Tuesday, July 09, 2019


Half the year is already over. Owing to a drastic change in circumstances, I very much feared that I would be unable to devote much time to reading at all. But to my delight, the pace has not flagged. I have managed to read a few more books even than at the same time last year. Well, well. This old crow has some good eyesight still left it seems.

As for the books themselves, one other thing about this getting-older thing is that mois is even harder to please. Gah! Thus, only a precious few found themselves nominated to the "Favorites 2019" collection.
Nothing new emerges in terms of trends; even the ratio of fiction to non-fiction remains the same. New authors of note are Irene Nemirovsky, Peter Theroux, Barbara Pym, and Angela Thirkell.
Also I note a slight tendency towards reading about the Middle East, perhaps sparked by Theroux's interesting Sandstorms. Next up is a memoir on expat living in Iran and a journey through Muslim black Africa. (This might provide some much-needed inspiration to restart my own ramblings about my Very Interesting Life in India Seen Through the Eyes of an Expat's Spouse.)

Thursday, July 04, 2019

The Chump and the Champion

Wimblay-dohn, to quote Rafa, is very well underway. And alas, much of the fun I ended up missing owing to sundry social events. The fun in question was the Main Act of Week 1: Nadal vs. Kyrgios, Round 2. Might as well have been a semi, such was the build-up and the tension crackling around these two.
In the end Rafa prevailed, having apparently prepared well for the usual antics of K. Yes, Nearly Headless Nick did serve underarm, did rant at the umpire and did collect a code violation. And Rafa did lose the second set but ultimately scraped through in four, the last two of which were tie-breaks. That's what happens when Nearly Headless Nick tries to focus on the actual match instead of chuntering on like a maniac or throwing equipment across the court: he is a fearsome talent, and gave Rafa a match in the true sense. But the good news is that this triumph has given the Rafster something solid to boost his confidence.
Never mind the presser where K made crass remarks about his opponent's bank balance (WTF?) and got aggressive when asked why he didn't apologize for his body shot aimed at Rafa's chest: never mind because I was already over K, and now I don't even care for his talent. Case closed. Even if you win a Grand Slam, Kyr, unless you clean up your act it's going to be extremely difficult to root for you. Rafa meanwhile has gained further adoration from the fan-base after his presser. The cherry on top came when he was asked about what would happen if K focused, if he worked harder, if he showed interest in the actual game. Rafa's response was another epic one: "If, if, if...doesn't exist."
And there you have it.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Readings: Journey to the Alcarria

On a lazy Sunday afternoon driving down a side-road that soon turned into a magical, tree-shaded, tranquil neighborhood lined with gracious old bungalows, J and I stopped at a yard sale in progress. Lots of bric-a-brac, old brass thingies, some vintage clothing, that sort of thing. No books, I groaned, preparing to leave, and then I saw this one slim thing lying behind a box of antique silverware. Upon discovering that I did not have the $1 to pay for it, the twinkly oldie behind the table said expansively, "Take it! Have it!"
J and I managed to scrounge up 25c, insisting. And so I came into possession of what turned out to be the very jottings of my own inner Nobel-winning author. Ha.
The cover picture tells the story. An old lady sweeps a stone courtyard somewhere in rural Spain, watched by two goats. Black-and-white, it has that particular sharpness only the monochrome can bring; and while the stillness of the afternoon has no color, there it is.
Many afternoons J and I spent wandering on old plazas in Spain's big cities. Regrettably, young foolish colts that we were, we didn't actually venture into the countryside despite our best intentions. Now, having read this, I am more convinced than ever that we finally will. For what could bring more peace to my soul than picking a random route through the map, setting off until we found a likely-looking stone fountain, talking to a few locals (who may or not be welcoming of halting Spanish) and settling in for the night in a converted convent made of two-foot thick stone walls?
Camilo Jose Cela writes in vignettes. And as he unspooled each one I saw it rise fully formed in my mind's eye. Two young girls on a donkey, red poppies in their hair. The mandatory courtyard cats and goats with their own peculiar foibles. The garrulous local who loves downing a drink. In our version it won't be 1935, like it is in Cela's telling. But it will be the present, and the past, and the future, and when I grow old I still will not have fathomed what keeps drawing me back to this eternal place.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

#Bourdain Day

In a jarring sort of symmetry, today is the day of Anthony Bourdain's birth. (Jarring because it is also the month of his death.) In something I read today, his friends Eric Ripert and Jose Andres have hereby decreed this day Bourdain Day. In honor of our lost friend, they say, let us raise a drink and enjoy a meal, wherever in the world it may be, and celebrate the beauty of life and love.

