 4.30… 4.45… I’m at my desk. Suddenly, there is some noise from those at the windows. I rush… there is a collective sigh of relief. The cops are helping the guy from the wall!
 
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He is led away, by a group of cops. Seem to be continuing to talk as they move inside the building. We couldn’t really make out whether he had cuffs on.
 
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All is well that ends well! Time to go home. As I walk out of the building, I notice that 42nd Street is not yet opened. The police vehicles are jus leaving…
 
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Okay, so these were the people talking to him! Great work, guys!
Here is a local report of the eventand another one.

~Ria

17 Oct 2014

Thousand Islands Castles… Truly Majestic

The castle was designed with soaring spires and high ramparts, after the castles in the Rhineland, the neighbourhood where he grew up. A self-made millionaire, he had risen from a kitchen worker in a hotel to the proprietor of the great hotels Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan and the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia. And when George Boldt wanted to build a castle to demonstrate his love for his wife Louise, no expenses were spared. He bought the Hart Island in the Thousand Islands group which he reshaped in the form a heart and renamed ‘Heart’ Island. Going up six stories, the castle had 120 rooms, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, tunnels, and a children’s play castle.

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The castle was to be presented to Louise on Valentine’s Day of 1904, but things went wrong before that. In January, Louise died of a heart failure at age 41. A heart-broken George Boldt immediately ordered all construction stopped at the castle and never again set foot on Heart Island.
 
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The grand staircase
 
The Boldt Castle, the biggest castle on Thousand Islands, stood abandoned for 73 years, subject to harsh winters and random acts of vandalism. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority was handed over charge of the castle. Currently the castle is undergoing restoration, as per the original plans. The lower two floors are fully restored and work is going on, on the upper floors. All entrance fees collected from visitors are used solely for the restoration work.
 
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Stained glass dome of the cupola
 
The Thousand Islands salad dressing was first introduced at the Waldorf Astoria by George Bolt. So was the Waldorf salad.
 
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The power house, which was planned to generate all the electric power needed for the Boldt Castle, was destroyed in a fire in 1939. Now it has been fully restored.
 
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A gazebo on the castle grounds
 
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Children’s play castle named the Alster Tower
 
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The portrait of Louise Boldt displayed in the castle
 
Another very prominent castle among the Thousand Islands, is the Singer Castle, named by Frederick Bourne, the president of… you guessed it, the Singer Sewing Machine Company! And every room in the castle, I mean every room, has a sewing machine in it!
 
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When Bourne acquired the island, it was named Dark Island because of the dark pine trees growing thick. A self-made millionaire, he started working in his teens, in the offices of a thread company which developed a thread suitable for a sewing machine for the first time. He wanted to build a castle and engaged the famous architect Ernest Flagg to build one, around the same time as the Boldt castle was being built, 1902 to 1904. And as model, he pointed to the castle in Walter Scott’s novel ‘Woodstock’.
 
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And the result was the 4-story, 28-room Singer Castle, with many hideaways, underground tunnels, dungeons, spy holes and secret rooms all over the place, just like in Woodstock Place. Today, many of those are open and visible to visitors. The castle boasts of elaborate boathouses, a workshop, powerhouse and a 2-story ice house.
 
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While the castle was being built, Bourne kept it an absolute secret from his family so that he could present it to them as a surprise! I can really imagine the whole family of nine kids, going ‘OMG!’ 🙂
 
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The dining room with elk, caribou, deer and moose heads mounted on the four walls
The furnishings included Italian hand-carved ornate tables and chairs, wrought-iron chandeliers, brass lamps, oak cabinets, bronze work, and paintings.
 
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Do you see the difference in the height of the headboards? And the size of the breakfast trays? Yep, the wife had to know that she could never be equal to the man! 🙂
 
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Corn Island seen from Singer Castle
 
During the days of prohibition in the US (1920-1933), groups of guests used to be ferried across by luxury launches, to Corn Island which is located in Canada, but had the same owner. After the cocktail party, they will get back in time for dinner!
 
