Saturday, July 30, 2005

The woman who loved men

I looked again, this time more intently, for a few fractions longer, trying to establish if my first instinct about the man's attractiveness was true or not. Normally, my admiration is more absent-minded. But today was strange. I was in the food court, near the university, getting a mid-day snack. It was there that I felt that today of all days was filled with a sensuous longing. When handsome men stand out in sharper relief, bodies glistening in the California sunshine, reflected a thousand times in their sweat prisms. It's the kind of longing that does not seek out sexual epiphany, though perhaps there is always erotic desire lurking beneath the purely aesthetic indulgence. Yes, he is handsome. And so is the other one, the one in the corner, intently arguing inanities while chomping down a sandwich.

Such callously charming men! I was looking for some songs to listen to online and I came across a Turkish singer whom I had heard a while ago. Watching his video I found him so attractive, with his tall, broad body, his silly attempts at channeling Turkish folk dancing on a beach, sand flying between his toes. The outstretched arms, the little shoulder jerk, he must know that women find it very irresistible. One of his teenage fans was even crying in the video. Callous cruel men.

As I drove around my neighbourhood this afternoon (running an errand for a friend), I thought of Joaco. Not entirely random, I did pass by his house once, I think. My memory is not to be relied on too much, I saw that house but once, and marvelled on its Kandinsky and Modigliani prints and some interesting original artwork. It was dinner prepared by Joaco, vegetarian food by the man from the land of premium steaks. After dinner, he offered to take me home. In the car he held my hand, breathing heavy and said, "You know, I've always been attracted to women who dress well". When Joaco had first come to LA, I mean the day I first saw him on campus, the first thing I noticed about him was his hair. Luxurious brown ringlets, tightly curled in places, loose and wavy at times, light and shadow slithering down their undulating landscape. That hair was gone in a few months, replaced by shaggy clumps where the curls should have been, forced into subjugation to a harsh, unrelenting scissor and comb. The wardrobe had been shabbied, Joaco the carelessly careless dishevelled student had taken over. And yet sometimes that upperclass upbringing managed to sneak a peak, in a predilection for women who dress well.

In the evening Em and I met up with an old neighbour and friend, one who has moved to another state for doctoral studies. We decided to go for dinner and were accompanied by two friends of the guy. One of the friends, reserved and refined, seemed like an interesting person. We got into Em's car, me in the front co-driver seat, and the other three in the back. We started talking about different things, the reserved boy spoke at times, although less than the others. Suddenly, I realised that I had been isolating his voice from the others, trying to trace out its contours in the midst of the confusion of voices in our crosstalk. His voice has a warmth that is not overpowering and yet, envelopes you with its sensuality. The voice of a cosmpolitan American, returning to native shores via Beirut. His low tones were lost in the buzz of the diner, as Em, old neighbour and I tried to outdo each other with our anecdotes. On the way back, I tried to draw him in needless patter, trying to soak in his cadence, I wasn't sure if I'll ever see him again. "Nice to meet you, we'll keep in touch". There is no overpowering desire or necessity to do so, no dating games to be played, no motives to be second-guessed. But sometimes, that's all there is, just so.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Distance makes the heart wilt

Being friends with Suze for the last 5 years or so has given me a broad perspective on long distance relationships. Suze's pretty and fun, very smart but not pedantic and a very loving person. About five years ago, she and I left Delhi to come to Los Angeles to work towards PhDs in different disciplines, but in the same university. It should have been an exciting move, a life of discovering a new city and new acquaintances, except that Suze had committed herself to a long distance relationship with a boy she had been seeing for less than a year in Delhi. What followed over the next five years was sad, as her insecurities made her cling obsessively to the relationship, even as it caused her pain and misery, as the usual frictions of a relationship were magnified several fold due to distance. Now, after 5 long years her boyfriend is finally in the US to join her. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, there's an unhealthy co-dependency, which strangely kept the relationship alive when it should have been sensibly broken off, and now would make them whiny and needy with each other.

But generally speaking, long distance relationships are strange beasts. Some seem to thrive perfectly, like my old roommate Nell and her boyfriend, who've managed to have a fairly healthy relationship over the last two years that they've been in different countries. Nell has a very active social life here, a large group of friends, she's a very outdoorsy person and generally cheerful and dynamic. Unlike Suze, I've never seen Nell mope about over distance from her boyfriend, and she certainly doesn't need to validate her existence by clinging to him all the time. However, Nell's the other extreme, very stoic, compared to the very emotionally demonstrative Suze. Many other women I know fall somewhere in between, refusing to stay home waiting for the boyfriend to call (or come online on Yahoo or MSN), and yet they are worried, insecure, unwilling to relax and shredding their life between two locations.

