Monthly Archives: May 2014
This month’s end-of-the-month guest post is from Pash. Re-discovering Africa on her own terms as an adult… sounds great!
Since I moved back to Uganda after seven years of living in the UK, I have wanted to explore Uganda and my neighbourhood in particular. I lived here earlier, from the age of 12 to 18; however, this time around the goal was to truly discover the Pearl of Africa, on my terms.
So, when I came to know that there is a bustling street market in my neighbourhood town of Kitoro in Entebbe, one Tuesday I sneaked out of work early, grabbed my camera and off I went. Food has always been my passion, and I am always on the lookout for new flavours and culinary inspiration.
On a regular day of the week, Kitoro town operates like any other small town, but on Market Tuesday, it comes alive.
Vendors just pitch up their stalls wherever they find a spot and start selling their goods. Before you enter the market, expect the regular prices to be marked up by at least 50%; so better bring along your bargaining skills. All the products they sell in this market are grown by independent small scale rural farmers, meaning they are 100% organic and pesticide free.
Scotch Bonnet peppers are one of the hottest peppers in the world. Uganda produces and exports a lot of Scotch Bonnet peppers. The powders here are the Scotch Bonnet peppers which have been dried and ground. The difference in the colours come from the various types of peppers used.
Most people tend to buy a blend of the different powders to suit their taste which this lovely lady mixes up in small sachets according to your preference.
Spinach galore!!! The green spinach is used to make a classic simple Ugandan stew with sesame seeds. This leafy spinach is slightly different with a rougher texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste but delicious none the less.
Mounds of dried small fish locally known as Mukene can be found throughout the market. It has a particularly strong scent which can be overpowering at times. Mukene or silver cyrprinid is a species of ray finned fish that can only be found in Lake Victoria, the second biggest lake in the world. Uganda shares the shores of Lake Victoria with Kenya and Tanzania. Kitoro being less than 10 minutes away from the lake is the best place to pick up some Mukene.
Pure white aubergines which I have never seen before. Turned out to be extremely flavourful when cooked, possibly even better than the regular purple ones I normally buy.
All that walking around started to get me quite peckish, so my attention quickly turned from the fresh produce to the ready to eat variety. First stop, freshly grilled corn on the cob over a charcoal stove giving it a nice smoky flavour.
My all time favourite Ugandan street food – the ROLEX!! The phrase ‘simplicity is key’ comes to mind. All this is a chapatti or tortilla coated in a mix of egg beaten with fresh cabbage, tomatoes and onions, and pan fried. PERFECTION! I always find myself craving one of these after a long day of work.
My rolex in the making. 🙂
Grilled plantains or Gonja as it is locally called, is a simple treat. The trick to making a good gonja is of course, a charcoal stove and a banana that is slightly ripe so that it still holds its own over the intense heat. It is safe to say that I will be heading back out to the market again. Better brush up on my bargaining skills.
30 May 2014
After procrastinating for more than two years, I finally ventured out to see Casa Loma, a historical building which is now a cultural landmark for Toronto. I have always wanted to do this since I came here as I have heard a lot about the place. So, my friends and I planned this as a fun activity on a rainy day which was also a good way for us to stay indoors yet not be bored.
Our day was pretty productive and Casa Loma turned out to be way more beautiful than I anticipated. Firstly, there was ample parking and that always scores high in my list of impressive things. 🙂 Secondly, there was more to see inside the building than I had expected. My prior expectation was based on the information that Casa Loma was not really a king’s castle but somebody’s erstwhile residence, hence does not bear the ornamentation of a palace. This was proved wrong.
Built like a castle, it is a heritage structure that is more than a century old. Following Gothic-style architecture, it used be a villa owned by a prominent figure of those times, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Since we weren’t sure of who he was, we sat in on the documentary that was being screened in one of the rooms of the castle.
Sir Pellatt was a Canadian financier and soldier for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. His most significant achievement was that he brought hydro-electricity to Toronto. He commissioned architect, E. J. Lennox, who is known to have designed 70 buildings in Toronto, including the City Hall, to construct this huge mansion.
