Monday, February 11, 2008

I Smell the Wildflowers

Some semblance of a social life returns after the endless agonies of defending and revising a dissertation, job hunting (that agony persists), exams and just general mayhem of all sorts. My personal posts have been a bit infrequent lately, which is not by design, because those are the ones I love writing the most, as I imagine what it might be like to read them a decade later and reminisce on the way we were.

Had an incredible, amazing hiking trip in Palos Verdes last Saturday and cannot wait to go back hiking the coming weekend. This despite the fact that my shins were so sore that I could barely walk from one end of my room to the other. How odd that the pain hit me with the lag of one day - not on Saturday or even on Sunday, but on Monday morning when the walk to the kitchen became a drag. But my shins are spoilt - they haven't been used and abused so rigorously in a long time - despite my regular strength training workouts.

But enough with the pain and let's focus on the joy - a quiet, reflective, ruminating sort of joy - the sort that fills you up and makes you slump back on a grassy patch with wildflower and sunshine all around you and think, what if I gather these moments by the armfuls and carry them home and set them in a corner so they never leave.

Palos Verdes is an exceptionally pretty corner of Southern California. That's saying a lot, because Southern California has a lot of pretty corners, never mind the smog and bleak commercial and industrial edifices of its urban core. Once you start losing yourself in the mountains, beaches and forest trails of this region, there's a lot of unexpected beauty, tempered with the jagged edges of rocks, homogeneous highways and dusty trails.

We started off as a big group, but soon split up into two, because S, E-M and I wanted to hike all the way down to the beach, whereas the others weren't up for this unscripted adventure. We wound our way down and on our way found an older Korean woman bent over and foraging the abundant mountain greens, deftly cutting them up with an experienced hand. I have always wanted to go on a wild mushroom gathering expedition when they are in season, and mentally added identifying and plucking wild greens to that list as well.

When we finally managed to climb, scamper, and leap our way down to the beach, it wasn't as picture perfect as it had seemed from the top of the mountain. For one, the fine gleaming sand turned out to be small pebbles, fairly treacherous to walk on and I nearly twisted my ankle on them (prompting a mean response from the boyfriend that I'm more clumsy cow than mountain goat). And then jutting out from the cliffs surrounding the beach were these gnarly, almost prehistoric looking black rocks, fascinating to me, but definitely not in the mould of pretty-pretty beaches that are all sun and sand and deep blue ocean.

Now that we had climbed down, there was this matter of hauling ourselves back to the top where our car was parked, an impossible feat given how our joints were creaking in protest. We asked Em and Ferry, who had gone with the other party to come fetch us, and giving them directions was a challenge because we had no earthly idea where we truly were. This started a whole sequence of wrong turns, misguided detours, and Em and Ferry proceeding to get hopelessly lost, leaving us with the dim prospect of having to spend the night shivering on a roadside bench being lashed by the cold ocean winds.

S and I are generally very sanguine under these sort of circumstances - S more so because he's sailed under stormy conditions so does not get perturbed easily. He proceeded to sprawl on the bench and take a nap, while E-M went on to get more and more anxious and stressed and alternatively badgered Em on the phone and then S and I about what a terrible mess we were in. In the midst of all this chaos, I found my moment of calm because I noticed that the sun was setting in the sea and its last rays seemed to skim over the mountains, bathing them with a precious fleeting hue. It's a slim window of time that you see this phenomenon and then its all gone, as the sun sets and there's quiet darkness all around.

Finally, after what seemed like eternity, Em and Ferry managed to find us and we piled into the car and headed straight to a restaurant because we were famished and proceeded to gnaw off our lamb bones, wolf down our kebabs and polish off every bit of rice. Well, there go any calories we might have lost with all that hiking.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Gadha Haathi ek Samaan, Lekin Mera Amrika Mahaan

Scarlett Johansson called yesterday. I wouldn't have recognized, but she did say her name right at the outset. And today Stevie Wonder called. His voice is unmistakable, and besides he started off with the cheesiest cliche of all - "I just called to say...........".

Celebrities love my boyfriend. He's the most precious political commodity of all - the independent voter. His phone's been bombarded with recorded messages, mostly from the Obama campaign. If their organization and zeal in LA is anything to go by, Hillary should be very, very afraid.

Speaking of voting, all these inane propositions that they manage to insert into the ballot is such a perversion of democracy. As the boyfriend says, if you want me to make all the public policy decisions, why the hell did I elect you jokers in the first place? We spent all morning poring into the proposition list, trying to make sense of them and decide what he should vote on each.

Apart from the celebrity flavour (which is also bland and generic, Hollywood style), I find American elections rather boring. By the time politicians get churned through the PR and media minder mill, polished, tweaked, hammered into shape, they all start resembling each other, all standardized units of so much blah. The same sound bites, the same careful balancing of issues, the same inoffensive spiel.

And in any case, elections remind me always remind me of this incredible scene from the Pakistani stage play "Bakra Qishton Pay"

Umer Sharif is a professor who's also a politician on the side. He's rehearsing a political speech to be delivered in a gathering with his servant Sharfu.

Umer: "Bhaiyyo main agar jeet gaya to jo sadkein bani hain unko tudwa ke phir se banwa doonga"

(Friends, if I win, I will demolish the existing roads and get them rebuilt)

Sharfu (looking shocked): "Yeh kyon?" (Why?)

Umer: "Bas unke thekedaar ne to kama liya, ab hamara thekedaar kaise kamayega?"

(Well, the previous political party's contractors made money off the road contracts, now our guys have to make some dough too)

So m0ve over Halliburton, there's a new game in town!

The video deserves to be seen in full, so here it is, the political speech section: