Author Archives: Ria

18 Miles… and a Lifetime of Reading

Has it ever happened to you that you go a store to buy something… even before you enter the store, your attention is caught by the wares on display outside and you return with your hands full, delighted with your purchases, without even entering the store? No, it is not a riddle… that is what happens to me lots of times at the Strand Bookstore!
 
Strand Bookstore is one of the world’s largest bookstores. An independent bookstore in Manhattan, it is located at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street. Founded in 1927, on the no-more-existing Book Row (Fourth Avenue below Union Square), it sells all varieties and categories of books – new as well as used. ‘18 Miles of Books’ is their slogan, but I can’t believe it is only 18 miles…
 
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Strand Bookstore has these rows of book stands out on the sidewalk, piled up with books on sale at heavily discounted prices. And the surprise factor runs sky high… you have no idea what or who you will find there. So as soon as I get to the store, I make a beeline for these stands. It hasn’t happened yet that I have walked away from there empty handed, most often picking up as many as I can carry! And the actual book I came to buy gets postponed to the next visit.
 
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In addition to currently published books, Strand also deals in rare and out of print editions. Reviewers’ copies at reduced prices is another speciality of Strand.
 
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Have you noticed perfectly matched sets of books in professional offices, television and movie sets, etc? Most likely, they came from Strand. They will put together collections according to your specifications; all you have to do is, say how many feet of books you want. Yes, it is called ‘books by the foot’! And you can either buy them or if your need is temporary, Strand will lend them to you. You can also choose from a variety of subjects including art, biography, reference, law, music, theatre and classic literature.
 
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Though generally not a fan of the ‘gift shoppe’, I love the tote bags from Strand. Not only are they sturdy – strong enough to carry a bunch of books – they look great. And well priced too.
 
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If you needed a particular book – doesn’t matter whether best seller or out of print – Strand would be THE place to go looking for it. If they do not have it, the likelihood is that they will be able to get it for you. And a more friendly and helpful set of people I haven’t met. Most impressive is the way the staff knows about what is and is not on the shelves, despite the huge, humungous collection in the store. When I asked whether I could take pictures in the store, I mostly expected to hear ‘No way’, but was pleasantly surprised to be told, ‘Of course’.
 
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I used to think that the best place to work, that is if you are not a writer of some kind, 🙂 would be a library. But after many many visits to Strand Bookstore, I think I would love working there!

 

~Ria

 

When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.
Christopher Morley
 

15 Aug 2014

Some Advice for My X Readers

The only regret I have while writing this post is that I won’t be able to see the faces of my friends when they read this… the curled lips, disdainful eyes, and the general expressions of disbelief… Still, I’ll be hearing about it, I’m sure.

 

Seeking and receiving advice is a part of social life. So here is some advice for my readers with two X chromosomes. (And a word of caution to my XY readers: you take this to heart and grin too much, you do so at your own peril!)
 

  • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
  • Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

 
Hit the ceiling yet? Here, read the rest of it for yourself. BTW, this advice doesn’t come from me; I have no desire to invoke a lynch mob to come after me. This is apparently advice provided by a ladies’ magazine called Housekeeping Monthly, in the 1950s. To be precise, published on May 13, 1955.
 
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The third bullet point there, I don’t think it was intended as it sounds today!
 
And there is better yet to come. How about these?
 

  • Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
  • Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

And here is the full list…
 
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The last one is my favourite… yep, ‘A good wife always knows her place’. The only disagreement could what that place actually is! 🙂
 
This document in various formats has been in circulation for a while. And of course, its origin has been subject to deep enquiries. And the conclusion? It’s a fake! An out and out fabrication! Reasons for such an assertion are the facts that there was no publication with the name ‘Housekeeping Monthly’ and the picture used here has been taken from the cover of a magazine named ‘John Bull’ published in 1957. Also, the text of this has been circulating for a while before it first appeared in a published format.
 
So… considering that this was done as a kind of joke, who do you think would have come up with it? A man or a woman? Maybe it was a man, fingers on keyboard, in a daydreaming mood, indulging in a fantasy… giving words to his wishful thinking! Or could be a woman making absolute fun of what some men would expect from their wives if they could just make it so! What do you think?