Sir Pellatt liked to throw lavish parties and entertain guests in style and looking at the palatial nature of the rooms, I wished I could have attended one of those parties. I was reminded of the book, The Great Gatsby, written around the same time, by F. Scott Fitzgerald where the author portrays the extravagant and flashy life of the rich and the famous in that era.
Casa Loma was built in three years, between 1911 and 1914, by 300 workers and incurred a total cost of 3.5 million dollars. It was strategically located, on a hill, to gain a complete aerial view of downtown Toronto. Surrounding the castle are well-tended gardens spanning five acres and fountains that make for interesting photo ops. I read that the Casa Loma gardens won the Phoenix award from the Society of American Travel Writers.
My favorite room, in the castle, is the library with its crystal chandeliers and the continuous array of wooden bookshelves lined up floor-to-ceiling, covering an entire wall. The conservatory has a mesmerizing glass dome roof adorned by stained glass paintings; so were the windows that spread across the room, making it the best-lit room in the house.
The exciting part came up when we took a walk along a long winding dark underground tunnel that led us to the garage and the horse stable. The stable, once upon a time, was home to six gorgeous stallions. Each stall had the name of the horse carved in it and looked royal. The garage displayed refurbished vintage cars, which seemed fabulous to wheelcrazy me.
Some of the rooms, on the upper floors, are converted into war museums in order to treasure the artifacts from World War I and II.
We saw some interesting signs along certain articles like the below.
These days, the library and the conservatory are used as wedding venues. In fact, just as we were leaving, we saw the staff getting the place ready for such a function and for a fleeting moment, we thought of lingering back and crashing the party!
27 May 2014
I knew there was a show of Norman Rockwell paintings going on at Newark Museum. And it is something I definitely wanted to go and see. But you know how it is… oh, the show is going to be there for a long while… I can go anytime. Then, I get this email from Newark Museum that it is the last three days of the show. No more postponing… I have to go right away. And that is what I did. Boy, am I glad I went! It is such an awesome show.
Norman Rockwell was an artist who captured the best in American life, through his paintings of everyday scenes. According to him, the commonplaces of America are the richest subjects in art. Starting his artistic career at the age 19 as the art editor for Boys’ Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, he has worked for publications like The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Ladies’ Home Journal, Literary Digest, and Life.
What is so endearing about the Rockwell works is the innocence of the characters depicted. Be it the boys indulging in very boy-like games or the young girl preening herself in front of the mirror, or the young soldier trying the few French words he knows on a little girl in France, they all show a guileless side of humanity. Looking at his paintings, viewers will be tempted to reaffirm their faith in humanity, overcoming all cynicism. All you see in those paintings are the small joys and celebrations of life, every day scenes that bring a smile to your face.
These are not works that you look at and move on; these painting will hold you to the spot, wondering at what you are seeing. Each of them has a story to tell, that too in minute detail. There is so much to see in the paintings that you could see them again and again, and keep noticing new details.
And these are the stories of everyday American life. So much so, that one tends to think of a day to day idyllic scene as a ‘Norman Rockwell moment’! That is how much he has become a part of the American art scene.
This painting, titled, ‘The Discovery’, appeared on the Saturday Evening Post cover in 1956. The interpretation was that it shows the boy’s horror on discovering that Santa does not exist. In my personal opinion, that’s not it at all… I can almost read his mind… ‘Oh my god, what did these people do with Santa? Did they kill him?’ 🙂
For such a prolific artist whose concentration on his work was all-absorbing, he was also very organised. He will take multiple photos with models – often people from his own circle, including family members – and prepare meticulously to capture the exact scenes and emotions he wanted. He was also extremely careful in keeping his studio clean to the point of fastidiousness; his studio was swept and the paint brushes cleaned with ivory soap four to six times a day!
