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It all starts where it ends...

Date: 2007-11-14 12:22
Subject: Holland Trip
Security: Public
Location:Amsterdam, Netherlands
Music:Jab Bhi Cigarette - No Smoking OST
Tags:destinations, picture post, travel
This weekend I took a trip to Holland, to meet up with a friend, Su, hit Amsterdam together, and scour the countryside. Su is a student at Utrecht, not very far from Amsterdam. I took a late night flight into the Schipol airport, and headed directly off to Utrecht, since Su and me had loads of catching up to do! The next morning we headed to see Su's university, and meet up with her multi-cultural class. Gary, the Taiwanese, was more than happy to grab markers and detail Amsterdam centre and the attractions for us on a white board too!

The city of Amsterdam is laid out along four concentric semicircles of canals: Singelgracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, or the Golden age canals. Along these canals, 16th- and 17th-century merchants lived in elegant homes, most of which are still standing. Connecting these canals are many smaller canals and streets radiating out from the centre, and effectively dividing the city into an archipelago of tiny islands linked by bridges.

The first thing we did once at Amsterdam Central Station, since we didn't want to miss out on it, was taking the tram to the Anne Frank Huis. It's a typical Amsterdam canal house, with very steep interior stairs where eight people from three separate families lived together in silence for more than two years during Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II. The hiding place Otto Frank found for his family, the van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer kept them safe until, tragically, close to the end of the war, it was raided by Nazi forces and its occupants were deported to concentration camps.

A very sobering and solemn experience, the house has excerpts from Anne Frank's dairy on the walls, recounting her day to day life, relationships, all fringed by the Nazi terror raging outside. Bending under the very bookcase which concealed the eight people during the war, seeing the very yellow cloth star which the Nazis used to brand Jews,  passing through the light deprived rooms these people shared, and specially Anne's room, with the magazine cut-outs she put up on the walls in a desperate attempt to ward of the fear and gloom, the washroom where running water in certain hours could mean detection and consequent death, right up to the point where a colossal book stands encased in glass, the book of the name lists of the Dutch Jews carted away for gassing at the Auschwitz concentration camp, was eerily real enough to give me goose bumps.

Exiting Anne Franks House, at Westermarkt, we proceeded to the Tulip Museum, the towering Westerkirk, or West Church and the Homo-monument, in remembrance of all the persecuted homosexuals during Hitler's regime. It takes the form of three rose-colored granite triangles, recalling the shape of the badge the Nazis forced homosexuals to wear.

Next stop, the centre of Amsterdam, the Dam Square. Amsterdam grew up around a dam on the Amstel River that's now this monumental square with the Koninklijk Royal Paleis or the Palace on the Dam and the World War II obelisk shaped monument. Also clearly visible from the square is the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, the street from behind which leads to the oldest part of Amsterdam, De Wallen or The Wall, which houses Amsterdam's notorious Rossebuurt or Red Light District. To the far left is the Begijnhof, a once-religious cloister for women founded in the 14th century, and now a residence for elderly women. The other lane to the right leads to the Dutch Chinatown, with a superabundance of restaurants and eateries. Towards the right are the Amsterdam Diamond Centre and Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and a line of souvenir shops. We popped into one of them for a spot of shopping, and then hit Chinatown for some of the most amazing Chinese food I have eaten in a long time : Noodle soup, egg rolls, and steamed rice with sliced curried chicken.

Post lunch, more shopping ensued, and finally we were ready to head into the Red Light District. One has heard umpteen times of Amsterdam's Rossebuurt, but all the tales and accounts were nothing like actually cruising along the area! Along the notorious street of Oudezijds Achterburgwal, gaudily painted hookers adorned red-lit glass showcases like mannequins, preening and parading. The more uninterested ones were having a relaxed chat on their mobile phones or taking a nice peaceful drag of their cigarettes. The whole atmosphere was strangely relaxed, even while the business flourished all around. The heavy red and golden glitter of the shops lay reflected in a quiet canal in the middle of the street, with swans swimming about. The pimps would pounce out at you from almost anywhere, announcing their "happy hour" rates, with drinks on the house and detail featured shows which left virtually nothing to imagination. Stoned, glassy eyed dope heads and heroin whores passed by and ever so often, and you could catch repetitive snippets of conversation you felt were targeted at you. But far from being a seedy neighbourhood, the bustle and vibe of the area with its glaring red and yellow lights and lively women was really something I did not expect.

Also in the Red Light District, is the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp museum, which we turned into and which really teaches one everything one ever wanted to know, and much one didn't about Cannabis, including some bizarre tales from the prohibition era and instances from the war against the drug. For instance, any amount of Marijuana cultivation can get you a life sentence (90 years!) in the state of Oklahoma! Dutch Policy, however, has always maintained that the use of Cannabis is no more problematic for society than alcohol, and should not be a criminal offense. On Queens day, joints and space cakes are sold openly on the streets of Amsterdam. There was also a Marijuana plantation on the premises, plants at various stages of development filled the air with an unmistakable and heady fragrance.
One even gets to sample the hash grown here, from a vaporizer nearby.

Almost all the coffee shops in this area have strange sounding names, pictures of Bob Dylan, red-yellow-green-black decor, and their very own Cannabis menu.  

Quite mesmerized by all the glitter and dope, we headed home...

The plan for the next day was to head out to Zaanse Schans, in the Dutch countryside.

 A short train ride later, we were at the train station of Koog-Zaandijk, from which we followed the little green signs for the short walk that lead us there.

