Shades Of Words


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Just around the Corner

I step out from under the dirty brown awning of my three story apartment building. The grey cracked concrete walkway to the street is littered with a soggy, muddy old copy of LA Times, pages falling out of the flimsy string holding it together. An empty Starbucks plastic cup (tall) rolls over brightly printed car wash coupons, charred cigarette butts sneak from under the sun baked yellow grass, dead bougainvillea flowers sit degenerating into pulp in the crevices on the sidewalk where the rain water has collected and a faint odor of dog poop hangs in the air. A steel sprinkler half-heartedly sprays intermittent jets of water over the small yet lush green garden next door. The low lying jasmine hedges that line the street are in full bloom creating an illusion of white and green lace. Yellow and purple wild flowers spring out of gaps in the tiled sidewalk.

I turn right on to Keystone Avenue and walk north.  A battered IKEA loveseat, once navy blue, but now an unknown color, lies abandoned on the pavement. A dark spot stains the seat covers, the arms are worn out to the frame and the foam filling has sprung out from the bottom is falling out to the pavement.

Up ahead, a young Asian couple walks out of the Keystone University Apartment building. The girl’s dark hair is streaked with neon blue, further accented by the matching pashmina scarf she has thrown around her neck. She wears no make-up and Aviator sun glasses hide her eyes.  Her mauve paisley print dress flutters in the slight breeze blowing through the street. The boy’s tumbled dry hair and unshaven beard hints that he may have just fallen out of bed. His blue and yellow UCLA t-shirt is paired with khaki shorts. His loafers are untied and the strap drags behind his heels as he walks down the street.

I pause to let two teenage boys on skateboards rush past me on the sidewalk.  Headphones in ears, caps pulled low over the ears – both are dressed alike with front open shirts and shorts sitting low on the waist. An old balding man hunched over the steering wheel, turns his shiny red and white Volkswagen Beetle into a covered driveway.

On the intersection of Keystone Ave and Venice Boulevard, small wooden cargo boxes are stacked up to four feet and placed on the payment. “On Sale” sign is stenciled on alternating sides in charcoal black paint.  On top of the stack is a white cardboard placard with a hand drawn arrow pointing to the auto repair shop at the corner of Keystone Avenue.

Outside the shop is a public payphone that hasn’t seen much use in a while. A tattered LA directory hangs from a metal chain scraping the ground. The phone is off the hook and the receiver dangles in mid-air. The booth itself is covered in fluorescent graffiti with no hint of the original paint. “You suck!”, “peace y’all” and other important messages are scratched on the metal frame.

I take a deep breath and smell the familiar salty tang of the evening sea breeze that has just begun to flow inwards from Venice beach, which is three miles down the road. The sky darkens and stretches of pink, violet and orange paint the horizon. It’s time for sunset and the crimson red sun, barely visible behind towering city buildings, disappears slowly from the view.


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Eating Pizza in St. Louis

This post does not intend to be an all exhaustive guide to the best pizza’s found in St. Louis. I don’t even know enough about pizzas to write knowledgeably, but I sure do love them.  As pizza chains had not made in roads to India till the late 90s, my first slice of pizza was as very late in life, as a 9 year old in a Pizza Hut, in Bahrain. This outing was a very special treat promised to my sister and me. I still remember the flavor of the cheese, the crust and the toppings and it was as if a whole new world of possibilities had opened before me. I have never found that flavor again though I have eaten in Pizza Huts across the world by now.

Coming back to St.Louis, Pizza Hut still remains my favorite go to fast food pizza place. I know IMO’s is pretty popular locally, I personally find it very dry. For a more authentic experience two places that I have tried and I highly recommend are Pi Pizzeria and Dewey’s Pizza.

Pi Pizzeria is a slightly high end, sophisticated restaurant. Their starters as well as their pizzas are really good. I was very impressed by the freshness of the ingredients of their pizza toppings. The ambiance is very quiet and on weekends there is an average 15-20 minutes waiting. Their Manchester Road branch is more upmarket then the one on the Loop.