 

~Ria

 

12 Aug 2014

Boston – the City of Firsts

The first public park, the first public secondary school, the first public library, the first State Constitution, the first regularly issued American newspaper… the first windmill, the first chocolate factory, and the first pub in the country… it will take a while to list all the firsts that belong to Boston.
 
The first public anti-smoking law (that too, in 1632!) was passed in Boston… the first woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. did so from the Boston University… the list seems unending.
 
Founded in 1630 by a group of Puritans, Boston is one of the oldest cities of the United States. Puritans were English colonists who arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries in America, dissatisfied with the church of England over the church’s tolerance of practices aligned with the catholic tradition. Boston played a key role in the American Revolution, being the scene of events like the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.
 
In addition to being an important port and center of trade and manufacturing, Boston is well known for its educational and cultural institutions. Above all it is an architecturally beautiful city. So when I got a chance to do a quick trip to Boston one of these recent weekends, I jumped at the chance.
 
The first place we stopped at was the Harvard University campus. Did I tell you that it is the country’s first college? The spacious campus with brown stone buildings impart a sense of peace and calm.
 
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The statue of John Harvard on the campus gets constant attention from visitors, particularly young ones. They are posing one after the other for photos with the statue that it is hard to get a click in without someone clinging to the statue’s foot.
 
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Did you notice how shiny it is? It is believed that touching the statue’s foot brings good luck. And what happens there at night? Read for yourself here.
 
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By the way, this statue is commonly called, ‘The Statue of Three Lies’, in the sense that contrary to what is said on the base of the statue, it is not John Harvard, John Harvard is not the founder of Harvard University, and Harvard University was not founded in 1638. Read all about it in the Harvard Summer Blog.
 
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That day, the weather had some harsh treatment in store for us… it rained for the better part of the day! Despite the rain, we managed to visit some real interesting places.
 
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Established in 1837, the garden has an area of 24 acres, with beautiful paths and formal flower beds. The lake in the garden apparently, always have two resident swans.
 
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A 15 minute ride on the swan boats – a special attraction of Boston – takes you around the 4-acre lake in the garden for an utterly peaceful time with picturesque views.
 
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Though we wanted to, we did not have sufficient time to visit all the stops on the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, brick-lined route that leads through 16 historically significant sites associated with the American revolution.
 
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The whole trail is marked by a red and gray brick path.
 
Any visit to Boston will not be complete without a look at the Boston Harbour, the scene of the Boston tea party, an event on December 16, 1773 where a group of patriots boarded a ship of the East India Company and threw chests of tea into the harbour, in protest against the Tea Act of May 1773. They were protesting – contrary to what many people understand today – not against taxation, but taxation without representation as the American colonies did not have a representative in the British parliament.
 
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The dark look of the sky that day somehow suited the memories of that historical day.
 
Boston has so many firsts to its credit, but I want to give it a ‘best’ on my personal account. The best clam chowder – ever! It was so great I have decided to look on my bookshelves for my historic Boston cookbook, handwritten no less, to find a traditional recipe to follow.
 
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And do you know who this is? Yes, Sam Adams, exactly like he is on the bottle! 🙂
 
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Boston has so many things to boast of, if it wanted to, but it will never do so because then it will have to change its spelling to ‘Boaston’! Yep, that deserves all the groans that it will garner, but couldn’t help it! 😉
 
And much to the chagrin of Bostonians, Forbes magazine rated Boston as the 9th ‘Coolest City’ in the country! Yeah, it’s hard when you are accustomed to being first and then have to put up with being 9th!

 

~Ria

 

08 Aug 2014

Trains… A Joy Forever!

There are some things in every one’s life that have a lasting charm… some threads that run through life, helping keep alight the joy of life even when things are not so good. Something that gets you excited about life itself. For me, it is trains. I love trains… I mean, all trains. Long distance trains, commuter trains, touristy trains… love them all. And never give up a chance to ride on one either.
 
I don’t know when I was bitten by the train bug. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I was not enchanted by the trains. When I was in third grade, we were doing a chapter on transportation. Teacher asked whether there was anyone in the class who had not travelled on a train. To my utter amazement, a number of hands went up. And I was thinking… where have you been living? Under some moss covered rocks? Lived thus far without a single train ride? The pity I felt for those kids was fathomless. Even at that age, a train ride was one of my favourite things.
 