The diasporic condition of divided loyalties is tough enough to negotiate, and the issues are compounded by the addition of a long distance relationship. In the case of many the disappointments and frustrations of not being with the one you love is manifested in intense dislike of the place you are in. For almost 4 years Suze hated LA, despised everything about the city. Ditto for E-M who hates LA as well, but is unwilling to whittle down the cause for this dislike (which I strongly suspect comes from her beloved boyfriend being in Greece). As soon as Beck's boyfriend moved to San Diego, she started souring on LA, and discovered a new reason every day to move out of the city. Just goes to show how beyong mere physical attributes, places are but a stash of memories, and our love or hate of them vary accordingly.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can all be emotionally secure, well-adjusted happy people, who can embrace the new fully without necessarily discarding the old (well, sometimes that becomes necessary). Ha! Fact is, every one of us can, if circumstances are such, become very clingy, emotionally volatile and perfectly capable of making ourselves miserable. Who is to say that if S was to move to another city or country tomorrow, I wouldn't dissolve upon myself and wallow in my puddle of misery like Suze? Perhaps not to quite the same extent because I've seen first hand the state of Suze's emotional life. Anyway, the basic issue is about not predicating our happiness on one person, whether that person sleeps right next to us, or lives far far away.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A view of the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica from the terrace of the Wolfgang Puck Express cafe ( I know that's lame, but we didn't have the time to go to a better place). Em and I had come to pick up a gift for Beck's boyfriend and I was struck by just how chain store infested the place has become. Granted some of them are chains I like (Zara), and yet, I cannot help feeling that the Promenade is nothing more than another open air mall. It's The Grove, but with more silly shows, like the very chunky white belly dancer who was just so bad that even a substantial display of bare flesh wasn't enough to attract a crowd.

Scrapbook entries for the week

In the interests of personal history, here's a quick recap of the week gone by:

Had dinner with Em and his friend B at Angeli Cafe, which is a fairly nice Italian restaurant at Melrose, but makes the most oppressively dense tiramisu. I had to eat the darn thing over 3 days and couldn't manage more than two spoonfulls each time. Later, as we were driving past Hollywood, we spotted a bit of a common outside Roosevelt Hotel. Thinking that there might be some sort of mini-red carpet going on (perhaps a movie promotion) we decided to stop for some intellectually stimulating celebrity gawking. Hence the pictures in the posts below. Well, no celebrities, but the walk was nice.

This was pretty amazing. I have an Orkut account that I don't check very frequently. Last Friday I received a scrapbook entry that asked me if I attended a certain elementary school in Delhi. Holy schmolly!! That's the school I attended from grade 3 to 5 and when I moved to a different school in grade 6 (where I stayed till 12th grade) I lost touch with all my old classmates. The guy who wrote it seemed only vaguely familiar, but a back and forth exchange of scrap entries confirmed that he was indeed the person I thought he was, the lone other Bong in my class. What incredible coincidence! Someone from my elementary school, whom I had lost touch with, who grew up in almost the same neighbourhood as I, move to the US for graduate studies as well, should find me through Orkut.

And then last Saturday, we celebrated the birthday of Beck's boyfriend, for which they drove up from San Diego with the boyfriend's new found friend ElDorado in tow. A person whom Beck hates, because he is apparently leading the boyfriend down the path of sin, introducing him to all the drinking hotspots and the joys of being young, affluent and single. Almost every girlfriend seems to hate that friend of her boyfriend's, the one who is single and happy and has a fun, busy life, and is a glaring example that life is not a linear passage into long term commitment and nappy changes.

We went to the Pasadena restaurant Tokyo Wako to celebrate, where we had gone to celebrate the birthdays of C (the C in G&C) and Em. Honestly, I don't really care for the place. I don't know if this is because I don't like teppanyaki in general, or just that the restaurant is a very mediocre exponent of the teppanyaki genre (and I've only had teppanyaki at Tokyo Wako). The place is very pseudo Japanese, carelessly kitschy, not intentionally so. The jugglery of the chef with cooking implements and the onion reduced to a flaming volcano adds nothing to the taste of the food, but makes for fun viewing.

Later we went to Em's apartment where we had cake and the Beck's boyfriend got to open his presents, that included two porn DVDs from Beck. Always the best strategy, give a man the illusion that he has all the freedom in the world (Look honey, I even give you porn DVDs to watch!), while maintaining a firm grip on the situation. Beck's a master at this, and so is E-M with her boyfriend. The one who is absolutely hopeless is Suze, who is too edgy and paranoid and wants to control every aspect of her boyfriend's life. I smell trouble, but I'd be damned if I'm the one to tell her.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Here's a another blurred shot, this time of the Kodak Theatre, venue of the Oscars. And what do you know it's ensconced within a pretty uppity mall (with Swarovski and Louis Vuitton stores). Em thought these were the stores where the celebrities shop. In my humble opinion, these are tourist traps, strategically placed to give folks an illusion that they are walking into some celebrity-blessed precinct.