Deweys Pizza  – Large glass windows let you see how the pizzas are being prepared in this insanely popular eatery. Dewey’s is often considered the “best pizza” in town, however, the opinion is fairly divided between Pi and Dewey’s and one should really try both. I personally though the bases and the sauces were much better here as compared to Pi but the toppings left me underwhelmed. Dewey’s has also more kid friendly and easy-going attitude which can the make the place a little noisy and crowded. Dewey’s is located in Kirkwood which is a great place to hangout at any given day!


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Grand Boulevard, St. Louis

St. Louis is a town of considerable historical importance, especially as it was the frontier for the western exploration of America. Somehow it has never reached the size and buzz of the bigger metropolises of the United States. It does have its own unique charm and there are some neighbourhoods that provide opportunity for walking, shopping, eating and people-watching.

Grand Boulevard near SLU is a great place to spend your evening. You can start by taking a leisurely stroll in Tower Grove Park. If you want to sweat it out, you can join other joggers and bicyclists that you will dot the park.

After the stroll, head over for a coffee at the Indie coffee shop MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse.  A poster on the entry door proudly claims – “We support the other 99%” and you have to just look over your shoulder to the neighboring brownstone to realize that you are next to the local “Occupy Wall Street” movement!

From Arsenal Street to Humphry Street, Grand Boulevard has some of the most popular restaurants in town. Some of the ones that I have tried and I recommend are:

King and I for Thai Cuisine – Try any of the traditional Thai curries. The quantities are fairly large so be prepared for leftovers. On weekends, you can expect a waiting time of 10-15 minutes, if you do not have a reservation

The Vine Mediterranean Café and Restaurant – This totally unassuming eatery serves some of the best schawarma and hummus that I have eaten in St. Louis.

Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant – It’s not out of ordinary to say “Let’s order a Pizza” or “Lets have Chinese” or “Lets do Indian food” , is it? However, I am sure none of us ever think of “ Oh I feel like eating Ethiopian!” ..Well we should! This is by far the closest I have ever come to eating a cuisine that is so Indian. It’s basically rice pancakes with well cooked vegetables, meat and lentils, a concept very similar to the south Indian food.

If you don’t feel like eating, there are bunch of interesting stores to check out in Grand Boulevard. Now I make it a point to go to all book shops in a city (no, seriously!) and I cannot recommend the Dunaway bookstore enough. The store is massive and in a good non-chain store kind of way. The books are lined up cleanly and the collection has a lot of breadth. It’s quite possible that you may find some obscure titles here.  We had a little chat, with who I assume to be the owner, and he was so friendly and pleasant ant British! He joked about his visits to India and how his Jain friend makes him eat vegetarian food. This is a store that I know I want to go back to.

If you are in the mood for bleeding a little, head over to the tattoo parlor or if you are in the mood for a little fun then head out to “Cheaptrx” – a kinky novelty store. I have never been inside (honest!) but there is some element of poetry in seeing leather and lace clad mannequins amid aspiring-to-be-posh restaurants.

However you chose to spend your time at South Grand Boulevard you can round off your evening with some Gelato at “Gelateria St. Louis. That’s where I plan to start my evening next time !


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Eating out in St.Louis – II

The Boathouse – What a lovely name ! Located on the bank of the lake in Forest Park, this restaurant is more than just a place to eat. It offers rental boats to paddle around the lake, a deck with rocking chairs where you can sip your beer and stare at the ducks flapping around the dock, and some live entertainment in the evenings. In the hot summers, you can choose to sit indoors in the air conditioned area for breakfast or lunch, but I would recommend having dinner in the evening, when the patio is softly lit and there is cool breeze coming from the lake.

The cuisine is standard American with some Italian on the menu. I think I ordered a pizza which was just okay. I have heard their sandwiches are pretty good and I may try that out next time. But really, The Boathouse, is for spending good time in a pretty place. Once you have had your meal, you can just sit in the rocking chairs by the dock and stare at the stars.

