Shades Of Words


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The Diary of a Provincial Lady

It takes a truly talented mind to take the day to day life of a country house wife and convert it into a journal of light satire and human observation. It is a little wonder why The Diary..was a bestseller when it was published in 1933 and why the reprints are still so popular.

To be honest, when I got through the first fifty pages or so, I wasn’t entirely impressed – it did seem like a 30s chick lit. Breezy, funny and a little bitchy. Its only when I started paying attention to the little notes to self in every other “diary entry”  that I realized the depth of the book.

Here is one of my favorite parts

“..financial situation being what it is, and moreover rapidly approaching when great aunt’s diamond ring must either be redeemed or relinquished forever, there is nothing for it but to approach the Bank on subject of overdraft.

Am never much exhilarated at this prospect, and do not in the least find that it becomes less unpleasant with repetition, but rather the contrary. Experience customary difficulty in getting to the point, and Bank Manager and I discuss weather, political situation, and probably Starters for the Grand National with passionate suavity for some time. Inevitable pause occurs, and we look at one another immense expanse of pink blotting paper. Irrelevant impulse rises in me to ask if he has other supply, for use, in writing table drawer, or if fresh pad is brought in whenever a client calls. (Strange divagations of the human brain under the stress of extreme nervousness presents itself here as interesting topic for speculation….”

Don’t we all let our minds wander during conversations to ask such questions to self? And how can you not laugh out loud when you read something like this??!!

As the novel in the form of someone’s personal journal, the writing style is highly informal and in some cases quite ungrammatical. Sometimes that can be a tad annoying, but keep reminding yourself that you are reading someone’s thoughts and they are not going to be structured. ( And to write a book this way is quite remarkable, in itself!)

The book truly is delightful and full of interesting characters. There is Lady B, the ostentatious, snobby and condescending neighbor, the talkative but sincere Vicar’s wife, glamorous Rose and the theatrical Madamoiselle. Yes, most of the interesting characters are female, as they clearly reflect the sphere of interaction of an English country lady.

Then there is our protagonist – the provincial lady herself. Though she is clearly an intelligent person, she is often fraught with spasms of inferiority as she compares her lives to people richer than her. She is devoted to her children and household, but often, aspires for the single and glamorous life of her friend Rose. She is far from perfect, but what makes her truly interesting, is that she handles all the drama in her life with wit and a pinch of salt.

My mother has been a housewife all along, and though it wasn’t in the British countryside, her problems are pretty much the same. Dealing with domestic help, financial issues and trying to run the house in the budget, unexpected guests and working for community clubs. If I told my mother to read this book , she would say – this is my life! Maybe I should contemplate writing – “Diary of an Indian Housewife” – but am sure even if I had all the material I wouldn’t have half the wit.

Although not in the same league of Elizabeth Gaskell whose satire on country life makes for brilliant prose, Delafield’s narrative is contemporary and close to the heart. I would not say this is for everyone, but if you read early 20th century British fiction you would enjoy this.

Trivia: Delafield was the pen name for E.M Dashwood who herself was a prolific contributor to the Time and Tide publication mentioned several times in this book

 


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The Princess and the frog

As the winter keeps you at home, it’s a great time to catch up with movies that you have wanted to watch but could never make time for. The Princess & the frog is one such movie. I had seen its trailers a few months ago…but never actually got around to watching it.  I am getting a bit bored of the animation genre – the graphics are improving but sadly not the story lines. Every movie, not matter the format needs a good script. I think the last animation movies that I enjoyed were “Kung Fu Panda” & “Wall-E”.
To be honest, I did not have very high expectations from this movie – which is probably the reason that it surprised me. This contemporary version of The Frog Prince with many new twists, is based in New Orleans. It is the story of Tiana, a young and hardworking waitress who wants to own her own restaurant some day. There is also pennliless Prince Naveen, who is trying to hook a wealthy souther belle. Thanks to an evil voodoo doctor, their paths cross ways. Tragically turned into frogs, they travel through the bayou trying to find the anti-curse for their condition.
The movie is more interesting than what it sounds and less bizarre. It was a nice change to see a classical 2d animated Disney movie. The script was quite funny and bit melodramatic as it is with any Disney story. The music was great and heavy on jazz. My two favorites songs being – “Down in New Orleans” and “Almost There”.
I went to New Orleans at Mardi Gras last year and have a certain impression of the city. I think what I really liked the most about the movie was that it really did capture that essence of New Orleans. It also made me want to go back. there.