To this idea I can subscribe wholeheartedly. And my own offering to the Bourdain is this.
Many years ago visiting my grandmother, she would buy a fresh fish or two from the bicycle of the local seller who stopped by her balcony. She was a vegetarian, bear in mind. But we, the girls, could eat fish and eggs (procured in the single digits from the shoebox-size stall down the lane) to our hearts' content all day long if we so chose.
And so the cook would expertly scrutinize the blank-eyed offerings of the boy's basket, pick a few that looked superior, and flounce off to the kitchen with a delighted gleam in her eye. The recipes she used always came out extra good, we were convinced, because while she adored our grandmother- well, the dearie was a vegetarian. And thus we would eat perfectly fresh, hot, fried fish spiced with the famed pepper and God-knows-what-else that grow wild in that part of the world, the cause of the great trade wars of centuries past.
Years later, I think Bourdain would have loved all this. The fish, certainly, but also my grandmother and the cook. (Where is she now?)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Watched: Made in Heaven

It appears to be raining content on both Netflix and Amazon. And on the latter I found this one Indian series, which I'll leave unnamed, that I thought was my next watch. Alas, it failed me horribly. I wanted to punch at least two of the main characters, and realizing that the one (hunky) guy character was to be relegated to the sidelines simply because this is a 'women's story,' I gave up.
Then came Made in Heaven. Much more palatable, this. How starved am I for fresh content set in India and made with an eye to the discerning viewer? Very, apparently.

Anyhoo. The title refers to a wedding planning company run by Tara and her friend Karan. Each of the nine episodes tells the behind-the-scenes story of one big, fat Indian wedding. Tara and Karan have rather tumultuous lives as well, it turns out, and piece by piece this is fed to us via flashbacks and present-day.
The wedding segments, while gorgeous and true-to-life in capturing wealthy Indians who want their wedding to be the spectacle of the year, turn a tad repetitive. We know that behind the sparkling lights, the colorful rituals and the dazzling jewelry lurks something nasty. Something unpleasant, at the very least. To be fair, in this the script is even-handed. My compatriots will be nodding along in agreement with all the skullduggery shown.
The other piece- the lives of Tara and Karan- slowly became more interesting to me. Karan is a gay man who still lives in fear of being found out. The portions of his adolescence we got to see were quite wrenching, and the depiction of his dalliances and ultimate love story too were unflinching. (Many howls of protest here from fellow Indians. Homosexuality came to our fair land from the evil West, you see.) As for Tara, she's dealing with (that other Western import) infidelity.
Many different, unlovely facets of my country are up here for dissection. Overbearing parents, dowry problems, class discrimination, even the requisite creepy landlord, et al. India remains the most mind-boggling entity on the planet, hands down. On top of which the beauty of the weddings makes me want to weep. Nowhere else in the world do we see such color, dear God.
Finally, the cast are all superb. Clearly elated at having a script that pulls no punches- it is exempt from the tut-tutting of the infamous Indian Censor Board- they sink their teeth in and have a rollicking time. Some new faces, some old. The two leads are strong enough to shoulder their task, and Tara is so eye-poppingly gorgeous that at times I fail to register what she's actually saying on screen. (J sagely repeated his pronouncements on Indian women when he happened to catch a glimpse.) All this makes Made in Heaven solidly watchable, if not without flaws. Are they making a second season, then? They were smart enough to end with a premise that could work with or without one, so we shall see.

Monday, June 10, 2019

I'll take a dozen of those..