Movie legends George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are big time fans and collectors of Norman Rockwell’s art. The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C had held an exhibition, ‘Telling Stories Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’ in 2010-11.
Norman Rockwell was a very unassuming person. He claimed to be an illustrator rather than an artist. And when asked how much he was being paid for the covers he did for Saturday Evening Post, he response was, ‘twice what they are worth’! In that connection, it is worth mentioning that one of his paintings titled, ‘Saying Grace’ sold for 46 million in an auction in New York City in December 2013. I wonder what he would have said to that!
23 May 2014
If you are a first-time visitor to Toronto, you would have certainly got the suggestion to visit the Distillery District, considered a ‘happening place in town’! It is a fashionable area that is also a heritage site. Having cultural leanings, the Distillery District houses a slew of art and craft shops. It is also an entertainment hotspot with many restaurants and cafes to complement the ambience.
Located in downtown Toronto, near Harbourfront, the Distillery District is listed under the National Historic Sites of Canada. Originally, it was the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, which was founded in 1832 and which closed down in 1990. Since then, the area was preserved as it contained one of the rarest assortments of Victorian buildings and heritage architecture.
Later, the place was redeveloped into a classy and arty hub. This was done with the intention of keeping away the commercialization prevalent in the surrounding areas. This change proved transformational and the end result is now clearly visible in the district’s designer boutiques, design studios, art galleries, and high-end cafes. Once in, you are mesmerized by the magic of the red brick buildings adorned by green doors and windows. On googling, I found that the shade of green was called British racing green, a phrase originating from the international motor racing colour of the United Kingdom.
The hi-storied stone buildings have an aesthetic appeal. Spread over 13 acres, there are around 40 buildings and 10 streets. A short clock tower marks the center of the district. The last time I was there, people had put up tents to showcase their artwork, which was part of an art exhibition that was going on, along the main Trinity Street.
Sadly, we couldn’t take pictures of the articles inside any of the art boutiques or you would have wondered at the display of everyday objects turned into the most unique items, brimming with creativity. Inside the district were designer furniture shops, clothes boutiques, candle stores, jewellery stores, and also event management companies and performing art schools.
The place offers a variety of fine dining restaurants serving different cuisines such as Italian, Mexican, seafood, etc. A cocktail lounge and a bar and a grill restaurant completed this selection. We dined at a Mexican restaurant, Elcatrin Destileria, that was playing loud music while the waiters donned painted faces and looked scary. Apparently, it was for an event scheduled for the night. Wonder how many guests turned up!
We also saw many people stroll around the vicinity with a coffee in hand from the rustic-looking Balzac’s Coffee Roasters.
We decided that we would go to the Mill Street brew pub next time, a microbrewery situated there. I also noticed a new construction, a theatre named the Young Centre for the Performing Arts where, I read, that the Soulpepper Theatre Company performed their plays.
Exploring the distillery district was certainly a worthwhile experience, something I am glad I did!
20 May 2014
If anyone was asked to name the most heard of street – road, highway, boulevard, whatever – in the world, the universal answer will be ‘Broadway’! Reaching far back into history, and glorified in so many works of fiction and poetry, this thoroughfare could be the most identifiable single element of the great city of New York!
This is the oldest north-south arterial road in New York, existing from pre-Dutch times, when it was just a trail used by the native Americans. With the Dutch settling at the southern end of Manhattan island in 1620s, it became a country road extending north, beyond the gates of the settlement at present-day Wall Street. Today Broadway runs the length of Manhattan, starting at Bowling Greens in the south and moving out of Manhattan past 220th Street. (Actually, it extends further another 20 miles, to end at Sleeping Hollow in Westchester county, but it’s the Manhattan part that matters, right?)
Broadway could not be contained within the grid system of New York City roads, adopted in 1811, and goes diagonally for most of its way through midtown. That also explains the curious shapes of some of the buildings at Broadway’s intersections. A prime example of this will the Flatiron Building.