As I grew up, I found out that there are kindred spirits all around the world. Known by various names such as railfans, rail buffs and train buffs, they form groups and go train spotting. Yes, it is a legitimate hobby, with many followers. Train photography, model trains, exploring historical railway tracks and trains, and collecting train memorabilia are some of the activities of these groups.
 
You have to admit… some of the old trains are a pleasure to see. And you never get bored watching a train go by. Whenever a car I’m travelling is stopped at a railway crossing, and there are groans from the rest of the party, I’m secretly thrilled though I have to hide my glee! 🙂
 
As fun it is to watch a train from the outside, it is equally interesting to watch it from the inside. I mean watching the people. Where else would you get such a golden opportunity to watch a microcosm of society, yourself unobserved? Some of the people are busy reading the newspaper or books, some are engrossed in prayers and rosaries, some keep yakking away to either their friends or on the phone… some even do their chores like opening the mail or doing their nails.
 
One thing interesting about New York trains – including the subways – is that you get to hear all kinds of languages. Sometimes when a conversation in a language I do not understand gets too loud for comfort, I have a trick to bring it under control. I pretend to be seriously listening and smiling or frowning at all the right moments. And the conversationalists begin to wonder… does this woman understand what we are talking? In no time, it is toned down and there is peace and quiet again.
 
Let me ask you a question. Imagine this scene… you get on a train, from a station in between, and you have a ways to go. All the window seats are taken. Some of the people have their bags and papers all spread around on the aisle seats and are sitting taking up most of the two seats. Others have kept their possessions neatly on their laps and the aisle seats are left free of any encroachments. Where would you opt to sit? Don’t you think that by that choice, you are rewarding bad behaviour? 😉
 
Whenever I go visiting a new place, I would find out if there are any interesting train rides around. Very often, there are. And I never let go a chance to ride on one of them. This is a train from St. Kitts, that went around the island and the old sugar cane farms, keeping the Caribbean always within sight on one side. It was wonderful!
 
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One of the activities of the railfans is called ‘complete riding’, which is to try and ride the complete railway network of a city, state, or country. It would be an interesting activity to consider during the fall in NYC.
 
I cannot end this note without a shoutout to a fellow railfan… you all have seen him, laughed with him and at him. And said ‘Bazinga’ with him! Yes, I mean Sheldon Cooper from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ whose love for trains is as intense as mine!
 
And the only reason I do not have an elaborate train set running on the floor of my apartment is that I live in a matchbox!
 

~Ria

01 Aug 2014

The Joys of Storytelling

The crickets in the bushes have started their chirping, though the last red glow of the setting sun is still lingering in the western sky. Dinner is already over, and the womenfolk are in a hurry cleaning up. The children, impatient as ever, have already ran off towards the village center, not waiting for mother or grandmother. Groups emerge from the houses along the street and move off, excited voices filling the air. The torches lighting their path in the swiftly darkening night all appear to be converging on one point… the village center. This is one night nobody wants to be away from there… yes, the story teller is visiting the village!

 
This is a scene repeated a million times over in a million villages around the world. The languages will be different, the stories will be different, the people listening will be different… but the enchantment of stories is universal. Every one of the ancient cultures has a story telling tradition, where good fairies and bad witches and folk heroes and sweet damsels all make appearances to charm an enthralled audience for hours together. Many of the classical dance and song forms actually follow the storytelling traditions.
 
As stories and storytelling largely moved over to printed books and later, to celluloid, the human interaction of the community storytelling is one of the sacrifices we made to the modern life. However, have you noticed the interesting new efforts to revive the storytelling traditions in the modern context?
 
Foremost among these is The Moth. Anyone listening to NPR even infrequently, will be familiar with The Moth Story Hour, where the stories from Moth stages are repeated on the radio. The Moth is a not-profit organisation dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Events are held at various parts of the country and abroad. Anyone can pitch a tale and selected stories are narrated in front of a live audience. People from various walks and stages of life participate in the event. The stories are as varied as the people who tell them, and of course they are very interesting.
 
