Quand à Paris-1

When in Paris or Quand à Paris in french. Early June, the husband and me flew to the City of Love, hearts heavy with desire to bring to life the titillating words that I had absorbed from a plethora of books , to bask in the romance of a French summer and  attempt to satiate my ravenous longing for sugar in its many avatars. A week’s worth of vacation to make up for a decade’s worth of dreams. I attempt to share and narrate the magic that this darling city sprinkled on us, I hope you love it as much as we did.

Day 1

-Apprehension has captivated me in the flight and no, it is not aviophobia. After devouring and gobbling books about this enchanting city the past few years, the desire isn’t only to navigate and strut down those winding, cobbled streets. It’s more than that. I’m inclined to fit in, ramble in french, splash on that red lipstick, strap on those stilettos and feel at home.

-The taxi ride from the airport to our Air Bnb appartement in Rue Humblot begins uneventfully. However, many zinc rooftop sightings and a handful of traffic violations later, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the Iron Lady, La Tour Eiffel, a glorious manifestation of my dreams, standing tall, proud and bewitchingly beautiful. What follows however, isn’t so pretty. I bawl like a baby, face buried in the husband’s old backpack while he quietly caresses me, fully in the know of these disobedient but happy tears. After I regain composure, I wonder if Parisian cabs are more equipped to handle emotional outbursts, the likes of the above, presuming the likelihood of their frequency!

-The appartement is quaint, tiny, possessing a tinier kitchen. I assume the owner to be an equestrian or an enthusiast . The walls proudly display paintings of horses. The remaining walls are stacked with books and other collectibles. A large window opens to a busy street, the Paris metro chugging frequently. Fingers crossed, I take a quick peek into the minuscule kitchen, smiling as I spot the baking oven.
I attempt to chat with the owners in french, unsure if months of classes will payoff. But, thanks to my teacher and the homework I so religiously abided by, the language flows without interruptions. Admittedly, the words are simple, the sentences are short and blemished grammatically but the components are glued correctly much like the compartments of a train. I’m now overcome by a rush of optimism, enthused to immerse myself in this verbal dance of words, en francais.

-The first stop: The street is enlivened by a Sunday farmer’s market spilling with colours and fresh smells. Chaos, cacophony and conversations reign along with nature’s bounty.Under a tarpaulin sheet, crimson hued cherries, miniature radishes shaded in fuchsia, delicate strawberries, plump peaches, grande et petit tomatoes are organised in mounds and crates. A sight for sore eyes, a plethora of inspiration for a food lover. I request the grocer to bag some fruits; a Galette is brewing in my mind.

-We promenade to the Champs Elysees; the walk is très long. Fortunately, not one minute under the blazing sun is tiring or boring, it is instead, unraveling mysteries and satiating the imaginative mind, one cobbled street at a time. Of course, I bid goodbye to my heels and I rely on my very dependable, flat, ballerina shoes.
The Pont Alexandre Bridge spanning the Siene is studded with ornate nymphs, cherubs and the quintessential Parisian lamps. Woody Allen has magnificently captured it in the final scene of Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni walk under the rain and I had always wondered if reality channels the same charm. Turns out , it does and more, even if at this moment, the earth is parched beneath the afternoon sun.

-The Champs Elysees is car-free since it is a Sunday mais  siezed by throngs of people. The pavements house quaint patio-style restaurants, all flaunting red and cream woven chairs. We silently navigate through them all because I’m miserably sugar starved and nothing will appease this monster like French dessert. Lo and behold, shimmering in the sunshine is a soft green facade with gold gilded intricacies. C’est Laduree! Macarons, a passionfruit-chocolate bar and a raspberry-litchi-rose cream concoction are devoured with an intense fervor and a silent exchange of smiles between the husband and me. We are after all, at a temple, a temple where peity is reserved for macarons & its kin.

– Jardin des Tuleries near Place de la Concorde is peppered genrously with tall, boxed trees. Under the canopies of these trees are cafes enticing one with the luxuries of shade and respite from the sweltering heat. Glasses clink, plates clatter, wines flow.  A little girl glowers at her mother’s cigarette, clearly unmasking her distaste towards smoking, a couple transforms menu cards into makeshift fans and we take pinched sips of iced drinks After traipsing around the city for 15 kms, we concur that sipping on iced drinks isn’t doing the needful. Fortunately, nestled within the jardin is a pond and at its hem are lawn chairs with low hanging backs. An hour later I realise, a nap did do the needful.

