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Turning 30 in France

There was no big celebration inside the hotel room. Outside, the whole town of Nice had come together for the annual carnival. Abba’s Dancing Queen blared from the speakers. We walked past children with painted faces, adults with masked ones. Past the line of high-end boutiques and restaurants with al fresco settings warmed by outdoor heaters. We stood watching the sleepy Mediterranean sea gulp down the hot sun and turn grey.

Back in our hotel room, we switched on a French reality TV show. The participants seemed angry. Probably used expletives. But in French, the words shed their bitterness. It was a new moon night, a pitch dark sky engulfed the last hours of my 20s. When I woke up, I expected a new world. But the sun was already on its long slow dive into the sea. And the sea… the sea lay with a certain disinterest, stretching its blueness like a long yawn, stripping the day of its significance.

That morning, my husband and I caught the train from Gare de-Nice Ville in Nice, to Gare de-Lyon in Paris. We walked along the fifth arrondissement to a bright blue door at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where writer Ernest Hemingway lived and loved. Here’s probably where he wrote ‘The end of something’, we wondered while lunching at an Armenian restaurant amid French-speaking crowd. It was our last night in France, we spent it in a hotel that stood floating on Seine.

From inside, we watched the resilient river reflecting with clarity, the bridges that rose from it, the tall yellow street lights, and the high-rise buildings that shimmered in the background. The reflections danced the entire night. Until the dawn swallowed them just like it did the last of my 20s.

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Vault of memories

Time sometimes severs some relationships so far apart that you have to unspool some old threads of memory to sew them up. Like when meeting a high school friend after long — every conversation inadvertently begins with “Remember when…”

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Happy New Year!

2019 was life changing. My husband and I, we walked in the darkness of Mammoth cave in Kentucky, explored the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and strolled the busy lanes of Miami on a sultry summer evening. We moved houses, and slowly, carefully, turned it into a home. We laughed over Frasier on Netflix, hopped in and out of several art galleries in Texas, Maine and Tennessee, and tasted the best of Bourbon in Kentucky. We had Amish ice cream with his folks, and lazed around in Rehoboth beach with mine. Most evenings, we sat on the couch, enveloped in a white throw, watching a tearjerker like Marriage Story (my pick) or a mythical action flick like The Witcher (his pick). Sometimes, the nights were short, sometimes, they continued to the wee hours of night, with conversations and arguments over several glasses of wine.

Somewhere in between all this, we, he, and I turned a year older.

At White Mountains, New Hampshire

In 2019, I read 23 books, watched 94 movies and 25 odd series. Over the course of last two years, I covered 29 States in the United States. With each new book, movie, or place, I came to know a little more about myself. Insecurity, fear and doubt surfaced at several instances. But so did bouts of courage, strength and resilience. There were episodes of sadness, happiness, excitement and dismay. Like clouds in the sky, they appeared, and disappeared. This year, I started learning a new language; built a routine that included Yoga and meditation; and took up a new position as the editor of a newsletter in a local women’s club. All the while, writing content for a Pennsylvania-based non-profit (Friends Association for the Care and Protection of Children) that helped 354 men, women and children find a home. I also Marie-Kondo’d my closet, finished a sketch book, and turned to plants as the new home decor option.

It’s been a magnificent journey. And for that I am grateful.

Happy new year, everyone!

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Of fallen fruit and old mansions

There was a nip in the air, giving away a subtle sign that Fall had begun. Brown dried leaves and yellow-green walnut fruit lay scattered on paved roads, along the trail that ran through Rockwood, Bringhurst Woods, and Bellevue Park. Occasionally, we hopscotched to avoid horse manure, and paused in front of William duPont’s elegant Bellevue Hall to click a picture or two. The five-mile walk, peppered with laughter and conversations, lasted for over two hours. 

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Monday mornings at the park

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Inside Hicks’ world

Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands; The exhibit traveled to the Venice Biennale in 2017, and to Belgium before finding its way to Miami. Right next to the bundles of fabric are tapestries that Sheila wove during her time in Guatemala. 
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In Miami, Florida, our feet coated with wet sand, we enter the quiet galleries of The Bass to see veteran artist Sheila Hicks’ show titled Campo Abierto (translates to Open Field). 