Here's a blurry, busy shot of Hollywood at its least frantic moment. On a Tuesday night, when apparently no one goes clubbing. But then, walking through Hollywood Blvd. we saw long lines snaking across the block at many clubs. And at the Roosevelt Hotel, there was apparently a "private party" (or so the security guards said) complete with a red carpet and cameras outside the hotel. Some private party! The weather was great, and many Hispanic families had come for a night out, so there were kids everywhere, something that's normally rare at night in Hollywood.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Vignettes from a Los Angeles afternoon

Yesterday was my drive friends around for errands day. Took Em to the body shop to get his car fixed, and then took Suze to the airport at midnight to receive her boyfriend. The poor fellow's arrival got delayed by several hours due to some airline glitches (yes he did arrive after all). So today, I decided to explore the garment district a bit, hunting cheap sunglasses and clothes. The Los Angeles Garment District (sometimes parts are called Fashion District) covers a huge swathe of the city's downtown, reflecting the importance of the garment indsutry in the city's economy. A lot of the small scale garment manufacture still takes place in LA, notwithstanding the avalanche of Made in China in the malls. And this is where a number of major fashion institutes and wholesale marts are located and every merchandiser worth her COH jeans has to come here to browse samples. Which actually makes for a very interesting mix, where stores selling very expensive, distressed chic clothing jostle for space with $5 T-shirt stores and knock-off sunglasses.

So in the midst of all the Hispanic and Iranian storeowners, and mostly Hispanic store employees, you see these very tall, thin women, almost too delicately poised on stilettos, wearing trends that would probably appear in next month's Vogue. Some are fashion students, some aspiring models. Some of their outfits looked like they took hours and several shopping expeditions to put together. The place has a very lively, busy feel to it, and Em thinks of it as a slice of Third World in the midst of LA, and certainly the area would not be out of place in a busy shopping district anywhere in South Asia.

For me what's very striking is the sheer number of Iranian immigrant store owners. Farsi is the language you hear the most after Spanish in this area. The very delectable fall-out of such an arrangement is that one of the best Iranian kebab joints, Downtown Kebab is located smack in the midst of the Garment District. The kebabs are better than anything that even the poshest Iranian restaurant in LA serves up (yes, they are even better than Shehrzad), but the place flies under the radar of the LA food critics, so not too many people outside the Garment district know about it. It is wildly popular with the storeowners though, and we've had to wait almost 30 minutes for food in the past.

The parking gods were keeping an eye out for me today, because I found a broken parking metre and parked next to it. Parking in downtown LA is usually very expensive (rivalling San Francisco downtown), and it is almost impossible to get a free spot. I walked around, picked up a few things and generally enjoyed browsing the stores. As I was going back towards the car, I stopped at a cafe, because they were advertsing Illy coffee, a brand I like, though not my all-time favourite (that's Palombini, a brand native to Rome and almost impossible to find in the US). I walked in, and asked for a n espresso. The boy at the counter was so utterly beautiful, I had a hard time keeping my eyes off him. He was obviously mixed, perhaps some Japanese genes mixed with Caucasian, had glowing skin the the most perfect nose and jawline. As I told him I wanted milk and sugar with my espresso, he smiled and said, "What kind of sugar do you want hon, brown, white, pink?" Oh dear, gay, gay, gay. How strange, shouldn't make a difference to me right, I was just indulging in some aesthetic appreciation, am not in the market for a man, and yet...Darn, a woman's mind is strange.

After the Garment District I went over to the Korean grocery store at Koreatown Galleria to pick up some groceries. LA has a very large Korean population, and a substantial number live in the Koreatown area. Now, because a Korean grocery can have a substantial customer base, they can afford organization on as large a scale as a regular grocery chain like Ralphs, Albertsons etc. And hence the Koreatown Galleria store is huge has a very wide selection of vegetables, meat and seafood at very reasonable prices. Many speciality food items like portabella mushrooms, Japanese eggplant and beansprouts are much cheaper. This also applies to the Iranian grocery store Elat Market on Pico Blvd, patronised by the Iranian Jews in the neighbourhood, and providing vegetables and fruits at very reasonable prices and better variety than regular grocery stores. In fact, I only go to a regular store like Ralphs for household essentials like cleaners and kitchen towels, preferring to shop all perishables at Iranian, Korean or Armenian markets. The added advantage of Koreatown Galleria is that a lot of seafood that is impossible to get at a regular grocery store is very good quality, cheap and plentiful here. Pomfret fish, octopus, whole shrimp(with the heads, thank you!), etc. The next best alternative, a Chinese Vietnamese massive fish market, is almost an 8 mile drive.

So there I was dodging the Korean grandmas fixing stares at brown me, walking past incredibly well-dressed Korean housewives, and counters offering fancy rice cake and watermelon samples. Usually it is possible to see a few non-Korean significant others of second-generation Koreans, expertly making their way through the aisles or wheeling their baby strollers. Today I seemed like the only non-Korean shopper in the store (although more than half the employees are non-Korean). The produce is of excellent quality and reasonable, and the Korean fascination with greens leafy vegetables (namul?) is manifested in more than a dozen kind on display. There are fresh lychees, rare outside Chinese stores, but after buying them enthusiastically on my last visit, I discovered that they had thinner flesh and a bigger seed than Indian lychees.

Just finished cooking some of the pre-marinated galbi I picked up at the store, and S said that it was the best he's had. Well, we should drive down for some more!