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I wonder whether this is still functional!
 
Today, Boldt Castle and Singer Castle are available for weddings and other functions. You can also stay at the royal suite at the Singer Castle for a not-too-exorbitant rate.
 
One fact that impressed me while listening to the stories of these castles, was that both were built by men who rose from the bottom rungs to the highest positions in the society of their day, only through the dint of their hard work. Would such a feat be possible today?
 
There were several more castles built among the Thousand Islands… Castle Rest, the first castle to be built on Thousand Islands, Imperial Isle, Calumet Castle, Arcadia, Carlton Villa… it is a long list. But none of them are in existence today. Most were demolished and replaced by more modest and modern edifices.
 
This was a weekend well-spent, but I doubt there will be any more such outings this year. As the weather gets cool, cold, icy, activities turn indoors. And food! How about this gorgeous caramelised pear and roquefort tart for a start?

 

~Ria

26 Sep 2014

Single House Islands… So Many of Them!

Oh yeah, we were talking about the Thousand Islands. What really really enchanted me about the place were the cute little islands with just one home on them. Of course, these are summer dwellings as it will be physically impossible to live in the middle of a frozen river in the winter. Or would it? Imagine sledding to go visit your neighbour! 🙂

The most picturesque of all the houses, is this little gem, with the water and water birds almost coming up to the front steps.

 
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In fact, if you get out of the back door, you will be stepping directly into the water!

 
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There are no industries emitting effluence into the St. Lawrence river and the boats on the river have to adhere to strict cleanliness regulations. Also, it is a crime, punishable by law, for a resident to throw any garbage into the river. Thus the water of the St. Lawrence river is extremely clean and clear. Even at a depth of meters, you can make out the dark patches of the rocky river bottom.

 

Look at another red house. This one has more trees around it, and it has its own boat jetty.

 
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This barge like house is built covering the entire width of the narrow island, like someone picked up and placed it there precisely.

 
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Some of the large islands have common power generation facilities. And recently, underwater power connections have been introduced to a few islands located closer to the mainland. But most of the islands depend on individual generators and battery power for household needs.
See the neat boat house at the side of this house? The tree look huge, comparatively.

 

This house is directly under the tree. Hot summer’s day, blue chair, heavenly breeze… aah!

 
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Perfect oval of an island. Can’t really see the boat house hidden among the trees.

 
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There are no natural springs or waterfalls anywhere on the islands to provide drinking water. So the islanders have to bring their own water from the mainland. For cleaning and washing needs, water from the river is used.

 

Here is a blue house among blue waters! Step off the boat and you are directly on the deck of the house.

 
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What do you do with your household garbage when you are located in the middle of water? And it is a crime to throw anything in the water? Not to worry, garbage collection is done regularly, by a barge nicknamed ‘honey barge’.

 

Here is a house located at the extreme end of the island. Also, I believe there is a pathway built to the neighbouring island.

 
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While our boat passed by, the two guys sitting on the deck chugging beer waved to us. Many of the houses are owned by weekenders who live and work elsewhere during the week.

 
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The Wau-Winet Island was written up in New York Times a while back.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/24/travel/escapes/24thousand.html

 
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Tourist guides on the boats always tell the story of the Zavikon Islands, owned by the same person and connected by a bridge but located in two countries. And how it is the shortest international bridge. Our guide was no exception… he spoke of the owner telling him about the convenience of being able to escape to another country for a while, whenever he had a little spat with his wife. (I could see the wistful looks on the faces of many a man on the boat!) And the boats stop around that area for a photo-op. However, that story has been debunked; both islands are in Canada!

 
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Apparently the owner likes the fake story and is encouraging the telling of it, by displaying the different flags prominently on the little bridge.
 
After seeing the small houses, let’s take a look at the huge castles next.
 

~Ria

23 Sep 2014