Monday, March 13, 2006


This is an excerpt from a piece called "Just Say No To Rugs" by Dave Barry, Pulitzer winning humor columnist. He wrote for the Miami Herald till recently (and is now on sabbatical), and has published several books. In my book, he's one of the funniest people in the world.

With all due attribution, I can't help but post this excerpt. It had me in splits for a full ten minutes after I read it. Because I can see myself (and several others I know) doing exactly the same thing, in all seriousness.


Mousse was a Labrador Retriever, which is a large enthusiastic bullet-proof species of dog made entirely from synthetic materials. This is the kind of dog that, if it takes an interest in your personal regions (which of course it does) you cannot fend it off with a blowtorch.

So anyway, Mike and Sandy had two visitors who wore expensive, brand-new down-filled parkas, which somehow got left for several hours in a closed room with Mousse. When the door was finally opened, the visibility in the room had been drastically reduced by a raging down storm, at the center of which was a large quivering down clot, looking like a huge mutant duckling, except that it had Mousse's radiantly happy eyes.

For several moments Mike and Sandy and their guests stared at this apparition, then Mike, a big, strong, highly authoritative guy, strode angrily into the room and slammed the door. He was in there for several minutes, then emerged, looking very serious. The down clot stood behind him, wagging its tail cheerfully.

"I talked to Mousse," Mike said, "and he says he didn't do it."


I haven't found this piece of his online, but you can find other stuff he's written (if you don't already know) here.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Tagged again, darn it.

Like a Rohrschach test, these responses are straight off the top of my head. Let's hope you find them interesting, Shakey!

Seven things to do before I die - not that I expect this to happen - I think I'm immortal, ineffable and so on. Still...
  • Get back to playing the piano.
  • Travel through the Congo.
  • Ditto the Savannah. Kenya, here I come.
  • Also Latin America.
  • Learn to play the saxophone. Alto sax a la Boots Randolph and Fausto Papetti.
  • Win a Booker. Or similar. (Modesty is not my virtue. Practicality and realism are not my mores.)
  • Swim with dolphins. Or whales (though preferably not Orcas)

Seven things I can't do:

  • Abide cruelty to animals
  • Make small talk
  • Play bridge (despite years of begging people to teach me)
  • Listen to music - any music - without tapping my feet or trying to sing along
  • Deal with dishonesty / a particular brand of smarmy sucking-up
  • Refrain from making cooing noises when faced with puppies
  • Fall asleep without reading for a while (unless excessive alcohol renders me unable to see straight, and even then, I try, while my crossed eyes try in vain to follow my finger across the words)

Seven things that attract me to Europe (really? Does it have to be Europe, or can it be any place that fascinates one? Oh well, going with the flow)

  • Language. Spanish, specifically.
  • Old looming cathedrals
  • History
  • My colonial roots
  • Wine & cheese
  • Adventure, or the hope of it
  • Je ne se quois

Seven excellent books:

  • To Kill A Mockinbird - Harper Lee
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
  • The Great Indian Novel - Shashi Tharoor
  • The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
  • Impossibility - John D. Barrow
  • The complete Winnie-the-Pooh (OK, so it's not "a" book and I'm cheating. Still.) - A. A. Milne
  • Falling Off The Map - Pico Iyer

Seven good movies:
  • Jungle Book (Disney animated)
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • The Usual Suspects (speaking of which, almost every Kevin Spacey movie I've ever seen)
  • Monsters, Inc. (yes, I'm an animation freak)
  • The Untouchables
  • Those Magnificent Men And Their Flying Machines
  • Beckett

Seven people on whom to inflict this!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Behold the Bootle

Yet another silver Japanese car in a sea of silver Japanese cars.

But isn't it sleek and shiny? :)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Apropos of nothing, here are some photographs.

Long straight roads on deceptive blue-sky sunny day (with bitter cold and frosty winds outside), we raced an Amtrak for a while. And out-ran it. But there's something magical about shiny steel train against flat, bland countryside.

The bridge on the mighty river Missouri. Perhaps it's the wrong season, or the wrong place, but it didn't seem that mighty. I've always been fascinated by bridges, though, so this picture is really my favourite from the whole trip.

Blue skies, bay and mud-brown earth. Coffee and music as we speed by. Heaven in a package. Not much of a picture, but go with it, go with it.

The St. Louis gateway arch, designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1965, towers 630 feet above the Mississippi river, commemorating America's westward exploration in the 19th century. Taller than the Washington Monument and more than twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, even the giants from Mount Rushmore, had they bodies proportionate to the sie of their heads would be able to stroll through the arch.