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Exam

Having a membership with Netflix has completely transformed my entertainment experience. I have acces to legal high quality video content of world class movies, documentaries and TV shows. I can play a lot of the items on the Netflix catalogs instantaneously and for the rest I can just rent the DVD. No I am not advertising..but am a truly happy customer.
However, with a lot of choice, its very difficult to decide on one thing. Especially on  a Friday evening when you just want to lay back and enjoy. Kapil shortlisted “Exam” after half an hour of deliberation and to be honest I was quite skeptic as the movie started. The first few minutes were very close and very slow shots of different people getting ready for some sort of event.
The premise of the movie is set soon enough. We see 8 people file into a closed sealed room where they are clearly to go through some sort of test. It is soon established, that these are the final candidates for a very coveted position and have reached the final stage of their assessment program. The last task is cryptic – they have 80 minutes to answer the question on the exam paper in front of them without leaving the room. The catch – the paper is empty.
If you enjoy point and click escape games , this would be fun as those eight people need to use their wits and resources at hand to figure out the question and the answer. As a viewer , you are hooked the second the candidates in the movie discover that the paper is empty.
This is also very obviously a study of human dynamics – four men and four women in a closed room, different races, different personalities but the same coveted prize. Something like your reality show but less dirty coz they are actors in a movie after all !
The performances are quite average, some actors doing better than the others , but all adequate. The script is actually pretty good and quite edgy. The movie is not brilliant but is definitely much better than whats out there. I would recommend it.

 

 


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Puerto Rico trip

Suckers for traveling as we are, a long vacation is just the thing that gets us hunting for travel destinations. Perhaps a similar description is fitting for our friends; Radhika & Anshuman. Christmas was such a time and we all decided to head out somewhere. As winters hit midwest, getting out somewhere sunny is the best option. Search began with Florida but quickly got finalized to Puerto Rico.

Tickets and hotels booked, the interest moved to intensive Online search, travel books and to every place where we could find information. Armed with this arsenal, we hit Puerto Rico. The fact that the temperature was around 25C was enough to get our spirits high as our flight landed at San Juan airport. The minute the airplane door opened, the familiar humid, tangy sea breeze hit us and felt like back  home in Mumbai. As we collected the luggage, and walked out of the airport towards our rental car, the similarity in the general climate, infrastructure and smell in the air made us nostalgic of India. Some memorable snippets from our journey are as follows:

Day 1 – Old San Juan, Forts
We landed at San Juan around midnight and decided to take care of hunger pangs first. We walked into a Burger King and found that it was full of people even as the clock itself was going to sleep. First observation; San Juan had night life. Even though it was hanging out in Burger King! Second observation: Men had their eyebrows done, women were all really well dressed. People are quite fashion conscious. Again, even though it was at Burger King! After dinner we proceeded to our hotel and dozed off. We stayed at Hampton Inn which was pretty good. It seemed better than any I have stayed in other US cities.

Next morning, we woke up to hundreds of people having breakfast and readying to hit the tourist spots. Our first stop was Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, the old fort area that lies on the tip of San Juan. This fort was built by the Spaniards in 1540 and re-fortified constantly, this 6 level structure was built to protect the city from attacks from the Caribbean sea. Just outside the fort is a cemetery that looked nice next to the raging ocean waves (Perhaps that’s not the right thing to say about a cemetery but then I will be sober about it when I am in one). Ocean was raging like a maniac but the cemetery itself was peaceful. It was like time was on a slow pace here.