My hearty brunch, tortilla espanola (Spanish omlet). I was introduced to it by Damian, who used to make the deluxe version, with about 2-3 potatoes, 6-7 large eggs and painfully crisping each potato bit by frying in small batches. Thankfully I have a small pan that I used to make one with 4 small eggs and one potato (two frying batches). The onions are on Jaime's suggestion, who turned up his nose one night and said no Spanish omlet can be made without sliced onions. Apparently peas are added in some parts of Spain.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

My very own Serendib in Redondo Beach

On a regular basis, it so happens that how we start our day gives absolutely no indication as to how it would end. But yesterday was exceptional even by these standards, and there's no way to highlight the strange quirks of yesterday other than to write them out bit by bit. Oh, a bit of background before I start. So Farid's back in town after decamping to Boston for his PhD, and leaving me without an "Adventures in Eating" companion. So hurray, I shall eat sushi and sashimi now, and we've promised to tuck in some Indonesian grub as well. Now Farid's friend wanted to go windsurfing on Saturday and Farid wondered if we wanted to go as well. Hmmm...well let's see, S's been windsurfing for only like what, 14 years now and been dying to have a windsurfing companion in LA for only about three years.......Of course we'll be there darling!

So S, who's incredibly dilligent in such matters (in fact he woke up at 7 today to go surfboarding with a friend), woke up at around 9 to reach Cabrilo Beach (near Long Beach) about 11 miles south of where we live at 11, the meeting time indicated by Farid's friend. I call up Farid to confirm, but no answer. I call his friend then, but she isn't answering her phone as well. Seems they've been up late last night. So we decide to run errands while we wait for her phone call. The car needs to be smog checked, so off goes S to a repair shop, while I hop over to the Indian store across the street to get some coffee. Finally Farid's friend calls, she's obviously woken up seconds ago, and windsurfing seems to be the last thing on her mind.

Then we decide to head off to Marina Del Rey, to enjoy the sun, check out some yacht clubs for boat rentals (we go sailing frequently, at least S does), and get the car smog checked as well. And almost immediately, we get a lesson in geographically differentiated pricing, aka, if you belong to the hood, get all your stuff done in the hood. It's almost $20 more to get your car smog checked in Marina Del Rey, the home of vintage Porsches and multi-million dollar marina view apartments. So anyway, we abandon our mission to smog check the car and move on to exploring the yacht clubs and land in the fanciest of them all, the California Yacht club.

In the meanwhile I had received a frantic call from Suze about her fight with her boyfriend and how things are falling apart, and he's cancelling his tickets (he's coming to LA from Delhi on Monday), etc.,etc. I try to calm her down as best as I can, but I'm frustrated because:
a) she chooses to live in this state of suspended misery, alternating between expressions of undying love and laments about how she suffers his cruelty.
b) they would neither try to make things better by being more considerate, empathetic and respectful of each other, nor make a clean break from each other and start afresh.
c) it's a classic codependent relationship, where they feed on each other's insecurities, and don't even realise what they are doing.
d)she's a beautiful, loving, lively, engaging person who deserves much, much better in her life.
But then, Suze and her love life deserve a post of its own about how miserable long-distance relationships are, and how moving to a new country should be accompanied by some serious rethinking about any existing tentative romantic relationships (where the couple is just dating) and to preserve the sanity of both, a mutually amicable parting of ways.

Back to more pleasant things, the California Yacht Club. It's strange how, if I had not gone sailing in my life, nor been with a man as passionate about sailing as S, I would have had nothing but contempt for Yacht Clubs as bastions of snooty privilege. There is perhaps a bit of that as well, of those who get Yacht Club memberships to show off or join an elite network, but there is also a certain camaraderie of seamen and women, a passion for the sea and the romance of the sailboat. The club is gorgeous, the membership fees steep, but knowing S and his dogged pursuit of his interests, I wouldn't be surprised if we become a regular fixture at their boat races and cruises. He's already planning to drive down to the Club on Wednesday to make it to their weekly race. The thing starts at around 4, which means S would have to leave his office at 3. To do this, he has to report to work at 6! Wonder how he would have the energy to sail after that.

After leaving the Club, we decided to go check out Cabrilo beach anyway, so S could come to windsurf on his own if he wishes. We drove down the lovely Pacific Coast Highway, that true to its name rings the California coastline, traversing through numerous beach communities on the way. On the way, we stopped at a garage sale and I bought a bunch of books, including a Sewing Manual brought out by The Vogue in the 1970s (yes, I'm trying to learn), a glossary and guide on classic French cooking, and a massive two volume coffee-table style book on culinary traditions in a bunch of European countries. We continued and were soon very hungry and looking for places to eat (and since I can bully S, I shot down plans to go to Subway or some dodgy Chinese takeout, in retaliation he vetoed a perfectly good Indonesian restaurant). And then we saw banners, in blue and white, with the image of an Ionic column in the background. That could only mean one thing: a Greek festival!!