The romance of the arch, however, lies in the idea of pioneering expeditions to the west, in intrepid explorers in boats and on horseback, crossing the river to go where no man they knew had gone before.
The Arch refused to fit into a single frame, no matter how we tried. Here's how it looks from below.

I had thought the view from the top would be something spectacular. It wasn't, in the normal sense of things. But for the first time, I could see the curvature of the earth. I checked this photograph with a ruler, just to be sure I wasn't imagining it. Yes, you can really see the curve.

Photographs courtesey R.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Missing the Mardi Gras

The Plan:
Fly to Chicago on Friday evening, meet a couple of friends, then drive out to St. Louis early Saturday morning in time for the Mardi Gras parade. Stay overnight in St. Louis, drive back Sunday morning. See the city (if you can ever see a city in one evening) on Sunday. Fly back early Monday morning and head straight to work.

The Problem:

Meeting friends on a Friday evening, and expecting to drink sufficiently little that evening to wake up sufficiently early the next morning.

The Reality:

  • R wakes up at 6, as planned, and begs, grovels, for an extra hour's sleep. Since he's going to drive, and since we're all in the same shape as he is (but too dignified to beg), we aquiesce.
  • R wakes up at 7, and begs for another hour. We agree to half an hour.
  • By the time we're all ready, it's 8:30. After stops to buy coffee and food and for smokes, we reach St. Louis finally at 2:30 p.m. The parade is over, and only its junk remains - debris from the floats, broken beads on the ground. We settle for being tourists, go up in tiny steel cubicles to the top of St. Louis' arch. The view is strangely disappointing, as the trip has been so far. As must be, when strangers decide to be friends taking a trip together somewhere. Starving after no meals throughout the day, there is, really, only one option: alcohol.

The TrainWreck:

We walk into "TrainWreck" - a restaurant / pub / nightclub, and things begin to get happy. Copious amounts of beer and vodka are consumed, happy people at the next table join us, and we all get up and dance (around the tables, thankfully, and not on them), and exchange phone numbers. S calls from Delhi, and I speak to him for half an hour, but have no idea what we spoke about the next day - I only have a vague memory of using the F word fairly often.

R wants to drink on the way back, so I drive back part of the way on Sunday. Open roads, miles of nothing all around, wonderful driving. R plays DJ, inserting CDs and going ga-ga over some song before losing patience and skipping to the next one, till we are at the end of our tether. (It is annoying, when singing along loudly and tunelessly with Billy Joel, to suddenly find oneself singing loudly and tunelessly on one's own while the CD searches for the next track.)

The Madness:

Chicago is big, and R doesn't know his way around yet. But we manage to find our way to a comedy club, where there are some decent performances, then onto downtown Chicago. As we drive around, R, who can barely see straight by this point, shrieks at us desparately to keep our eyes open. "Quick, what's that road? what's that road? Is it Michigan?" "We're on Michigan already, aren't we?", I ask, poking my head out of the window to check. "Shit. OK, so is it Congress Parkway?" And so we navigate on.

The Sight-Seeing:

And so, if you visit Chicago, let me recommend that you see (based on my somewhat unconventional tour, which comprised coming across things more by accident than design, and my even more unconventional and somewhat pickled tour guide who made up for his lack of information with liberal doses of scorn, alternating with careless inventiveness) the Millennium Park (which we saw from a distance, and which, as per R, "has some structures and shit"), the famous Chicago theatre (which is "famous for some shit") and the Magnificent Mile (a mile of road on Michigan avenue, famous for shopping, but with some old architecture that is interesting). The Millennium Park, R says, letting go of the steering wheel and gesturing grandly with his arms to the near-detriment of the car in front of us, is the biggest park in the US. P and I both look suspiciously at him. "Bigger than Central Park?" "Oh, Shentral Park!" says our guide, "yeah, that might be bigger. OK, sho it'sh the shecond largesht." Moments later, he tells us that Chicago's Hard Rock Cafe is the second oldest in the US. A moment of thought, while we just look at him suspiciously. "I jusht made that up", he tells us proudly. "Do you even know this city?", I ask him. "Not really", he says in rare moment of honesty, following it up immediately with another whopper. But to do him credit, he does find his way to the House of Blues (where we missed B B King playing the previous night), entirely by the hit-or-miss method of "that looksh short of familiar, let'sh go that way", and eventually does manage to find his way back home.

The Epilogue:

I sleep through the ride to the airport the next morning, and all the way back on the flight. So we missed the Mardi Gras parade, and so we didn't end up doing anything we couldn't have done in New York or Chicago... but it was a fun trip anyway. And it's fun to have strangers become friends.


Pictures are here

Further update: cross-posted here