Carousel at Jardin des Tuleries

-We head back to the apartment meaning for it to be a quick stop only to discover that all water for the entire building has been shut off. A phone call with our owner informs us that a leak in the basement has resulted in the above and it being a Sunday, the plumbers aren’t showing up anytime soon.
But, one never sulks in Paris; her magic is too entrancing. One instead, scours for grocery stores and lugs back 10 litres of water in bottles to make do for the next 24 hours simultaneously hoping the universe is transmitting telepathic pleas to the plumbers. One smiles and forgivingly succumbs to the magnetic attraction because,  C’est Paris! Oui?

-We are strolling by the greens in the confines of La Tour Eiffel, when delicious wafts engage our senses, shaking us off from our nonchalant walk. In a little concession stand, a man is making crepes. We stand in line and gaze at the sight like little children; he pours loose batter on a hot griddle and quickly using a spreader transforms it into delicate pancakes, then slathers them with generous spoonfuls of confiture de fraises. Dinner looks good.

-The evening light is gently masked by deeper hues. Dusk is working its way in signalling a time for the stars to shine and more importantly for the golden lights of the Eiffel Tower to shimmer by the Siene. And shimmer she does as if swarmed by a million fireflies. The city is crackling with magic and unfurling the sweetest dreams, trapping us into her cadences and we are not ones to be repelled. We let her sweep us…..We’re in Paris.

Reminiscing the holiday season – Toronto Christmas Market

We are moments away from the burgeon of spring and the blazing sun. The cold will soon be vanquished by bursting clusters of flowers dripping from balconies. The mellow, cloudy mornings and flurried side walks, snow peppered rooftops and tree branches sheathed in ice….the harbingers of winter will  depart for their temporary hiatus. Soon, sunshine will storm through diaphanous curtains and light will flood. It is a good, beautiful thing, I know. That doesn’t mean however that the gray skies aren’t…
It has dawned upon me that I have warily erased the memories of the magical Toronto Christmas Market and since I’m caught in a race against time, we now travel back to the holidays.

Continue reading “Reminiscing the holiday season – Toronto Christmas Market”

