Friday, November 24, 2006

Such a Long Journey

That would teach me to not down an entire can of coffee at 11:00 p.m.! Went to bed at 3:00 a.m. woke up at 7:00 a.m., and with neither the energy nor the inclination to join the great capitalist orgy of Black Friday, have been pottering about the apartment ever since.

I think I am still in my charged dissertation writing mode, because till about 3 days ago, I was downing two large cups of coffee a day, the second usually sometime after midnight. I guess I'm still fairly disbelieving of the fact that I might have actually pulled off the impossible, that is, finished a not too rambling, mediocre but readable draft of my dissertation for submission. Probably my subconscious still thinks I need the coffee - focus, stay alert, and type, type and type some more.

Despite all the coffee, there were daily moments when my aching fingers and tired mind would conjure "what if" scenarios of life beyond a PhD. What if I quit and move to Sumatra? What if I become an illegally employed babysitter who reads books all days and occasionally admonishes the brats under her care? What if I buy my own farm and grow tomatoes all my life? Ok, you get the picture, my fantasies were really getting the better of me.

And so I started giving my mind daily pep talks, trying to dupe it into stretching itself almost beyond capacity. At this point, I've perfected the pep talk, so that at the first hint of a PhD student complaining about his/her PhD and threatening to quit, I can bring out the appropriate mix of guilt trip, dangling financial carrots, and explaining how the academic process is far less intimidating than it seems.

The last two days of writing the draft and finally submitting it were so mentally charged that I really needed a process to step down from my highly wound up state. I decided a visit to the LACMA to make use of my spanking new membership card was in order, but the bugger museum is apparently shut on Wednesdays. Argh! And to think I braved pre-Thanksgiving traffic to go there (yeah I totally blame them, and not the fact that idiot me didn't check their website for timings).

I did get some very peaceful moments though, through a marvellous sushi lunch and a relaxing cup of herbal tea at a Korean tea house. Urmi, we have to go to this lovely gem of a restaurant when you visit, which should be soon, so you manage a meal before the trendy sushi-gulping set invades this place.

The place is utterly unassuming on the outside, adjoining the nth Starbucks franchise, and set against a standard stripmall. The inside though is minimalistic, refined and unobstrusive. When I entered, the charming waitress mentioned with concern that the place was a traditional sushi restaurant - "I'm so sorry, we don't serve any California rolls". They've probably had one too many customer demanding avocado and cucumber rolled in with their tuna.

No, I'm fine with traditional sushi I said, and sat at the bar, the only other customers being a couple who seemed to be regulars. I had a light meal, but ate a few things I hadn't had before, including ankimo (monkfish liver) and uni (sea urchin). The horror with which sea urchin is mentioned by even some veteran sushi eaters, you'd think it was a terribly eccentric acquired taste. Frankly, the stuff was delicious, and no more odd than a prosaic bowl of daal for a first time taster of Indian food.

With the caveat that this fact has no bearing on my assessment of the meal, sushi chef was absolutely gorgeous. I mean, this is a man who can pull in the dining crowd on the strength of his looks alone (lots of single women dine alone or with their girlfriends), his sushi doesn't need to be as excellent as it actually is. But word on the street (well, actually, Chowhound boards, which is where I first heard about the place) is that he's married and the place is named after his daughter.

Later while drinking my citron tea at the Korean teahouse, I browsed through a coffee table book with Van Gogh's paintings. I was reminded once more how alternately fascinated and disturbed I was by his Crows over a Cornfield. I first saw it in a book about 8-9 years ago, and was immediately struck by the breadth of the canvas, the genius of the brush strokes evident even in a silly print reproduction.

I also learnt that Akira Kurosawa had based an entire section in his film Dreams on his impressions of the painting. I can understand Kurosawa's fascination with the work. If I have any special impetus to visit Amsterdam, it is to able to see the original "Crows over a Cornfield" at the Van Gogh Museum there.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and the only time in the year that I willingly and knowingly consume turkey. After a late lunch at a professor's house, I, the boyfriend unit, Em and another friend Zizi went off to see Casino Royale. As a great lover of commercial Hindi films, for me the Bond series are the closest thing in Hollywood to the kickass stand-off scenes and larger than life characters in Hindi cinema of the 1970s. And this Bond movie had plenty of thrills for me.

First off, count me among the sceptic-turned-converts to Daniel Craig's incredible charisma and raw sensuality. The very first extended action sequence (supposedly in Madagascar, but actually filmed in the Bahamas), was one of the exhilarating action sequences I've seen in any film. The narrative is thin and mediocre, but that's kind of true of most Bond films. The film more than makes up for it by filling frame after frame with Craig, and more Craig, gritty Craig, steely Craig, cynical Craig, ironical Craig.

And then there are the locations! While watching the film, we were mesmerized by the breathtaking visuals of scenes supposedly set in Montenegro, and I decided there and then that Montenegro was to be among my future destinations. However, when the final credits rolled in, Montenegro was nowhere to be found, and instead, the name of Lake Como cropped up. It was then that Zizi, who's Italian, realized that the so-called Montenegro scenes had actually been filmed at this gorgeous lake in northern Italy.

It's amazing, just when I thought I knew all about Italy's best attractions, comes a place that I had never heard about before. Just when I thought the country couldn't be more beautiful, I see a place whose beauty is surreal and truly exceptional. Some of Casino Royale's action takes place in Venice as well, but as Zizi said, the scenes pack in every single Venice cliche, including gondolas, gondoliers in striped shirts, and the Piazza San Marco and its pigeons.

Em booed at the end because he felt that they made the movie mushy in parts, which I agree was quite unnecessary. I mean for heaven's sake, all the chick-flicks in the world can cater to the mush and tears crowd, the women in the audience should be happy with Daniel Craig's eyes and abs alone. No need to make him say sappy stuff.