Thanks to reconstruction going on in some levels of the fort (which btw is almost continuous), only some levels are open to visitors. The Del Morro is the smaller of the two forts that flank this coast of San Juan. The other much larger fort of Fort San Cristobal can be viewed from the sentry boxes of the Del Morro.  To get there , you can either take a 20 minute walk or just hop into the free trolley buses that traverse the old city. The two forts are connected by an ancient tunnel which is now closed to the public. San Cristobal has multiple levels and we only walked a few as the heat was beginning to get us.  It offers stunning view of both the new and old San Juan. Things to check out are the Devil’s Sentry box, the Old Barracks, the dungeons and the iguanas in the castle grounds.

The entrance ticked to either of the fort covers visits to both for seven days. Unless you are a historian or a researcher, a couple of hours in each place should be good. We decided to do both the places in one day. But in retrospect, I would recommend, if your itinerary allows, to split it on two days.
A world heritage site, Old San Juan is a bit of a dream world. Storybook perfect cobbled streets lined with brilliantly colored buildings bursting with designer shops, boutique stores, restaurants and art galleries, this old city best enjoyed by walking. As we hunted for a place to eat our eyes wandered from one beautiful building to the other, multiple souvenir shops and a Santa in an electric car !
For lunch we had stopped at La Bombonera in old San Juan. It definitely had the best asapao we ate on our entire trip.

Tired and exhausted we took a stroll on the Isla Verde beach and settled for a restaurant Don Jose outside our hotel. With the local beer we also got to experience a 5.4 magnitude earthquake. Not ready for anymore adventures, we decided to call it a day.

Day 2 El Yunque Rainforest, Fajardo Bio Bay
We started the day with a long and winding drive to El Yunque Rain forest. Located in central Puerto Rico , this is the only rain forest on US Territory. True to its name, it was raining when we entered the area. With the visitor center was closed, we somehow found La Mina trail that leads to La Mina Waterfall. La Mina trail is well made and seemed quite safe. Although we kept hearing thuds alongwith rain falling but no life threatening creatures decided to show up.Finally we reached the La Mina waterfall – a nice water fall with a little pool.
From El Yunque we drove towards Luquillo Beach, one of the best beaches in Puerto Rico. Well , apparently , since we never got there. Our GPS led us to the surfer’s beach where sea was really rough and looked nice from a distance. Next destination was Fajardo bio luminiscent bay. These guys take you to a lagoon where the water has micro-organisms which glow in night. They take you in kayak’s, through pitch dark mangroves hitting you all the time, against the current and you are supposed to love the experience. The combination did not quite work out for us and we were more happy to be back on land than seeing the glowing water. Nevertheless it was an experience and I am sure some people would definitely enjoy it.

Day 3: Ponce, Beach,  Cabo Rajos and body ache
If you do not enjoy the kayaking experience, you will also not enjoy the body aches it will leave you with. Though we were completely exhausted, we managed to wake up to see the sunrise. I wouldn’t say it was exceptionally gorgeous but it was nice to see the sunlight early in the morning creeping over the green mountains.

Ceiba country inn is a small bed and breakfast which is was actually pretty nice. Except the shower! Another thing about staying at Ceiba Inn was that it felt very close to nature. Entire night we kept hearing calls of various creatures and the morning breeze was wonderful too. Helped us forget our body ache for a tiny while. After a quick bite, we headed towards our next destination – historic town of Ponce. The drive  was along the coast and was pretty in most parts. We reached Ponce downtown around noon and just walked around the plaza. Honestly, there isn’t really much to do here and it’s really a drive through town. Perhaps the only thing here is a very old fire station and a plaza fountain beside it.

While driving to our next stop, we stopped at a local shack to eat some snacks. Shopkeeper was very polite and was surprised at our bravery for going for really hot sauce. While we were eating, a few local people walked in and sat down for drinks. Within a few minutes the shopkeeper and locals started dancing and playing instruments. It happened all of a sudden and it was awesome to see the real side of Puerto Ricans. Always enjoyng life!

After lunch, we headed towards Cabo Rajos lighthouse. We had read that it was a pretty dramatic view here and while walking towards the lighthouse nothing seemed to suggest so. A while later, we were looking at waves hitting cliffs that drop straight several hundred feets. It was indeed pretty dramatic. We had reached pretty late and missed the sunset. I am pretty sure that would have been awesome too. Nevertheless, it was an amazing view and a must visit spot.