Diaries from an Italian Summer – When in Rome…

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 11th, 2016
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
– Giuseppe Verdi
Despite worn down by jet lag, I am buoyed by the spirits of travel & pull out my journal to begin this much sought after Italian love affair. Time waits for none, nor does an exhilarated mind. Let me clarify, while the art & history mighty impresses us, it’s the devotion for authentic Italian food that is consigning our brain on an overdrive. We’re determined and on a mission…..to feast on pizzas laden with bubbling, greasy mozzarella that stretches itself longer than a foot, to gorge on plates of gnocchi smeared with pesto sitting on a pool of olive oil, to dive into luscious tomatoes & creamy burrata drizzled with balsamic vinegar, to devour the plethora of flavours of sugary, sloppy gelato without the perils of petty shackles also known as calorie count and to sip on white wine as the blazing sun goes down.
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We saunter along narrow winding lanes & choked alleys studded with flagstones & Vespas, past the stupendous Piazza Venezia , amid trees crowned with cloud like bushes and make our way to Piazza Navona. Like we were aptly informed, the Piazza is scrambling with tourists and their selfie sticks. The husband encourages me to experiment with the camera. I give in and discuss angles & frames fearing I may not follow through. No I’m not a quitter, nor am I devoid of passion but my heart fails to stay in two places. I may fail to breathe in the sweet summer breeze, I may fail to silently people-watch , I may just fail to close my eyes and soak it all in. That said, it’s probably not the worst dilemma to be caught in….
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Afar, Bernini’s Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of Four Rivers(1648-1651) is standing undauntedly amid St. Agnes Church & Fountain of the Moor(also by Bernini). While an Egyptian Obelisk soars high from the center, Bernini’s intricately sculpted & bearded statues around represent the four major rivers from the four continents, Ganges from Asia, Nile from Africa, Danube from Europe & Rio De La Plata from the Americas. The fountain came to be in spite of protestations from the public. After all, the public paid for it in the midst of an ongoing famine!
I’m well aware that my knowledge of European history is but a tiny speck however landing here has piqued my curiosity beyond limits and my heart yearns to be be transported to a time when Bernini & his army hand sculpted this marble marvel of Baroque architecture. Yet another epiphany, yet another realization that learning how to extract teeth during day & memorizing anatomy during night was the biggest mistake of my life….
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The only intact Roman Temple in Roma, The Pantheon.The elephant grey concrete outside  is beguiling and one can be unprepared for the massive, startling interiors. Colossal, fit for the Gods, humming with silence despite swarming people & sealed by a tenacious dome that apart from being a perfect hemisphere, is also mammoth & perfectly in tandem with the lower structure. The haze of sunlight streaming through the central oculus lights up the air and everything in it, somewhat in an attempt to bringing the place back to life. The Pantheon is also a tomb.
Among many colonnades & sarcophagi rests Raphael, the renaissance artist whose frescoes have bathed the Vatican Palaces with colour, splendor & history.
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Rome’s romance with fountains ushers us to the Trevi Fountain. If truth be told, a horde of people lead us to it so much so, I bravely switch off the GPS on my phone. We arrive close by to hear the sounds of gushing waters and rush to see Nicola Salvi’s alluring masterpiece in Baroque art. The fountain is an homage to the God of Sea. On either side are two horses that depict the two natures of the ocean – calmness & agitation. In the center, rises the God of Ocean himself, overlooking the waters. On the right is an enormous vase aka Ace of Cups. Legend says that a barber managed to irritate & criticize Salvi to such a great extent  that he sculptured this vase to as a means to protect & hide his work. The entire creation is a dance, a dance of imaginary creatures & nature, all harmoniously blending with the blue waters.
The husband, with enormous difficulty scours for a spot for himself and his tripod while I fend for an inch of space on the encircled, severely crowded metal seats to rest my weary legs. Surges of people arrive by the second but no amount of chaos & frenzy is strong enough to drift my mind away from the calm of this enchanting fountain. I sit for hours while the husband gets his heart fill of pictures and not a second am I weighed down by manacles of boredom.
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For all my life, I’ve wanted to live a Parisian life. Accepting that it’s too far fetched, I resorted to being a tourist someday. But, when the husband casually popped the question, “Where in Europe?”, I caught myself blurting, “Italy”. I realized Dan Brown & Robert Langdon had gotten in my head way more that I can imagine.I now speak of Bernini & Michelangelo like they’re old friends. Speaking of books, I owe a ton of gratitude to my father. Daddy as I call him, introduced me to the world of books, case in point, Asterix & Obelix. As Goscinny & Underzo  painted pictures of an old Rome, I reveled in adventure after adventure whilst taking in comical drawings of the Pantheon, the bush like trees & Emperor Caesar, with no clue that many years later I would reminisce these days as I walk the Roman flagstones.
To be continued….

To read the previous part of this journal entry, please visit HERE
Ciao!

Diaries from an Italian Summer- Touchdown, Rome

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 10th, 5pm
The afternoon sun blazes in all his might with no respite for weary pedestrians. The deluge of light is blinding. We don’t have the luxury of complaining though, come December we look high and low for the slightest hints of warmth.
We trudgingly haul our suitcases to spot the usual “sea of blue”that engulfs Bremner on summer afternoons. Torontonians donning Blue Jays jerseys and basking in the glory of the baseball team is akin to India worshiping Sachin. Cautiously, we snake the wheels of our luggage amid many sneaker laded feet and hasten to get away. Familiar wafts of grilled hot dogs fill the air and although I’m a vegetarian, it dawns upon me that I might miss this present home in the coming few days.
We’re rushing to embark Toronto’s glossiest train ride to the airport, the UP Express. We’re headed to Rome.
The husband’s roaring snores & Mindy Kaling’s ‘Who’s Hanging Out With Me & Other Concerns’ keeps me company as the aircraft jets across skies for eight long hours.The thud of landing is accompanied by a boisterous applause & an even louder cheering…For a tourist, this gesture says much about the country that one is about to enter, the people that one is about to meet. The heart begins to relax as all anticipations vanish and we happily disembark…

The Air Bnb apartment that we opted for, instead of a regular hotel room requires me to walk up seven flights of stairs. While I don’t mind the walk, the husband doesn’t mind the ridiculously claustrophobic elevator with it’s walls lightly but eerily grazing his arms. We meet at the doors of apartment knowing fully well that this will be tradition for the next three days in Rome. I am never getting into that elevator!