Starting with an impromptu parade on October 28, 1886 to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, Broadway has always been the place for parades. A parade could be to honour a visiting head of state or someone with a major achievement, or to celebrate a victory in a sports event or anything else significant. Thus did Broadway get the sobriquet ‘Canyon of Heroes’.
The new generation may not – will not – remember the quarter inch ticker tapes that carried the stock prices from the exchanges and spewed out by the stock ticker machine. As the lower part of Broadway has always been lined on either side by financial institutions and brokerage firms, they had a lot of this ticker tape lying around. So what was more natural than showering some of it on the procession going down on Broadway… yep, just like confetti! And thus did the parades on Broadway get the name ticker tape parades.
These days, the ticker tape parades go from Battery Park to the City Hall. And each parade is commemorated by a granite strip with the name of the person being honoured set into the sidewalk of the Canyon of Heroes.
Only, instead of the ticker tape, paper from the shredder is most often used!
Along the Broadway are Wall Street, Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street fame, Trinity Church, City Hall Park, Union Square, Times Square, Columbus Circle and Central Park, Columbia University, The Cloisters, and a host of other interesting places.
And these days Broadway has become a synonym for theatre in NYC! Mainly for the reason that the theatre district where the majority of the playhouses are located, is right on the Broadway. And from there, you have off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway performances as well! And if you want to snag some discount tickets, that can be done at the ticket kiosk at Times Square too!
Ticket booth at Times Square
Food trucks along Broadway, downtown
A random thought… wouldn’t it be great to do a full walking trip of the Broadway, from one end of Manhattan to the other? Say for example, start at Broadway Bridge at the top of Manhattan and walk all the way to Bowling Green… sounds awesome! So here it is… before this summer is over, I’m going to do that. It takes me around 15 minutes to walk a mile; 13 miles in a day will be easy-peasy! One more item added to the summer fun!
16 May 2014
I have not met many people who have had the opportunity to climb the Great Wall of China twice. So, I consider it no small privilege that I could. After all, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I got the opportunity to attempt this feat when I was in Beijing on an official trip.
The Great Wall of China, known as the Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li in Mandarin, was built between the third century BC and the 17th century AD along the northern border of the country, from Shanhaiguan in the Hebei province in the east to Jiayuguan in the Gansu province in the west. The estimated length of the Wall is 21,196 km (13,171 mi). Several rulers from different dynasties governing different parts of China, constructed varied sections of the Wall to fortify their empires against foreign invaders. This ultimately came to be known as the Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall is like a long winding stone trail snaking through the mountains. Two sections of the wall, nearest to Beijing, were open to the public: Badaling and Mutianyu. Located half an hour from Beijing city, the Badaling Great Wall is the most frequented and the time I went there, it was crowded owing to the tourist season, I presumed. It was certainly a stretch, ascending that steep incline with people pushing and shoving you. Yeah, it was that busy! I had taken a conducted tour which also included stopping at a tea house for some indigenous green tea.
Across the wall, watch towers and small fortresses are built, which were used by the army in olden times. Now, they serve as rest areas for the wearied. The highest point is 1,015 metres (3,330 ft) above sea level. If you happen to stop to catch your breath, you will find plenty of street food vendors, perched on railings, ready to quench your appetite. Many hotels and restaurants are also nestled in the foothills.
Our tour guide mentioned that whoever reached the top of the section would be honored as a ‘hero’ as it was a struggle to get there. Unfortunately, I did not make it since I gave up in the middle. The fleeting thought of using the newly-constructed cable car that takes you directly up the hill, did cross my mind. But it seemed like cowardice. I had already vowed to myself that I will complete the climb someday!
Climbing the Mutianyu Great Wall was more comfortable as the slope was easier to walk on. This was again an arranged tour with a guide. With just another visitor in addition to me, we had quite an interesting personal experience.