Day 4 – Arecibo Observatory, Arecibo Lighthouse
Next day was reserved for Arecibo observatory which is the world’s largest radio-telescope. No, you don’t get to experience the universe through this radio-telescope unless you are a researcher. Lower mortals like us can only ogle at the huge observatory dish antenna and walk through the exhibits displayed here. Oh and of course, hollywood has been here too. Here’s the clip from James Bond’s GoldenEye (Link – http://youtu.be/MH2qnn4D0kY) .

Next stop was Arecibo lighthouse. It is an interesting place to visit. They have created a small theme park on Pirates so there are many pirate ship models you will see here. Lighthouse itself is pretty nice and worth going to. Of course, there is a $8 per person charge.

We finally drove to San Juan and spent the evening roaming around in old San Juan. It was very different from day time. Parties were going on, pubs were lively, it was a very nice walk in the streets. And then we made a wrong decision for dinner. We decided to eat at Tantra, an indian cuisine. It was really bad. If you are from India, do not go here. If you are not from India and looking for Indian Cuisine- do not go here. Decor was nice, music was very loud and our requests to turn it down were ignored, food was costly which did not make it any tastier, serving quantities were very small to not even make a child feel full. So if you are reading this entry and going to Puerto Rico, save your money by not visiting Tantra.

Our final day was next day when we were taking flights back home. We had seen enough in San Juan so we just went out for lunch. We chose Bebo’s Cafe which was pretty good. After a nice meal, we all said our goodbyes and boarded our flights. You can view our trip photographs at the end of this post.

Adiós Puerto Rico. Hemos tenido un montón de diversión y gracias por todo.

Important things to remember

  • Check beforehand the timings of all the tourist spots that you planned to attend. Oddly most of them are closed on Mondays & Tuesdays. The information on the relevant websites is not always correct and its recommended to call the Visitor Centers directly
  • Most places are open only till 4 PM in the evening – so plan on being on the road or on the beach on the later half of the day
  • Old San Juan is a small network of really old narrow cobbled streets and driving a car can be tough. Finding a parking , even worse. It is recommended to park your car in the outskirts of the area. The green and white trolleys provide free transport within the old city so you won’t have that much trouble getting around
  • Puerto Rico has daily seismic activity but nothing major. It is possible to feel a few light tremors but nothing to be worried about. But just to be safe, now the basic “what to do in an earthquake” protocol before you get on that flight

 

Travelling Companions

·         Frommer’s Puerto Rico
·         Fodor’s Puerto Rico

Things to carry while on the road
·         Sunscreen
·         Water
·         Swimsuit

Trip Photographs


Day 1 Old San Juan
Day 2 Rainforest Bio Bay
Day 3 Ponce, Beach and Cabo Rojo
Day 4 and 5 Arecibo, Old San Juan


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DIY Jewelery Boxes

I love recycling stuff, a habit which can be quite annoying for others as I find it hard to throw away junk. I am always sure that junk can be re-purposed into something else.

Take for instance, these body butter boxes from Body Shop. Pretty & Colorful!

Once I was through with the body butter ( which by the way was fabulous) , I cleaned them thoroughly with soap and warm water till the smell and the greasiness was gone. After that with a bit of sticker magic ( both the tape and the stick – ons) , I turned them into this (image below – click on picture to magnify). Just line these with tissues and keep your jewelery in this!


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Black Swan

Already considered a shoo-in for the Oscars, Darren Aronfsky’s thriller is the critics’ favorite movie this winter. So it was with high expectations that I entered the theater. Two hours later I walked away impressed and entertained but definitely not swept away.

Black Swan is what it promises to be – a dark psychological thriller. Set in the highly competitive scene of the New York ballet scene, the story is about a young and ambitious company dancer – Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). Though she is not the principal dancer, she is clearly one of the best, and is hoping to land the leading role in the upcoming season’s rendition of “Swan Lake”.  Her audition is far from perfect, but she does manage to land the role.  This is really the starting point of the movie – this is where all the madness begins.