Walking inside a gallery is akin to the experience of turning the pages of a new book, embracing the strangeness, yet hoping to connect with a character. Hicks’ art bypasses this strangeness with the burst of color in her works; like skittles scattered on the floor, like rainbows kneaded into round balls.

For example, standing before Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands, a fabric installation of gigantic balls of yarn stacked up till the ceiling, we fight the urge to collapse on the fluffy bed. The weaves evoke a sense of mischief, innocence, and playfulness.  The installation, which takes one entire room, demands the same space in our minds too. 

The Silk Rainforest; In Hicks’ work, you see a generous use of silk, linen, wool and cotton, besides nylon, rayon, polyester, bamboo and cashmere. These are woven, knotted, and braided in a style that is both exotic and grounded.  Known to be one of the pioneers in redefining the use of textiles in art, Hicks exploits the intimacy that one shares with the medium to reach deep into one’s mind, and trigger a thought, that helps you discover a little more about yourself. 
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Sheila, 85, was born in Nebraska, and went to Yale University School of Art, where she had the opportunity to study under American German artist Josef Albers. Albers is a Bauhaus designer and artist – he went to Bauhaus Design School in Germany, which was shut down by the Nazis in 1933. However, the thought that the school preached — of combining fine art and craft and bridging the gap between art and industry — kick-started a movement called Bauhaus Movement. It embraced symmetry over asymmetry and focussed on lines, shape and color, instead of floral and ornamental designs.  Hicks’ works are simple, minimalist, and geometric. They concur with the Bauhaus principles.

The Moroccan Rug
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Hicks, who divides her time between Paris and New York, discovered her medium, the fibre, when she went to Chile, on a scholarship from Yale, many moons ago. Over the decades, her mission has been to give textile medium a new meaning. The subtle gold and beige La memoire, made of linen silk and cotton, the naturally handspun Morroccan rug, and The Silk Rainforest made of linen silk and cotton, stand proof to this.  

The exhibition ends tomorrow (September 29, 2019).

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Old town road

Lancaster is an old town. Nearly 250 years old. The layers of history unfold in the Victorian buildings, row houses, arterial roads. For a friend’s farewell, we, a group of eight, headed to this historic town, on a whim. The two-hour drive from Newark, Delaware, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was a breeze. The tough part was finding a parking spot in the downtown area. The roads looked clogged, dotted with cars on either side. The houses stood next to each other, generously sharing their walls. 

Our Airbnb was a three-storeyed apartment in white limestone. A stark contrast to the rest of the houses that were dark, dingy, and supported by layers of stained bricks. Inside, the decor was straight out of an IKEA catalog. Chic chandeliers, tall lamps, rustic dining table, minimalist artworks, and artificial plants. Warm yellow light reflected on its white walls, white comforters, white tiles and our pale faces. 

Fully furnished, well-equipped, and smart locked (the main door) — the house could be called ‘modern’, but for the toilet doors, which, akin to pre-1970s architecture, lacked locks. The fireplace switched on with the touch of a switch, and wax-less candles brightened up the room. But the ceiling, much like in Victorian castles, extended forever; and the floors groaned at every step. The bedroom doors had to be shut using a chair, and the attic beds baked under the morning sunlight. Next to a nice round Google Nest rose a wooden shelf with rows of cutlery that no one could reach. The kitchen opened to an alleyway, that led to a private porch from where you could see the popular-in-the-past grid pattern of streets spread out. 

On an evening, we drove to the Central Market and filled out carts with ambrosia apples and apricots. Built in 1889, it the one of the oldest continuously run farmer’s market in the United States. We walked along the paved roads in the downtown area, and saw expensive cars chasing one another, groups of youngsters hopping from one bar to another, and rows of ancient buildings trying hard to blend in with the new ones. Of course, some couldn’t, like the Lancaster Prison building, which stood out like a king’s abode in an otherwise modest town.