Marissa & Maurizio, the owners, have done beyond a splendid job with the apartment space. The roof is slant and at times may require a “bend and walk” routine but I’m not complaining because it effortlessly lends a fairytale like aura to the space. Vibrant morroccan cushions and table cloths are strewn about in the neatest fashion and dainty flowers in little white vases have made a home on the coffee table. Maurizio, while giving us the tour saves the best for last. The apartment occupies a tiny space on the terrace, the rest of the space embedded with green lawn grass, white patio chairs and pots bursting with pink & lavender flowers. The magic however is the view.(More about that later.)

The kitchen is equally thrilling. An espresso maker, that I fathom will come of use owing to the jet lag,  a checkered tablecloth and a basket of fruits & pastries steal my attention while Maurizio introduces us to it’s ultra modern fittings. I catch a quick glimpse of the Ikea colander and pasta pots huddled together and feel an idea bubbling in my excited mind.
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The idea of cooking pasta in Italy, using local ingredients is invigorating to me and after a spot of sightseeing, we make a pit stop at the grocery to forage for the freshest tomato & basil. The glorious wall of pasta there makes me want to squeal like a child in Disneyland. At the apartment, while my sweet sous chef assists me, I crush canned tomatoes and gently pluck gorgeous cherry tomatoes from their vine. As they bubble up, I drink in the aroma of basil and toss them into the sauce. Sprinkles of fresh ground pepper & sea salt make their way. Half a pound of cooked spaghetti is then dunked in. The process and the result are divine however, I take no credit. The juiciest, incredibly luscious tomatoes and the heavenly aroma of basil are the real superstars here.IMG_7217

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The terrace beckons us to move our dinner outdoors.The marble dome of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore rises high into the sunset sky painted in rich tones of orange.The church bells ring and the aroma of basil lingers in the air. A silent breeze brushes against us as we smile, we are savouring more than just spaghetti. We’re in Italy….

More cobblestone walks, ambrosial food & enormous history coming very soon….

A Love Story with New York City – 1

The grey, cracked & decrepit sidewalks, the swarm of people scurrying past, their minds as crammed as the streets. The million food trucks & hot dog stands suffusing the air with wafts of warm food that  admittedly I’m not a fan of, being a vegetarian but saw myself yearning for the same warmth in the crisp New York winter. The roads choked with teeming traffic, the sunshine-bright-chrome-yellow taxis not just driving but blazing by, they probably imagine they’re part of a race car event. The subway stations: the most efficient of labyrinths so much so, we’ve ended up in the wrong destinations at times more than once. Having said that, they make for the best escape from the winter winds & will let you revel in the best musical entertainment in those few minutes of wait time. The steam grates aka plumes of steam arising from manholes. Throw in some rain, a man in a hat & trench coat and voila!, you’re on the sets of a 1950’s suspense thriller. Later I learnt that the steam is actually the by product of electricity generation. The Pizzas, oh the Pizzas!, slices as big as the  paper plates they come in but sinful, cheesy, greasy & divine.
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The glorious Empire State Building (West 33rd & 34th street). Aside from standing proud amid all the hustle bustle, also the reason for an everyday ritual at our home in Jersey City: spotting the colors it drapes on itself, red, pink, purple, the Indian tricolors on August 15th. If it happened to be a lucky day, then fireworks lit up the skies against the backdrop of the glittery New York skyline. We didn’t just admire it from afar, we rid the elevators to the 86th floor one afternoon & treated ourselves to sweeping views of Midtown Manhattan, the green of Central Park, the blue of the Hudson River, ant-people & toy-cars. Along with a burgeon of skyscrapers that compete to see “Who’s the tallest?” & conjoined with a sparse breathing space, there are some that stand out with hardly any effort aka, the ornamented spire of The Chrysler Building.
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If you’re visiting/live close to NYC, then you go to Central Park. You go in the 100 degree Fahrenheit summers to get some respite in the calming lush of greens. You go to ride the bicycle along it’s vast expanses and realize it’s so much bigger than your imagination can fathom, you realize by the end of it you’ve arrived at another corner of the city. You walk, jog, get some exercise and then go to listen to musicians whilst gulping ice cream after ice cream. Then, after 3 months of hot & humid, fall arrives and you had no clue the beauty of this place could triple in a trice. Seas of ochre & sienna brushed dried leaves cover the ground and the slightest breeze can beguile you into being on the sets of a Karan Johar movie.
(On a side note, if you to appreciate jaw dropping views of Central Park, watch Gossip Girl!XOXO)
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Image Source: Google
Summers in New York City are synonymous with outdoor movies at Bryant Park on the 40th Street. A weekday evening, with a couple of friends we sat back, relaxed & watched Audrey Hepburn in the Roman Holiday. Although, I have to confess, we arrived late because we had to have the Margarita Pizza from Pronto’s (obviously!) and were forced to sit way back. We spent the next 2 hours craning our necks trying to comprehend bits of the movie but we still had our fun and made a plan to visit again. Never happened. 3 years later, I watched the movie on my laptop & fell in love with Audrey.