Interesting in the sense that they will make you laugh, think, sympathise… even teach you something new, often all at the same time. I listen to them on the radio and have been thinking of attending one of The Moth StorySlams, an open-mic storytelling competition held in New York every week. One of these days… maybe even participate. 🙂
 
Another storytelling effort is StoryCorps, an oral history project, run by an independent non-profit organisation. Participants – there has to be two, as it is recorded as interviews – go to the StoryCorps booths and record the conversation. These conversations are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Since 2003, StoryCorps has recorded and archived 45,000 conversations. You can listen to a sampling of these conversations here.
 
Did you know that a National Storytelling Festival takes place in Jonesborough, Tennessee every year, during the first full weekend of October? It is conducted by the National Storytelling Network, dedicated to advancing the art of storytelling. It is a three day outdoor festival, with storytellers from all over the world participating and an estimated audience of over 10,000.
 
The National Storytelling Network conducts events all over the country, showcasing storytelling. Here is a calendar of events, in case you want to check them out.
 
Happy storytelling/ listening!

~Ria

29 Jul 2014

Gettysburg – A Journey into History

When we set out on a visit to Gettysburg National Battlefield, on a sunny day in early spring, I was counting on a glimpse into an eventful chapter of history… but the extent of it was an eye opener and way beyond my expectations.

The battle of Gettysburg was one of the biggest battles in the Civil War, fought between the Confederate and Union armies – the Army of Northern Virginia led by Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Potomac led by Union Major General George Meade.

This battle accounts for the highest number causalities in terms of people killed and wounded, and is considered the turning point when the tide started turning against the confederates. It was fought in and around the town of Gettysburg (obviously!) over July 1 to 3, 1863. Over the three days, wins in the battle shifted between the sides, but by the end of the third day, a decisive blow had been struck and General Lee’s Confederate Army was forced to retreat, abandoning all hopes of a victory in the north. Intermingled among the stories of valour and heroism and utmost sacrifice in the course of the battle, are the stories of brother fighting against brother, and friend turning against friend. Just imagine the emotional upheavals that rent the hearts of so many people!

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I was very very impressed with the way the battlefield is maintained and managed. All the sites and monuments are clearly marked and the auto tour is the most helpful facility. You stop your car at the clearly marked auto tour stops and put the CD in the car’s player. The commentary provides you all the information to understand what happened at that site and its relevance to the battle and the war overall.

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Markers along the way tell the stories of the events and memorials pay homage to individuals as well as fighting units. Most of the states that participated in the battle on either side have also dedicated memorials.

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Among the state memorials, the earliest established was the Virginia Memorial dedicated on 6 June, 1917. It portrays General Lee riding his horse, Traveller. At the base of the are shown various men who left their civil occupations to join the war… a professional man, a mechanic, an artist, a boy, a businessman, a farmer and a youth.

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The biggest of the memorials belong to Pennsylvania, dedicated in 1910. On top of the dome of the monument is depicted the Goddess of Peace and Victory. Above the huge arches are carved battle scenes honouring the four branches of the army, infantry, cavalry, artillery and signal corps. At the base, bronze tablets list the names of the 34,500 Pennsylvania soldiers who participated in the battle of Gettysburg.

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New York Memorial very impressive. Topped with an eagle and showing the state emblem, it displays the names of all commanding officers and their units, not memorialised individually.

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The North Carolina Memorial was one of the early ones, being dedicated in 1929. A wounded officer is shown urging his men forward, while he points to the enemy.

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The Mississippi Memorial showing two infantrymen, one mortally wounded and fallen down holding the unit colours, while the other is in the act of defending the colours using his musket as a club, was dedicated in 1973.

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The Louisiana Memorial depicts the Spirit of Confederacy holding aloft a flaming cannonball, rising over a fallen soldier – an artilleryman – who grasps a battle flag to his chest. This memorial was dedicated in 1971.

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I like the Maryland Memorial very much for its conceptual inclusiveness. It shows two soldiers from Maryland, belonging to the two sides, helping each other. Also, a bronze tablet at the base lists the Maryland commands in both armies. This memorial was dedicated on 13 November, 1994.

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You will also find a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, dedicated in 1965, to honour all the men who fought in Confederate armies and navies. It shows a colour bearer urging his fellow soldiers to come forward. On the base are inscribed the names of the states that formed the Confederacy.