Et voila. RN winning RG has become as inevitable as death and taxes. Or, to be a tad more romantic, as inevitable as the blossoming of the jacaranda trees.
The final actually unfolded in two parts this time. The first, played at the unearthly hour of 3.50AM in blustery winds that swirled gusts of cinematic red dust into the players' eyes, was the richer of the two. For what could surpass Nadal vs. Federer? As it turned out, nothing. I was soon roused out of my bleariness by Rafa whipping the ball through the gale-force winds, thwarting the Great Vampire at every turn. (Later, Fed would admit that his aim during the match became to simply 'avoid looking ridiculous out there.')
And with that, the record stands. The mighty Federer, Greatest of All Time Except Against Nadal. The GOAT (EAN) if you will. Not that he sank without a trace. The straight-sets score didn't reflect his wily tactics and amazing finesse. It's just that in the end there was no answer to be found for the hellacious neon-green beast facing him across the net.

With that done, Dominic Thiem (who for some unknown reason has become Baby Dominic in my mind) set up another encounter with the Fearsome One for Sunday, having vanquished a grumpy, whining Djokovic in a two-day duel. A repeat of 2018, where he seemed happy enough to be thrashed in three. This year was a different story. Despite his extreme fatigue, Thiem was soaring on the adrenaline of the very young. His mindset, always steely, also has toughened further. He has a few more titles to his credit including a clay-court defeat of Rafa himself. Plus, never let it be said that Baby Dominic lacks self-belief.
And indeed in the first two sets we had a contest on our hands. Again Rafa insisted on getting me out of (an admittedly overly blanketed) bed at the witching hour of SIX AM ON A SUNDAY. Still, I persevered there on the couch, guzzling coffee, popping almonds while wondering why my stomach was making strange growling sounds. You see, the first two sets, while Rafa was clearly in charge, offered a real prospect of some strange outcome resulting...because Rafa actually lost the second.

A few minutes later, my doubts were laid to rest because the score read 4-0, Nadal. Poor Baby Dominic had pushed the wrong buttons. ("Rafa stepped on me," he said bluntly later in his presser.) The fourth read 5-0 before it went to 5-1 and then suddenly, 6-1. And with that, Rafa fell on his back, sprang up, pulled his theatrically clay-encrusted shirt up to his face and proceeded to sob wildly into it. He sobs only when he wins.
To follow the progression, one might think 2020 will bring Thiem vs. Nadal with Thiem taking two sets. The following year...who knows?
But for now let the record show, Exhibit 1: One Coupe de Mousquetaires, bearing teeth-marks of one Rafael Nadal, June 2019. (To be filed with other 11 exhibits, ditto.)

Monday, June 03, 2019

Le jeu et la mode


Allons-y! It's already quarter-final time at Roland Garros?

So far the top seeds have all mostly obliged us by playing to expectations. The only spanner in the works, so to speak, was Wawrinka. And he has earned his reward by facing his good friend the great vampire Roger Federer. This promises to be an entertainer either way, since Sneaky Stan might pull a 2015 and flummox Fed again. Or is the great vampire not done yet, downing his draught of life-giving blood and laughing deep into the night as he plans to stymie Stan in 2019? 65-35, in favor of Fed.
As for Rafa, he's had the good fortune to mostly cruise through. (Although, "easy is never" as he sternly reminded us in his presser, an epic quote that should immediately be used by Nike.) Partaking of several birthday cakes today and even downing some champagne, he looked jolly enough. Facing Nishikori, he is. Poor Nishi! 100-0, Rafa.
Then Thiem, who's struggled a bit so far, goes up against Russian giant K. Khachanov. Hmmm. Whom to pick? I shall say 60-40 for Thiem. A crackling match-up for sure. And as for N. Djokovic, need I waste space here? He plays Alexander Zverev, who I fear will be mashed into a lifeless gruel by the third. If he has a bit of fight in him, Z that is, he may drag out a fourth. Let us see what Djoko will unleash. Needless to say, 85-15 Djoko.
Ha. What fun it has been, especially since I have the privilege of seeing frequent live updates on a whacking big screen and get to see them in all their glory. It's also been an entertaining fashion scene. Especially amusing was Fed's outfit that is brown and gave rise to many UPS jokes....the FedEx now works for UPS! Harharhar! Poor Delpo was stuck in some multi-color ugliness, as is Kei Nishikori. Djoko's bright orange top is clearly a homage to Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, for some unfathomable reason. And Rafa? He came dressed as Human Highlighter. Never mind. He's almost eye-searingly bright, giving him an advantage. (He needs all the help he can get, he he.)
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