A private cab picked us up, took us around and dropped us back at our homes. This part of the Wall, being further away from Beijing, there were also not many tourists around. Mutianyu is perceived as the most beautiful part, with scenic landscapes spread across the countryside. It looked more natural than the Badaling Great Wall which seemed like a commercial tourist hotspot. It is also older than Badaling. The wall at this point is made of granite and is 7–8.5 metres high and 4–5 metres wide. Had a fun time walking around at Mutianyu.
13 May 2014
Soon after I had moved to the mid-town office (The salt mine I work at has offices all over the world!), I had taken a happy break from winter, going to work from our Bangalore office. So it had been a while since I was in downtown New York. Okay, five months, but this is New York and a lot can happen in five months! And recently when I went to meet a few friends there, it was like a new place… all exciting and interesting! And of course, I went on a lunch time walk. So this is for all my friends who used to share that walk in times gone by…
The first noticeable change was the new connection to the Winter Garden from the World Trade Center PATH station. Gone is the bridge and corridor overlooking the construction site at WTC. The high ceilinged concourse is stunning, with the pillars arching over, way above the pedestrians. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the concourse is part of the transportation center at the WTC, scheduled to open in 2015. The concourse will have shops lining the sides when whole construction is complete.
The Winter Garden is also being redone, of course, without changing the iconic basic structure.
The trees outside the winter garden always reminded me of candelabras in their winter state. And in the next week or so, those branches will be adorned with green leaf clusters, obscuring the structure of the branches, but providing such delightful shade to people taking their lunch break under them.
The trees have already started sprouting buds, even as last year’s dry seeds are still hanging on.
Squirrels are already busy starting their collection for the next winter. Come on buddies, don’t worry… winter is sooo far away!
It is a wonderful walk along the tree lined walkway to the battery Park, with river Hudson on one side.
I love the blue lights along the South Cove where one can climb up on the viewing towers to get a good look at the Hudson traffic and the Statue of Liberty.
And there are interesting art works as you continue past the South Cove. One of the art works always aroused speculation among us though its name was clearly written. I have seen people looking at it from all angles to see what the artist wanted them to see, instead of what a first look told them. Here is the artwork for you…
There is one willow tree that I take note every year; it is one of the first to sprout and it is ever beautiful with its delicate tresses waving in the breeze from the river.
At the corner of Battery Park is Pier A, originally constructed in 1886 and in use variously by the New York City Department of Docks and Harbor Police till 1992. It is the oldest historic pier in the city and is a designated New York City Landmark. Currently, it is being restored and will be home to an oyster bar and restaurant.
Charming is the apt word to describe the Manhattan skyline from this point. The red stones of the old buildings and the blue reflection on the new 1 World Trade Center tower look so well matched.
From the Battery Park, I turn to Broadway and the walk back. Of course, saying Hi to the Wall Street bull.
The history of that bull and how it came to be in that spot is a story connected to the illustrious past of this financial capital of the world. Another time…
09 May 2014
That was precisely how I felt when I entered Nathan Philips Square, the huge atrium surrounding Toronto City Hall to watch the 29th Khalsa Day Parade. The parade is organized by the Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwaras Council (OSGC) every year to celebrate Vaisakhi, the New Year in the Sikh community.
It is an expression of solidarity within the Canadian Sikh community, who invite everybody to come out and share the day with them. Around 85,000-100,000 people were estimated to have attended the event. Beginning at Exhibition Place at 1 pm, the parade reached Toronto City Hall via Lakeshore Blvd. Marching to drumbeats, the procession included school bands and carriages with posters of Sikh history and culture, intermingled with Canadian culture. Following them were spectators in their thousands, some of them singing in the true spirit of participation.
Delving into history, we find that Sikhism, as a religion, originated in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century. Toronto boasts of one of the largest Sikh communities in the world next to Surrey in Vancouver. ‘Khalsa’ is the name ascribed to the Sikh community. Canadian Sikhs form 1.4% of the population in Canada and 28% among the South Asians, according to Wikipedia, our everyday resort for facts of these kinds. Giving these a once-over, we can now move to the more interesting part, the food.