Food – Just about okay; Service-Efficient; Ambience – The reason why this place is so popular

 Mayuri  – Authentic Indian Cuisine

I generally dread eating in Indian restaurants when I am not inIndia. This cultural reinterpretation of what my cuisine should be like, can be pretty unnerving. Firstly there is no one Indian Cuisine – what is mostly served in restaurant is either “Spicy South Indian’ or/and  “Punjabi Mughal” which generally bypasses a lot of unique dishes and flavors of central, western and eastern India.  The other issue with the food that you get in Indian restaurants is that its really the  “high on spice and oil” version of what people actually eat in an Indian home. Trust me, if  the only experience that you have had of Indian food is an a restaurant, then get an invitation to an Indian home and see what they eat – you will be pleasantly surprised.  So when I try to experience “ true Indian cuisine”  in theUS, I limit my expectations to hoping to eat food that is similar to what is served in restaurants back home. What I mostly get, is the sweetened, spiced down and dare I say, tasteless version of most curries. There are only or two Indian diners that I really like in St. Louis– Mayuri, being one of them.

It serves a reasonable variety of North and South Indian cuisine in all its greasy glory. The lunch buffets have a tremendous variety, but I think ala carte has better quality. I have eaten there quite a few times and the food is always well cooked. I especially love the “chutneys” they serve if you order South Indian snacks like “dosas” and “idlis”. The only drawback of Mayuri is the ambience and service which is quite similar to the chaos of a “bazaar” in India and looks out of place in a dine-in, air conditioned restaurant in a US suburb. A popular choice for catering, Mayuri is a good place to take your non-Indian friends, provided they can stomach the grubbiness of the place and the greasiness of the food.

Food – Pretty Good; Service – Polite but not sophisticated; Ambience- What ambience?

Note : I have picked the images from different blogs.


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Weekends in St. Louis

I do admit that St. Louis may not exactly be the most happening place in the US of A, but if you keep track, there is always a bunch of stuff happening over the weekend.

One of our favorite things to do is to keep track of the University Theater circuit.  There are always student performances up, and some really good visiting actor groups.

We actually caught some great plays. One was “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller performed by the dramatics department of University of Missouri, St Louis (UMSL). Based on the Salem witch trials, this play examines the power of superstition and hysteria as it grips a town of seemingly rationale people. Most of the actors in the UMSL production were senior year students who were quite remarkable in their roles. The only problem was in the acoustics of the actual theater.

I have read the screenplay before and realize that it provides a very powerful social commentary. Even if you cant catch the play in your city , I would recommend everyone to read it.

Another performance that I happen to catch, was that of the play “Shadowlands”  presented by the Mustard Seed Theater ( isn’t that lovely name?). This play written by William Nicholsan, describes the relationship between the famous British writer, CS Lewis and Joy Gresham. This play is based on actual events.

Honestly speaking I had no expectations from it. But within the five minutes, I was hooked. Split into two acts – the first act focuses on CS Lewis bachelor life, his correspondence with Mrs. Joy Gresham and their first meeting and their marriage of convenience. The first act is bitter sweet, witty and thoroughly entertaining.  The second act focuses on Joy’s illness which brings Lewis feelings towards her into the open. It focuses on their short but loving relationship and ends at Joy’s tragic death. Throughout the play we see struggle Lewis struggle with his faith and his changing thoughts about the nature of God.

As this was a professional production, the quality of acting was quite incredible. Gary Wayne Baker, Chair of the Fine Arts Department, St. Louis University gave a very good performance in the role of Lewis.  Kelley Ryan, was delightful and charming as Joy Gresham. The supporting cast was really good too. I would definitely watch more productions by Mustard Seed theatre.


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Evenings to Remember

I have to say one thing about being in the US of A, it give us time and opportunities to explore the interesting things.
I, in my life never thought , that I will go and see a live ballet peformance. That too the famous “Swan Lake” by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The St. Louis Ballet Company

Now to appreciate ballet there are few pre-requisites ( something that we realized after the 3 hr performance).
– A passing knowledge of the dance form itself. While it looks mesmerizing and you know dancing on your toes is extremely painful, you really wish you know the what that jump or the twirl or the folding of the hands meant. Because I am sure like any other form of  dance-drama these  movements have meanings that add to the story telling

– An appreciation of instrumental music. I am not a big music person. I can never ‘just’ listen to music. Understanding instrumental music – whether Indian or international as always been a challenge for me. To understand ballet you need to understand the music – the music determines the mood of each performance. The story is narrated thru the music

So , I have to admit, a lot of the art of the ballet was lost on me. Because I can appreciate dancing in general I was able to appreciate ballet’s grace,elegance and discipline. The costumes and sets were perfect. There was an etheral quality to the peformance. However,before I attend any other ballet performance I would probably need some education.