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The 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg was celebrated with around 2,000 veterans of the Civil War from either side attending. All veterans were invited to attend the function with expenses paid. At the gathering, on 3 July 1938, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, a monument to peace and national unity, was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt. Made of Maine granite and Alabama limestone, the memorial is topped by an eternal light symbolizing the United States.

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Markers like these are present all over the place and provide you the most valuable information to understand what passed here, so many years ago.

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The different types of cannons used at the battle are on display at various locations at the site.

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A view of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

When you start talking about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular, there is so much to talk about… so many interesting snippets. How did General Lee’s estate and home in Arlington turn into the Arlington Cemeteries? What happened with the Schwartz brothers at the McLean House? Why did General Sickles often visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine? So much to talk about. Maybe another post, another day.

 

~Ria

25 Jul 2014

A Weekend in Stamford

Stamford, Connecticut… where the rich and famous live… so you must surely be one of them… that is how I used to tease my friend Archana (of The Perfect Zest), who lives there. Though I have visited her many times, never really found the time to explore the town. So when she invited me to spend a weekend at her place, with a promise to show me around, I jumped at the chance.
 
The town of Stamford was founded in the year 1641. Originally called Rippowam, after the local river, by the natives as well as the settlers, the name was later changed to Stamford – meaning stony ford – after a town in Lincolnshire, England. At that time, the settlement measured 128 square miles, though the area of Stamford at present has come down to 40 square miles.
 
In the early years, the town’s economy was based on agriculture, facilitated primarily by the New York City markets. After two centuries, the agri-economy slowly gave way as manufacturing picked up in the 1840s and Stamford became an industrial center. Today, Stamford is home to major corporations, financial institutions and capital market players.
 
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Downtown Stamford is quite impressive, in a charming and bit quaint way. And colourful… especially with all those benches, part of an outdoor sculpture exhibition consisting of 40 originally designed and painted wooden benches. These benches are placed throughout Stamford downtown and at the Stamford Town Center.
 
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Also, on Bedford Street in downtown, you will see a replica of the famous Wall Street Bull, created by the same artist.

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The afternoon saw us heading to the Cove Island Park for a well deserved relaxing time, tired after a long lunch downtown. The park is right on the shore, with extensive walks and sandy beaches.
 
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Sitting under the trees on a bluff overlooking the Long Island Sound, with the breeze wafting softly over the water, New York city and its salt mines where I toil every day seemed far away!
 
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Cove Island Park offers several facilities like walking trails and cycling paths, we were too lazy to even consider any of those. Except walk a bit along the rocky shoreline, watching the avid fishers – human as well as birds – in action.
 
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If anything could get up out of the lethargy, it was the thought of the beer and burger picnic we had planned. What a wonderful evening indeed!
 
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Next morning, we went for a walk in the Mianus River Park… yes, I said that with a straight face. 🙂
 
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The park is located between Stamford and Greenwich, Connecticut, and has several trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. At this season, everything is green, and so many shades of green too!
 
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50 Shades of Green!
 
The park extends to an area of 220 acres and consists of different terrains like low lying wetlands – with tiny brooks crossing the trails – and stony steep hillsides.
 
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It was pure pleasure walking the trails. One interesting feature of this park is the many rock outcroppings along the trails. Among the old growth trees reaching up to great heights, they really paint a fantastic picture.
 
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Like all weekends do, this one too flew away like in a daze. And to think that summer is on the wane… still there is time, and a heap of things to do!

 

~Ria

22 Jul 2014

Memories of Sandy

Today was a lovely day at the beach! A group of us friends spent the perfect weather day with burgers and beer and overall fun. We stayed till after dark, watching the lights coming on across the bay. From nowhere a cool breeze and a chill descended on us. Such a sudden change! Another reminder of the nature’s unpredictable ways… don’t know why, but my mind went back to the memory of another disaster, a couple years back.
 