And sure it was, announcing the South Bay Greek Festival being held just round the corner. And a Greek festival means lots of Greek food, and when we reached, we really managed to stuff ourselves silly. The food is usually at par with what passes for Greek food in restaurants here, neither inedible or tremendous. After eating the food, we queued up for loukoumades, a fried dumpling drenched in honey with liberally sprinkled cinnamon and crushed walnuts on top. This is a pan Greek favourite, and in every little town on mainland or island, you'd find a loukoumades shop, frying them up fresh, sometimes served with a side of delicious kaimaki icecream.

We walked around checking all the stalls, till I found one that was curiously different. It was a stall that was providing information and accepting donations for an orphanage run by the Greek Orthodox Church (the South-east Asian diocese) in India. I checked out their display and was surprised to discover that the orphanage was actually in West Bengal! I started talking to the girl at the stall, a very pretty Greek-American girl who was delighted to learn that I was Bengali and told me that she had just returned after spending about 6 months volunteering in the orphanage. She adored Bengal, and was very keen to learn Bengali. She also wanted me to let her know of any Bengali events around town and get her invited to any Bengali weddings if possible!! So if any Bengalis in the LA area is reading this, please help me out, especially with the wedding bit.

S invited Soto and Triangle to come join us, and they did, Soto attacking the food, while Triangle kept calling different girls to try and hook up with them that night. Sadly, none were available. Sometimes, even the slut machine's charms fail to work. And then we exchanged notes about dealing with body hair (strange, I had a Sex and the City type conversation with E-M and Helen a few days ago about body hair). Triangle didn't want to remove all his chest hair with laser, because he felt that when he's older and pot-bellied, he'd need some hair to cover up the belly! Triangle's a cad, but he's hilariously funny.

And then as happens on many many Saturday nights, we ended up after our wanderings at Emil's house to watch Mad TV and SNL. the end is predictable, even if the middle is not. And SNL had a best of Christopher Walken special who is absolutely amazing, especially in the Mango skit with Chris Kattan (where Kattan is a gay dancer and Walken is the janitor at the club and has a crush on Kattan). The point where he parodies the song "Lady" is just fab.

Some remnants from last week's hedonism

I was actually planning to blog in detail about the rest of my last weekend as well, that involved a trip to San Diego and volunteering for the Artwallah annual festival. Both were fun things to do, but I've been too late in writing about them and the details have already started to blur. Here are the highlights though:

San Diego: A nice, not very long road trip after a long time. I need to get people together to do the Sideways road trip before it's too late and the summer's over. We need to get sloshed up with wine and wander in the beautiful vistas of Santa Barbara county. In fact, there's one stretch of road that S and I had decided to explore, after discovering it by chance on our way back from San Francisco a year ago. And we need to get down to San Diego more often as well, now that we have two friends living there (ok make that three if we count Beck and boyfriend separately).

Artwallah: Great fun, for those who went, I was the goofy, utterly inept person handling the artists' merchandise table (no not the one with the beard, that was Adnan). I hadn't heard of most of the artists whose merchandise we were selling, they were fresh talent, some getting their first exposure through the Artwallah festival. Adnan and I had a wonderful chat about music, and I found out that while he was an animator, he was also taking lessons in Hindustani classical vocal music, which was very cool. Sadly, it reminded me of my own two years spent in Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, my lack of single-minded dedication and tenacity to continue with my lessons.

Later in the evening I was joined by Emil, E-M and S, and we got to hear the music of some of the artists whose music I was helping sell. They all seemed very talented, and Emil was very impressed with the hip-hop group who were wearing kurta-pyjamas while singing about the 'hood! I loved the fact that the kids seemed to have found very innovative ways to accomodate all the different influences that they had grown up with. Also hilarious was stand up comic Paul Varghese, and the animated short by Nina Paley that had an incredibly funny reworking of the Ramayana.

But the biggest discovery for me was the venue of the festival. The Barnsdall Arts Park, looks truly unremarkable from street level as you navigate the treacherous and bumpy corner of Vermont and Hollywood Blvd. However, once you manage to wind your way through the road (or take the short cut through the stairs), the view from the top of the Hollywood hills is stupendous. On one side is a clear view of the Griffith Park observatory, on the other the Hollywood sign, and then you can make out the outlines of the Santa Monica Mountains and national park. The complex has a gallery and a theatre, that promises free Shakespearean performances all summer. And all this within walking distance of Little Armenia and Thai Town. I know I'd be looking for excuses to come back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

One party, two nations, a horny man (another missing) and several women

Busy, busy weekend. It started off with a party in Akis' place on Friday night. Now Akis was the president of the Greek students association at my university for a while and was always very generous about throwing parties at his house. We've attended parties at his house where there seemed to be almost 150 guests, only a fraction personally known to Akis. I think he and his roommates learnt their lessons from those wild days (the house getting royally trashed!) and decided to restrict the number of guests by passing out personal invitations only (no mass invites through mailing lists).