In the night, we heard passersby and speeding cars on the street below; in the morning, we woke up with the chatter of kids in the playground nearby. When it was time to go, we caused a traffic jam, our car swallowing up the entire road, waiting for our friends to get in. When they did, we drove away from the old town, past several Amish carriages, farms and bakery, onto younger suburbs — content to know that we could always go back a couple of centuries in a couple of hours.

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Hiking in the woods

The Brandywine creek lay still, tired after bearing the brunt of previous night’s downpour. The rain had turned the mud soft, on which our walking sticks sank, like candles on a cake. Every time we pushed a shrub out of the way, it sprayed drops of cool water on us. We didn’t mind; we continued walking on the steep slopes of the Rocky Run Trail in Brandywine Creek State Park, with no end in sight. Rows and rows of tall trees held hands to form a sort of tunnel, through which only slivers of sunlight managed to reach the ground. Loose rocks and coiled roots lay everywhere, and from between them emerged excited toads and calm centipedes. Small flying bugs hovered around our faces, fighting for our attention, even as we tried to balance ourselves on shapeless stones, to cross to the other side of a flowing stream. Three miles and two hours later, we walked out of the woods, on to the neat paved roads. It was easier to walk now… but we missed our little toads and centipedes already.

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Butterfly spotting

At White Clay Creek State Park, we walked in a single file for five miles. Shrubs rose on either side of the slim trail, some reaching our height, some towering over us. Daisies, shamrocks, and anonymous wildflowers popped their heads out from between the curtain of greenery. We slowed down, paused to see butterflies land softly on the petals. When they took flight, we fastened our steps. Our muddy trail was punctuated with puddles of water and fallen logs. We walked over small bridges, with thin creeks running jauntily below them; stopped to pick up a hawk’s lone feather from the ground; and sat on giant trunks to sip water. Around us the air smelled of wet soil, and somewhere far, the sound of stream synced with the call of birds.


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When in State College

I. Go to Big Bowl Noodle House, and order a plate of curry fried rice with fried tofu. Chew on the crunchy tofu pieces, and say a quick thanks to all the soy beans in the world.

II.Once your tummy is full, it’s time to sit in a darker room and reflect on life. Head to Chronic Town, order an Adios Hookah, and pair it with a cup of Garuda—vanilla, honey tea.

III. Now, if you plan to stay back, then get a good night’s sleep at The Atherton Hotel, and wake up early to stand in the already snaking queue outside The Waffle Shop. Don’t fret, or get vexed, know it in your heart that it will be worth the wait.

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Hit the road, Jack

Road trips are the best.

One: You don’t ever feel stagnant. You are moving forward, constantly. Red lights are temporary.

Two: You never have to stop eating. There is nothing else to do. Eat your Twinkies, chocolates, and chips. And sing along Ed Sheeran’s and Justin Bieber’s “I don’t care”.

Three: You are a kid again. Playing peek-a-boo with the sun, racing the wind, and following the moon.

Four: You can discuss the most disturbing thoughts here, and your partner would listen. Nobody is going anywhere.

Five: You can shift from “doing” to simply “being”.

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Sky, a canvas

A second road trip to Ohio in less than a week. This time, we started just when the sun came up. Trees turned from blue to green, and houses from grey to brown. We drove, a light brown bag of sandwiches and Terra chips next to our feet. Every once in two hours, we stopped at a gas station, sometimes to feed our car, sometimes to simply buy a Hubba Bubba. For the rest of the journey we blew big bubbles and saw the world turn pink from inside it. We took turns to be at the wheel. While one steered, the other reclined the passenger seat all the way back, and watched the world pass by at 80 miles per hour. Trees, poles, bridges and birds moved at dizzying speeds. Above them, like a dream, floated soft fluffy clouds. If you looked hard, you saw faces in it. A kid, a monster, a man swimming, a woman sitting. All evasive, quick to hide. And just like a dream, they passed. What remained is the clear blue sky. Our only constant as we drove along an ever-changing landscape.