The Grand Central Station on 42nd Street  as the name perfectly defines has never been a train terminal for us but rather a place to delve in grandeur & history. We would go to repeatedly admire the sprawling blue astronomical ceiling with stars & constellations,to whisper in the Whispering Arch, where whispers from afar can be heard crystal clear.( To learn more about the the secrets of the Grand central, go HERE )
One of these casual visits, we also witnessed a romantic proposal, the man organizing a mini flash mob to woo his lady into marrying him…needless to say, she said YES!
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Clearly, I can’t stop! The little things, the big things, there’s so much more. I can go on & on & I will…Stay tuned for Part- 2.

Where all the lights glisten…Times Square, NYC

“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
The lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,
New York”
Jay Z & Alicia Keys have hit the mark in ‘Empire State of Mind’! Manhattan was a mere five miles from home (Jersey City) & we didn’t really have to wait for the weekend for a rendezvous. I’m sometimes a victim of frayed memories, remembering the special moments & willingly omitting the rest but never with Times Square. The  unremitting burgeon of lights, the glamour, the electrifying joy….every bit is firmly etched in my mind. I admit, natural beauty, silence & calm have their perks & have a way of rejuvenating but there are times when a blast of euphoria helps too. Sometimes, all you need to cheer up is to watch happy people, drown in the deluge of glinting lights, devour greasy food and shop till you drop, all of which one can easily indulge in at the Times Square.

Here’s what I brought back…..
I remember having a celebrity moment when I saw myself up a mammoth screen draped atop a store. Although, I have to confess, giggling & jumping about waving hands, doesn’t really scream “celebrity”.

I remember shopping like a maniac at 2:30 AM with a bunch of cousins at Forever 21. It was more the thrill of being able to shop at midnight rather than actually wanting something. But, we girls do that, right?

I remember cuddling with the husband on the neon red steps after being shot from all the walking. Not that I needed a reason but the crisp New York autumn breeze sure helped.

I remember taking a picture with a shaggy Red Muppet. I come from the land of Amar Chitra Katha & Malgudi Days, ignorant of who a Muppet is. But he looked adorable & so what if his woolly costume was a little old?

I remember Batman rescuing me from a couple of villains. Let me rephrase that. I remember a guy pretending to be Batman, imploring us to take pictures and swinging me right into his arms.I’m not complaining, this is as close to Christian Bale as it’ll get.

I remember a perpetual yearning to visit the Starbucks reveling in the midst of all the action. The throngs of people striving for a cup of coffee in a moderately claustrophobic environment constantly put me off. Maybe another time?

I remember venturing into the world of M & M’s despite having a clear distaste for them. But, let me tell you, I’m a big fan of cheesy photographs with round, smiling faces! I also  sanctimoniously revere organizational & color coding skills that assuage the OCD side of me, which happens to be in abundance here.

I remember the luminous billboards & marquees, NYPD in navy blue riding sturdy horses, the thrums of people handing out pamphlets for comedy shows, the sounds of laughter & glee, the frenzy, the lights , the lights, the lights…..
Take a look,

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Highline Park, New York City

New York City is not just a place, it qualifies to be a phenomenon. One visit and one can’t help but fall in love….And with that, I once again begin my NYC Series in the blog. (“Once again” because the Toronto winters had prompted me to long for the the Cherry Blossom in Brooklyn.)
The glitz & glamour of Times Square, the romance of the Empire State Building & the magnanimity & allure of Central Park can wait because this post is about a less spoken, much needed,  interesting asset to the city, The Highline/The Highline Park. The Highline in the West Side of Manhattan is a 1.45 mile linear park, 30 feet above street level & WAS in fact a railway line. The railway line has been entirely transformed into a public park since 2009, replete with benches, prolific greens & flowers, live music & the primary requisite of all parks, an ice cream shop to aid in dousing the summer heat! Although the park is owned by New York City, it is operated & maintained by Friends of the Highline, who are in fact responsible for protecting the line from demolition. Continue reading “Highline Park, New York City”