So off we went, the usual suspects, me, S, Suze, Soto, E-M and Angel man. We arrived, walked around a bit, got ourselves drinks and then after a while Suze, E-M and I settled into gossip mode. E-M said that she thought the other Greeks at the party were rather snooty and stand-offish and she wondered if they were like this because all of them were stinking rich. She said that she had encountered such behaviour back home only among the rich spoilt brats. I told her that I was amazed that she had faced such behaviour as well, since S and I always wondered if we were at the receiving end of such cold shouldering because I didn't speak Greek and S was excluded by association. Turns out they were just plain clique-y and didn't really care to accomodate newcomers to their groups. And none of them were rich, very middle class like the rest of us.

Of course, such behaviour was typical of most Indian students at the university as well, where tight-knit, exclusive groups were formed on the basis of language and nationality and the more cosmopolitan types were excluded. For such Indians and Greeks, you either have only Indian or only Greek friends, or you are the oddities that they'd rather not hang out with. Suze and I had operated on the margins of the Indian student population for years, by virtue of being non-engineers, not having exclusively Indian friends, and good heavens, not subscribing to the "good Indian girl" stereotype.

But then, I choose my friends based on mutual empathy and their ability to agree to agree and disagree with me in civil ways about everything under the sun. Language is important to me, only to the extent that at times I crave engaging conversations in Bangla and refined Hindi/Urdu. In the absence of such sophistication of ideas, a shared nationality is not exactly a very powerful binding agent. Let's just put it this way. Most of the Indian students here are those who would not be very close to me back home by virtue of a lack of a shared pool of ideas. Certainly I would not become interesting to them overnight simply because we happen to study at the same university now. Add to this all the points I listed above about them being clique-y, having exclusively Indian friends, and the men subscribing to some strange stereotypes about the women. And this is as true of the mainstream Indian students body as of the Greek, Chinese, Korean, Iranian, etc.

But I digress (and this topic deserves a full post of its own). We continued talking till E-M's friend Helen walked in, who is also an aspiring actress, and whom E-M wanted to introduce to Soto (and watch the sparks fly I guess). They were duly introduced, but there weren't any sparks. Accompanying Helen was an Indian-American boy who works as an assistant to James Cameron. He seemed like a fun guy to talk to, and he and Suze seemed to hit it off, but we thought that this is where E-M should be doing her networking and moved off to leave them to talk to each other. I talked to many others, including an Iranian boy who is an aspiring pop singer. He was very frustrated with the Iranian music companies based in LA, and felt that they operated like a mafia, controlling every aspect of the music business and wresting creative control away from the artist. As Emil said later when I told him about this, "Welcome to the real world!". But then, I think his task is a bit easier than E-M's. The Iranian music business is fairly small scale compared to Hollywood production budgets, and the record companies are far more likely to risk promoting a new artist. Don't be fooled by the Hollywood teen queens, most of them like Hillary Duff and Lindsay Lohan have been in this business for ages, and hence do not represent that much of a risk for the studios.

At some point, Suze wanted to go home, so we dropped her off, and on our way back we met the very drunk, ever smiling surfing buddy of S, Burak. Turns out he was too drunk to drive home, so we did another drop-off trip. When we returned to the party, S turned to me and said, "Have you seen Soto"? We planned to leave soon, and Soto had come to the party in our car, having parked his car near our apartment, almost a mile and a half away from the party venue. We looked around, Soto was nowhere to be found. Was he dozing off? We checked each room. Nope. Did he hook up with one of the girls, and was whisked away by her? Well, none of the girls he was chatting up were missing. So maybe not. Did he just wander off to the party down the street? We went up to the house, to be met by three drunk frat boys. "Hey did you see a Greek boy called Soto?". "Oh sure buddy, he just walked off that way." Trust me, we weren't gullible enough to swallow that, but Soto was well and truly missing at this point, and we wanted to cover all bases. Off we went in that direction and went round and round the neighbourhood, covering every little alley and corner. All the time frantically leaving messages on his phone. Not to be found.

We went back to the party house, wondering if he'd returned. When we arrived there, something else was going on. Another digression, since this requires a bit of background. See, S has a friend who shall be known as Triangle. That name has a history too. It was given by my dear friend Poorya, because of the incredible shape of Triangle's body. Broad sculpted shoulders that meander down to a taut waist. He does have a triangular body. Besides that body, his other obsession is his car, and almost every weekend is spent devising new ways to spruce the poor little thing up. And then there are the women. The boy is an unabashed player. So much so that Suze nicknamed him "slut machine". He may have had a steady girlfriend years ago, but for as long as I've known him, he's always flitted from one girl to another, at times hooking up with two or more simultaneously.

Now enter Anna. Vivacious, very pretty, smart, and very popular. And hopelessly attracted to Triangle. She's stuck to him for more than a year in the hopes of securing him in a monogamous relationship with her (why are women so deluded?) and in the process tolerated numerous hook-ups he's had with other women. He feels guilty about hurting her, and has tried to break away from her a number of times, but she's held on to him, doing everything she could to be with him. Even on the night of the party, just to be with him, she drove all the way from her house to his (perhaps a good 30 miles), picked him up, brought him to the party (another 30 miles) and would be dropping him back. All of us feel bad for Anna, but tear our hair over why she sticks to him, when she can have any man she wants (but then, she only wants him). E-M, furious at Triangle's cheating, walked up to Anna at a party and told her that he was cheating on her and she'd be better off without him. But then, the rest of us know that Anna is well aware of what Triangle is up to, but would rather bury her head in the sand than face up to facts. And pointing it out to her is only more painful to her.