I have attended very few live concerts and when we heard that Mark Knopfler would be in town to promote his new album “Get Lucky”,  we booked our tickets – 3 months in advance. Its kind of surreal to have really enjoyed Dire Straits all through your younger years and then to see the band perform in front of your eyes. Ofcourse its not Dire Straits anymore , but 3 of the original band members were there…so there. The concert was at the grand Fox Theater in St. Louis – one of the more magnificent of the Fox properties. I know I am going back there as a tourist.
The crowds went crazy when MK and band walked on to the stage. He started the performance by belting out the first song of the Get Lucky album – Border Reiver. A lot of music in this album seems to have Scottish and Irish influences.  I personally feel that Get Lucky is an awesome album.

I also loved Sailing to Philadelphia , probably, more than Sutlans of Swing and the band was generous enough to sing quite a few songs from that album including the title track. The crowds was enthusiastic and almost every song got a standing ovation. The thing about watching a legend like MK perform in front of you is that it makes you realize that the genius is real. We all have our favorites but I was especially emotional when he ended the concert with “Piper to the End” .

Everytime I hear a Mark Knopfler song, the magic of that evening comes back to me.


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Eating Out in St. Louis – I

I love eating out and though some of my favorites are chain restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, Maggianos and Uno Chicago Grill, I am always on the lookout for small quaint one of a its kind eateries.

Shangrila Diner – No, this is not a Chinese food place. Located on the Historic Cherokee Street, this little diner serves vegetarian food and is famous for its Sunday buffet breakfast. Atleast thats what I heard.We reached there around 11.00 am on a very cold Sunday morning. Shangrila Diner scores full on ambience. Not classy at all but full marks for funky. The psychedelic themes run through the restaurant right from the celing fans to the shell curtains and colorful chairs. “Shangrila”, you realize, stands for the paradise, the kind you get when you are on dope :)!!
The food however was a disappointment – the buffet spreadout was a total of 8-10 items. It did not include juice, or sandwhiches or cake. The most tasty item on the spread was the veggie quiche. I had read absoultely raving reviews of this place and was surprised to find the food just average. Maybe we were there at the wrong time or maybe we should have ordered ala carte. Would I recommend this to anyone? Well only if you are in the neighbourhood.

Location: 2201 Cherokee Street,st. Louis Hole in the pocket : $10-$15 per person

Everest Cafe and Bar – Friends of ours are big fans of momos or what may be more commonly known as pork dumplings. These east asian delicacies are commonly found in all hill stations in India and are hence sorely missed on this side of the world.The idea of eating genuine momos was too tempting to resist. Soon we found ourselves in this little restaurant with decidely oriental theme. The menu is a mix of Nepali, Indian, Tibetan and Korean dishes. We were delighted to see that they had vegetable samosas ( deep fried spicy potato stuffings) and ordered a plate right away. We obviously ordered a portion of pork and veggie dumplings each. The veggie momos were a disaster with mashed potatoes and cheese in them. Typically they are supposed to have cabbage and carrots!! The pork dumplings were however delicious. And the samosas were perfect – I felt I was back in India. For the main course we decided to order the Nepali platter “Daal,Bhaat, Tarkaari ka Saag” – a dish comprising of lentil soup, pickles, cooked chicken and rice.
I really really liked it.
I would recommend this place to anyone looking for genuine east asian cuisine.
The menu at Everest Cafe and Bar is vast and would cater to most.  I would definitely like to try some of the Korean options next time!!

 Location: 4145 Manchester ave , St Louis : Hole in the Pocket: $40 per couple