Nina is definitely not psychologically ready to be the principal dancer – too much pressure and too much competition. Early in the movie, we see hints of paranoia and delusion in Nina’s mind – but we are not really sure what is happening. Nina feels especially threatened by a new arrival to the company, Rebecca (Mila Kunis) towards which she clearly has some unexplained attraction. As Nina struggles to keep up with the demands of her role, an exploitative director, and a smothering relationship with her mother she starts to come apart at the seams. There are some remarkably chilling scenes as we go deeper in Nina’s delusion and the climax is truly dark.

Aronfsky introduces us to the harsh realities of the world of ballet – intense competition, limited shelf life of the artist, the pain-staking regime, the diet instructions, and exploitative directors. Though interesting, that is where in lies the only flaw of the movie – everything is so clichéd from the director who uses the ballerina’s ambition to exploit her, to petty squabbling between the dancers, to Nina’s wide eyed ambition, that it sometimes seems a tad unbelievable.

The camera work is wonderful – the hand held shooting format of the movie brings a level of grittiness in what could otherwise be a glossy world of ballet.  The choreography is believable and it is clear that all the actors have put in a lot of effort to be these characters.

Black Swan is clearly Natalie Portman’s movie. From the very first scene, you sense her repressive environment – a small cluttered apartment that she shares with her loving yet over protective mother, lack of friends, competitive work environment. Natalie is the “White Swan” in Nina with her pale clothes, childlike innocence, her gentle voice and her inherent shyness. It is clear to see why it is so difficult for Nina to become the Black Swan….and as she tries to be that perfect performer pushing against her true self. Natalie’s scenes of brilliance are when she tries to break outside Nina’s boundaries and lets the craziness show.

Mila Kunis as Rebecca is in a way Nina’s nemesis – her anti-protagonist in every way. The rule breaker, the seductress …she is so easy going that she hardly believable as a ballerina. Mila is however really good in creating this character who is a confidante in one scene, a lover in another and a rival in the next. Like Nina, you do not know what to make of her.

Vincent Cassel as the director Thomas Leroy is no doubt an actor, but his character is really one dimensional and quite clichéd

And I did not get the point of Beth McIntyre (Wynona Ryder) – does she represent perfection that Nina so aspires? Is her fate the fate of any perfectionist? I mean really, what is the point

Black Swan is a dark movie with some really gory scenes and some very interesting, yet disturbing characters.  You should definitely watch this movie if you are looking for offbeat cinema with a chill but it’s not for entertainment

 


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The Lost Symbol

I had recently returned from a visit to Washington, and one of my friends suggested that I might like the new Dan Brown – The Lost Symbol. It was to Washington DC what Da Vinci Code was to Paris. My friend did warn me that though interesting it was not going to anything like the Da Vinci Code…and she was so right.

Now, I am always a sucker for thrillers that are geographically centered as it satisfies both my love of mysteries and travelling. So I decided to give it a shot.

The Lost Symbol has the usual Dan Brown trademarks – Robert Langdon and random female companion, heavy use of symbolism, megalomaniacal villain, free mason philosophy and  yes some deeply disturbing information that has to be deciphered, protected and understood as it can transfer human intelligence as we know it.

All the above has been tried not in one but 4 books earlier and now really has no charm left. And to add to this , this book has none of the pace of Brown’s earlier works. It’s excruciatingly long, over-informative and just clunky. Chapters break very frequently and that gets so annoying that at a point you don’t care about cliffhangers any more.

The great universal secret that everyone is trying to protect  – which involves the top brass of US government – is really stupid.  When I say stupid I don’t refer to the secret – it’s not really a secret- you as a reader, already know it. The big reveal moment is more like – “This is it!! This is what I have wasted a precious hours of my life getting to?!!”

The only thing that I liked about the book was the bits and pieces of history that I picked up about Washington and the people who built it. Everything else was “meh”. And yes, something called “Noetic Science” to look up on Google

I liked exactly one sentence in the book which I will now quote – “If our ancestors could see us today, surely they would think us gods”

Verdict: Only if you have time to spare