I came back from Canada Sunday afternoon, and all the talk (on TV, people at the airport, the newspaper waiting for me) is about Hurricane Sandy, which was supposed to hit us on Monday. Our apartment building is right on the banks of Passaic River, only a road separating the two. And the river was sure to get some storm surge; only question was how much. Estimates went up to 9-11 feet. The lower floor of the building is the parking lot, which was sure to flood. So Sunday night we took our cars to a parking garage at a higher location. I went out and bought non-perishable food like rolls-buns-muffins-cupcakes-pretzels-chips-cookies-chocolates-peanut butter-jams-jellies-fruits etc. And lots of water too. Candles, LED lights, matches all ready.
 
The wind is going hard whole day; rain too. By around 6.30, the wind quiets down and I’m like ‘Okay, so that’s all. Much ado about nothing.’ Spot on at 7, the lights go off. So I light up some candles and settle down to read my book. My house windows face onto Reynolds Avenue, and in about 30 minutes I see cop cars with their lights on, on that road. They are placing traffic cones to block traffic on Passaic Avenue, the road in front of our building. So I take a light and go to the front corridor with windows facing front. What I see is water creeping in from the river and flowing along the road. Other people come out of their houses and we all go to the front door. Building’s emergency lights are working fine in the corridors and front lobby. By this time, quite a crowd has gathered in the lobby. Water level in the road keeps going higher and water starts to go up on Reynolds Ave. As we watch, water begins to flow into the garage. The emergency lights last one hour (no one expects a power failure to last more than that!) and now they go out. Pitch dark except for the flash lights and candles. And people whose cars were still in the garage get panicky and they start to move the cars out. Just then, the cops come into the building. They look around, go into the garage… and order us to evacuate. I had only one thing to say… ‘Yeah, right!’ And said that to the cop. There were others determined not to go into the raging storm. So we went back to our homes. Later the cops came banging on each door asking people to leave. I didn’t even bother to open the door.
 
From my window, I could see the cops evacuating people from the houses across the road. By this time it was 8.30. Really felt sorry for those people as surely the water will recede as soon as high tide gets over after 9. Six houses… The saddest was when they had to carry an old lady on a portable stretcher. The funniest was when one family came out with their dog without a leash, and the dog started running around in the water with four cops and the dog owners running after it! The cops had even brought a small boat! They tried using it, but the bottom kept scraping the road surface as there was not enough water. Soon they put it back on the fire engine which was standing by too.
 
At 10, when I was ready for bed, the river water had started flowing in the opposite direction, back to the river taking all the debris with it. At 12.30, when I got up to take a look, the road was completely dry.
 
For the rest of the week, we had no electricity. No fridge, no TV. No telephone; no way to charge the cell phone. The weather is very cold, and no heating. Fortunately, we survived all that. For a week, I wasn’t able to fill gas in my car as there was no gas and the lines were so long where it was available. No way to get to work for a week… even if we could get there the office was not open as parts of downtown Manhattan still did not have power.
 
And my beloved Jersey Shore was in shambles, along with all the beach areas in Queens and Staten Island…
 
Life goes on…

~Ria

 

18 Jul 2014

The Cloisters Museum and Gardens

Every person in the city, whether a native New Yorker or a visitor, has heard of the Metropolitan Museum. And a majority would have been there too, at least once. But that is not the case with the Cloisters, located at the top of Manhattan. Though it is a branch of the Met, not many people are familiar with this unique museum.

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The Cloisters Museum and Gardens is focused on the art and architecture of medieval Europe, mainly from 12th to 15th centuries.

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In fact, the whole place is designed on the architectural principles of a cloister in medieval Europe, though not modelled on any particular one, instead borrowing features from many.

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When you see the museum, you will realise the appropriateness of the name as cloisters were living spaces for the monks, attached to cathedrals and churches in medieval European history.

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The building with its stained glass windows and column capitals truly exudes an aura of grandeur and you feel like you are stepping into a long gone age of chanting monks leading a secluded life.

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Among the decorative and liturgical art collection from various parts of Europe on display are illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries.

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Most renowned among them are a series of seven tapestries, ‘The Hunt for the Unicorn’, commonly known as the Unicorn Tapestries.

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These tapestries tell the story of how the unicorn is captured and killed, yet alive again and happily living in captivity. Leaving aside the allegorical allusions aside, these tapestries are full of rich details. Over a hundred plants and flowers are shown in detail, each bearing a significance to the story. A trip to the Cloisters is worth just to look at this set of tapestries; they are so rich and wonderful.