So on the night of the party, as soon as they reached Triangle separated from Anna and went for the girls. And of course in no time, he made out with a few of them. In his mind, he's not accountable to Anna and sees no reason to exercise any discretion in her presence. But Anna was very hurt, and when we found her after coming back from our Soto search expedition, her eyes were red, and she'd obviously been crying. E-M was standing close to her and was fuming mad at Triangle's behaviour. As for Triangle, he was drunk, horny and cared two hoots. Somehow we managed to convince Triangle to leave with Anna, as she was not only upset but very tired as well (and had to pee, the toilet flush at the house wasn't working). And then, S and I resumed Soto search. After exhaustively combing the neighbourhood, we decided to check out the car, having decided it was impossible that he would have walked all the way to the car, unless someone gave him a ride. We went up to our apartment, and what do you know, Soto's car was gone!! So he had managed to find his way to his car. But how, and why??

We received the answer the next day, when he called to tell us his head had been screwed by a particularly stiff vodka drink. He had walked out to get some air, and had kept walking till he reached his car (in a drunk state!) sat inside, and slept for an hour. At some point he woke up, and drove off. Darn, no woman involved.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A polyglot world - but lust and food universal

So more about the pictures now. And the mood enhancing lighting, which of course is a major incentive to suck face, which is what a couple proceeded to do at the bar of the restaurant. E-M almost shrieked out, "Oh my God, they are nearly having sex!". Well not quite, but some heavy duty making out was going on, with a middle-age going on old, not so attractive man and a fairly good looking, much younger blonde. What gives, you wonder. Well, in a Malibu restaurant, you wonder again and again, as many such sugar daddies walk in with gorgeous trophy women, and women with bodies to give Barbie a run for her money strut their stuff.

I always wondered where the stereotypical big-breasted blonde hung out, and I found them by the dozen in Taverna Tony. One had perfect shiny blonde hair, massive silicone infused breasts, the flattest stomach ever, and a tanned near anorexic body (the rest of it, that is, not the breasts). And then there were gorgeous boys as well. After we came home, I wondered why a restaurant served less than mediocre food had managed to build up such a reputation and popularity. S had an answer: "Blondes, blondes, blondes."

The reason for us being there was to grab a bite before seeing the 4th of July fireworks on the Malibu beach, something that we'd always managed ot miss on past years. By the time we arrived (S, I and E-M), the rest of the table had already ordered. And the food started arriving. And arriving. And arriving. Feeling a bit concerned, S and I turned to Mox and asked him how much food he had ordered. He reassured us: "Oh, don't worry, this is all part of the Greek feast order, we ordered one per person". Hmmm......well hon, that happens to be the most expensive thing you can order off the menu. Adding three bottles of wine, and this proved to be the most expensive meal S and I had ever had. Who says voyeuristic blonde-watching comes cheap. After the shock of the eventual bill settled, I decided to dig in, polishing off half a plate of calamari and two glasses of wine. I would have consumed more, but the food was pathetic. The pastitsio had a burnt top, the lamb was overcooked and stringy, the chicken kebabs flavourless and E-M declared that the rizogalo was the worst she'd ever had. Even if I take the expense in my stride (and it's hard to do so), the fact that I was paying so much for bad food really rankled.

But the ambience was great, and we talked and talked and the waiters left us alone. On one side was a Russian girl (the friend of the other Russian girl in the last post) who had just joined our university and had presumably just started going out with an old neighbour of mine (also present). At some point, E-M turned to me, all excited and said in Greek that she saw the man grabbing the hand of the girl under the table. S and I told her that we think they might be dating. E-M, shocked that she thought otherwise, turned to the girl and apologized for not knowing that they were in a relationship! The Russian girl, didn't know what hit her first, and then became very flustered and embarassed, denying that they were together and said she had hardly met him two weeks ago. Now E-M has either done my neighbour a favour by saying what he was probably too shy to bring up, or destroyed his chances by speaking too soon of possibilities.

After we left the restaurant (and by the time we left the fireworks were over, so none this year as well), we continued talking in the parking lot. We discovered that two of the guests at the table, Mox, an Egyptian and a Russian-American had been learning Chinese. And that most were polyglot and knew a diverse range of languages. And poor Vincent had to answer for the unfriendliness of French towards tourists and his argument was that the French really do not know English and are indeed quite bad at learning other languages. And we all agreed that the Germans were the most talented when it comes to picking up languages. And it struck home again that we Indians are still to come to terms with the multilingual global world, stuck as we are with paranoia over the dominance of English and need to preserve the "pristine purity" of our languages (were they ever in this state).