I was amazed by the awesome variety of free food available at the event. There were at least 20 food stalls serving different types of Indian food and beverage. And it was all for free! The whole day! Also, did I mention that it was extremely tasty?!! Frankly speaking, we were doing the rounds of the food counters most of the time, pigging out on savory and sweet stuff, drinking tea, smoothies, juice, etc. Even in the procession, volunteers were distributing pizza and juice.
Actually, I saw people making up doggie bags to take food home. What was best about this was that there were people from different cultures from all corners of the world. Everybody was welcome to the delicious food. People were there lining up, ready to snack on the readymade food. Well, that was another thing, the huge line-ups! The food stalls were overcrowded and there was some shoving and pushing. But it was all in good spirit!
Many top politicians and dignitaries also graced the occasion to pay their respects to the huge gathering. And probably to remind us to vote for them! Some of them stood out, donning traditional Indian clothing. This added a touch of novelty to the event, in the minds of people like me. There were also small-time fun activities for kids such as face painting and games. All in all, it was a day well-spent!
06 May 2014
This Sunday I knew I was going to Brooklyn… interesting things happening there. The Botanical Garden is celebrating Sakura Matsui (Cherry Blossom Festival) with traditional Japanese taiko drumming and martial arts, Japanese classical dances, an all-female marching band, anime rock from Tokyo and a samurai sword play… while the Brooklyn Museum is showing a number of very interesting artists including Ai WeiWei from China. The decision was made for me when the day dawned all chilly and windy… definitely a day to stay indoors. So the museum it was.
Brooklyn Museum is New York City’s second largest museum and has an extensive collection of antiquities from all over the world. The Egyptian, African, Oceanic, and South East Asian collections are so large that only a part of them can be displayed at any time. That too, with an area of 560,000 square feet!
In addition to the historical artefacts in the various galleries, the museum also displays works of contemporary artists. Currently on view are controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, artist and author Judy Chicago and street artist Swoon. Other prominent exhibitions currently on are Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, and Connecting Cultures. Fortunately, the museum allows photography in most of the areas, sans the flash of course. So that was a delightful Sunday indeed!
When looking at Ai Weiweiis art, the first thing that impressed me is the creative ways in which he has used art as an expression of his activism. The person speaking loudest from behind each of the exhibits at the show is the activist, not the artist. And that is essentially the power of his art.
Just take a look at this… six iron boxes the size of small rooms. You can step on a stool and look inside through a small square of glass. What you see inside is Weiwei while he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2011. These dioramas named ‘S.A.C.R.E.D’ show him sleeping, eating, showering, undergoing interrogation and sitting on the toilet, all under the watchful eyes of guards.
A strong criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan is presented in the exhibit ‘Straight’ which displays tons of long reinforced steel bars from the Sichuan earthquake sites, straightened and laid out on the floor like rippling water. Another piece of art ‘Snake Ceiling’ shows a giant snake made up of children’s backpacks to commemorate the thousands of children who died in the earthquake.
Seeing the crowd around his ‘painted vases’, I couldn’t help wondering about the value of political art as opposed to art for art’s sake. Especially in the context of the Dropping the Urn stunt and the follow-on act at Miami with a million dollar Ai Weiwei vase. 🙂
Swoon has made a name for herself as a street artist. And her show ‘Submerged Motherland’ is an installation consisting of a huge tree, made of pieces of cloth and old canal boats people lived on. The tree with white paper leaves in the typical swoon style, is a pretty sight. Though it is doubtful whether the artist would appreciate the adjective ‘pretty’!
Once an editor, always an editor; is that true? Anyway, I was walking through the Judy Chicago show and caught a typo – ‘she changed her same’ instead of ‘she changed her name’! Unfortunately, that was one part of the show where photography was prohibited. Anyways, I made a point of going to the Information counter and reporting the typo. Good deed for the day, done!
And any talk about this visit to the Brooklyn Museum will not be complete without this beautiful painting by Georgia O’Keefe… and not a single flower in sight! What a joy!
02 May 2014