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The gardens at the Cloisters are unique in the sense that they are aligned with the culinary arts. There are all kinds of plants, fruit bearing trees and herbs used in the preparation and flavouring of food. Also, there are many medicinal plants as well. These are plants that played a prominent part in the daily lives of the people living then.

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For example, you will see woad, weld and madder plants that were used in the dyeing of material in blue, yellow and red respectively. And remember, these are the colours used to colour the threads in the tapestries that we just spoke about.
 
Intriguingly, there is a section of the garden devoted to poisonous plants! Of course, these plants too had medicinal qualities in the right hands, but the medieval background reminds one of many a story of intrigue and treason where poison played a main role.
 
These gardens have been planned and laid out to replicate a cloistered garden in the medieval times, based on horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, and garden documents and herbals. A herbal, by the way, is a book containing descriptions of plants put together for medicinal purposes.

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And the view… Did I mention that the Cloisters is located overlooking the Hudson? From the walks around the gardens, the view of the cliffs across the river is awesome!

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Included in the view is the George Washington Bridge stretching across to New Jersey.

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Opened on May 14, 1938, the museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. And what better occasion than this to make a visit to the Cloisters Museum and Gardens? And the summer is the ideal time to pack a picnic lunch and spend a glorious day at this museum.

 

~Ria

11 Jul 2014

New England Trip Continued…

Sand Beach… a pretty little beach located in the Newport Cove. The proximity of steep rocky cliffs to perfect white sand, makes this beach so picturesque. And the water… I’ve seen such blue waters only in the Caribbean.

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The Park Loop Road runs parallel to the shoreline. As you climb along the rocky pathway going up from Sand Beach, you get an awesome view with cliffs rising right off the churning ocean waters. Lots of comfortable rocks to sit on and enjoy the view.

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Further along the coast, off the park Loops Road, is Thunder Hole. It is an extremely narrow cove between high cliffs which makes a sound like thunder when a wave rolls into it. The noise is produced because of a cavern below the surface of the water in the cove. The way the water bursts up in high sprays as tall as 40 feet is striking.

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Even as you approach it from far, you will see trekkers on Cadillac Mountain. There are many hiking trails going up the mountain, of differing lengths and difficulties. And some of our group wanted to climb up one of the trails, but the rest wanted to drive up. Of course, the lazy majority won and we drove up. 🙂

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Cadillac Mountain is named after French explorer and adventurer, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac. Mount Desert Island, the territory where Cadillac Mountain is located, was part of New France, the area colonized by France in North America, between 1534 and 1763. De Cadillac received the land grant for Mount Desert Island from the Governor of New France in 1688.

Before being renamed in 1918, the mountain was called Green Mountain. Topping at 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States.

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The views from the summit of Cadillac Mountain is awesome to say the least. You see far off mountains and islands shrouded in mist, giving them a aura of mystery. Really worth spending some time at the top.
During the fall and winter, many tourists go to the mountain summit to see the nation’s first sunrise.

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There used to be a cog railway running up the mountain, from 1883 until 1893. Guess where it was moved in 1895? To Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which we had visited the previous day!

We had decided to spend Independence Day in Bar Harbor. In addition to being a tourist center, in the late 19th century Bar Harbor was home to the rich and famous, who maintained luxurious estates with landscaped gardens. Among the town’s claim to fame is the fact that it is the birthplace of vice-president Nelson Rockefeller on July 8, 1908.

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The view on a walk along the Shore Path gives meaning to the native American name to the area, Pemetic – ‘range of mountains’ or ‘mountains seen at a distance’. The current name of the town comes from the sand and gravel bar, visible at low tide, at the rear of the harbour. The numerous ships – from large sailing ships to tiny boats – seemingly floating in the mist of the harbour render the view an ethereal quality.

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The coastline of Maine in this area is extremely rocky. You will see very many interesting rock formations around here.

We had dinner at a lovely place in downtown Bar Harbor. Though the waterside walk was crowded with people out to watch the fireworks, the weather was great and the walk very pleasant.

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Another encounter with the lobsters for a July 4th dinner… watching fireworks over the bay. A perfect end to a perfect trip!

 

~Ria

 

04 Jul 2014