Bheja fry and cute gizmos

The reason why the pics are a bit blurred is because they were taken with insufficient light (dimmed mood enhancing lighting) and with my brand new camera phone! Yes, S and I decided to get thoroughly brainwashed by Suze and got ensnared by a monthly plan that came with two adorable phones (Nokia 6620). I've never had a cellphone before, so I don't really do much with it. But S, after toying with it continuously for two days declared that it is overloaded with features, and he preferred the simpler old phone (yeah right!), and that it was a mistake to switch from prepaid to monthly, because we'll fry our brain cells with radiation overdose. Of course I told him we are at greater danger from all the freeway emission pollution, but he's made up his mind.

So just to reassure him (and myself as well) I did a bit of research and found that the best way to avoid radiation is to use a headset at all times, and keep the handset away from contact with the body. Metal casings are a mistake, they cause the cellphone to increase radiation to enhance power. So if you are talking on your phone, either sit down and rest the handset on a table or drop it in an open bag (like a small beach bag or shopping bag) if you are moving about. Clumsy perhaps, but ultimately a safer option. Anyway the research on effects of cell phone radiation are far from conclusive, so I guess we'll have to wait and see in the next five years. In the meanwhile, avoiding direct contact is the best thing.

Adorably done up place, despite all the flagwaving inside (hey, it was 4th of July!). Too bad the food doesn't match up.

Here's our buddy Mox looking very pleased with himself, while Vincent and S flank either side.

Dinner at Taverna Tony, Malibu

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Party Time!!!

So now that S is part of the system, and another brick in the wall (his sentiments not mine, though I think he really likes his job), we had to make good on a promise to throw a party for friends. Which we proceeded to do, in fine style indeed, if I may say so. I think the one thing that distinguishes our parties from the ones thrown by other fellow students is the equal attention to booze and food. Most parties thrown by students I've attended pour their generosity in the booze, with a bowl of sorry looking tortilla chips and tasteless salsa as apologies for food. To their immense credit, the booze is usually great and plentiful, but you'd be wasted beyond measure if you skip dinner before attending one of these soirees.

For us, the food takes centrestage, supplemented with soft drinks and beer. And our great friends end up bringing tons of booze anyway. In fact in the party last Saturday, we had lots of leftover beer, all brought in by the guests. S and I have a tiny studio, so a party at this cluttered place is out of the question. So we got lucky that this wonderful friend of S' offered his apartment for the party. It was a lovely place, very minimalistic, with plenty of space to move about. As always, S and I were almost 30 minutes late in reaching the venue of our own party (no, this is not Indian Stretchable Time, my punctuality is almost German, blame it on Greek time!). And we arrived to find two guests waiting for us! But once there we managed to get our act together pretty fast, and the guests started pouring in in about an hour's time. We had about 40 guests in the whole evening, but of course the turnover was constant, so there weren't more than 25 at any given point of time. There was music, and many started dancing, including the Greek guests doing some folk dances which were great fun with everyone joining in.

Around 1:30 a.m., the police came knocking. Apparently, someone had complained, and they wanted us to tone it down. But they had sly smiles on their faces, almost as if shaking their heads at the anal behaviour of the neighbours who wanted quiet time imposed on the Saturday night of a long weekend. In any case, the guests had started leaving, and only most of the Greeks, who arrive late and leave late stayed on. We were unwilling to break things up, and if it had been our own house, perhaps we would have let things continue till later (most of our previous parties would continue till 5 or 6 in the morning). But taking such liberties with a friend's apartment and his sleep was a bit too much, so we folded up around 2:30. Here are the highlights of the evening:

Potential hook-ups: 3

The first involved a student of S (he teaches Taekwondo in his spare time) and Soto. The girl is of Vietnamese-Chinese origin, but had grown up in Italy and now lives in the US (so I'm guessing she speaks at least four languages!). Even though Soto had met her before, there hadn't been much interest. However this time, he seemed to find her quite attractive, though he was a bit torn between her and a Russian girl at the party. However, the Russian girl was chased all evening by a very drunk (and possibly very horny) frat boy. He tried to keep convincing her to leave with him (almost ditching his surfer dude friend in the process), but she wasn't very keen and ended up leaving with her friends. And then there was the case of my old neighbour Deep chatting up another Vietnamese girl.

Surreal moment

The friend of horny frat boy was a surfer dude who was studying creative writing. Towards the end of the party, I had a chance to talk to him, and asked him what he would like to write about. He told me that he would like to write about surfing, but wasn't about the capture the experience fully in his writing. Suddenly, he stopped, looked intently at me and asked, "Do you know how long it would take if I take Venice all the way and walk to Figueroa". Holy smoke, that's about 8 miles!! You intend to walk all that way at 2:00 a.m! It was then that I looked clearly at him, and realised he was very very drunk, and his poetic imagination had taken hold of him. For the next ten minutes S and I had to drill it into him as to why walking 8 miles in the dead of the night is not the liberating experience he thought it would be.

All in all, it was great fun as always. Will post the pics once I develop and scan them.