The bridge across the River Zaan provides one of the most breathtaking and memorable views in Holland.

At the far end the community at Zaanse Schans is visible, with its traditional green painted houses, warehouses and windmills giving the feeling of having stepped back into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of a colourful living and working neighbourhood.

We first stepped into the Wooden Clog Workshop, originally De Vrede, a 1780 storehouse from Westzaan serving as storage space for snuff and grain. De Vrede was moved to the Zaanse Schans in 1984. Part of the storehouse has been devoted to the Wooden Shoe Museum, one of the largest and most beautiful collections of every imaginable wooden shoe in the Netherlands, massive ones for work, sunday clogs, and elaborately crafted ones for wedding days, which are ritually carved by the groom for the bride. There were also clog making demonstrations complete with the process and tools.

Crossing over a bridge, we arrived at a replica of an original Cheese Farm from the village of Oostzaan. Different types of Dutch cheese are made here daily, and available for tasting. Had the most divine cheese sandwiches and syrup waffles here.

Next was the path heading to the windmills. Headed to "De Kat" or the paint mill, which offered panoramic views of the other mills, De Poelenburg (Wood Sawing Mill) and De Bonte Hen (Oil Mill). In 1646 paint windmill 'De Kat' was built at its present day site on the Zaan, later to become part of the Zaanse Schans. In 1782 the mill was destroyed by fire but was rapidly rebuilt again.

Done with Zaanse Schans, we returned to Amsterdam for a little more time in the city, then headed to the Schipol airport. That sort of wrapped it up for the trip. Holland leaves one with a vibe of wholesomeness, stretching out for miles altogether, just like its flat and endless grassy green plains.
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Date: 2007-07-23 00:12
Subject: Eloquent Silence is rendered thus...
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Music:Distilling Roses - Perfume : The Story of a Murderer OST
Tags:foreign film
The only movie I saw this weekend (JK Rowling and later Tennessee Williams keeping me occupied):

The term "3-Iron" is apparently from golfing, but somehow the literal translation of the Korean title "Empty Houses" makes much more sense.

Eloquent silence truly takes on a whole new meaning with this movie. The bizarre ends up sublimely comforting, and I found myself ending up smiling at the exact same places the male lead does, the resonance was so strong. If you liked the poetry in motion that was "Spring, summer, fall, winter...and Spring", and Kim Ki-Duk in general, this one is totally unmissable.
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Date: 2007-07-20 21:32
Subject: Good Day, Mr. President!
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Music:Ai no Jikken - All about Lily Chou-Chou OST
Tags:musings, nostalgia, storytelling
On 19th July 2007, Pratibha Patil was elected as the thirteenth and first ever female president of India. She takes over the reins from none other than the legendary "Missile Man of India", celebrated rocket scientist and engineer Dr. APJ Adbul Kalam.

Trivia. The first female president of India seems a significant moment in history, but suggesting that mere succession of the supreme powers of countries is awe-inspiring or poignant or any other related adjective, is ludicrous to the average apathetic Indian citizen.

But when Dr. Kalam became the ceremonial head of state in 2002, the memories of three girls held something different, held something that happened close to a decade back from now, maybe sometime in the monsoon of 1999.

Three girls from Class 11, Kendriya Vidyalaya, National Aerospace Ltd. were racking their brains. The currently assigned project in Communicative English was to interview one famous personality, and transcribe the same for the school magazine. Still in school, these girls were wearing starched and ironed salwaar kameez and plaiting their hair with bright red ribbons while their peers headed off to PUC colleges and the Karnataka CET visions.

"Aircraft accident!" reported the one that lived at DRDO township, "Dr. APJ in town, now is our chance!" to the other two on telephone.

Parents are dragged into the rush, cars back off from driveways into the rainy night.

Destination DRDO township Guest House. The girls armed with notepads and cameras eye the security around the perimeter. Gingerly approaching the guard, the request to meet the missile man, for just a few minutes, is conveyed.

Trepidation mounts, characteristic adolescent collective finger-biting ensues.


The step inside.

And the first glimpse of the very man himself, descending the stairway, and eying the subjects suspiciously.

Not, on the whole, very warm, for a trio of on-the-edge teenagers.

The gushy chorus, always the refuge...

"Hello Sir! We are students from KV NAL, here to interview you as part of our project in Communicative English, would you be so kind as to spare a few minutes?"

Never did suspicion change to a warm welcoming smile in such a short time. Dr. APJ laughs at the folly of mistaken identity, evidently an earlier brush with some journalists did not go too well.

The minutes tick. Dr. APJ tells of his childhood, his dreams, his genuine delight to see students come to meet him. He tells the tale of an afflicted little girl with big dreams and his eyes well up. We are more enamored by the stories and anecdotes he peppers his conversation with than with scribbling industriously onto our notepads.

Suddenly, it is intimated that a flight departs in mere minutes. His warm smile again lights up his face, and he bids goodbye with a much sought after pat of approval for a job well done.


Those were the days of mass physical training on Monday mornings, enthused co-curricular activities on Saturdays, Jeffrey Archers stowed surreptitiously in desks, wicket-gate slip outs from school grounds for a much-dreamed exotic lunch, grimy kabbadi on the playground, teachers who taught about "potato crap" and "virginal works", and exchange of promised Perk Mega-Packs, or treasured coke-cans for "cooperative collaboration" through direct or well documented sign language means on exam-days.

Today, one of those girls works for Hewlett Packard in the promised land of the US of A. Another is now a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force. And I have been nearly dozing in a comfortable rut, just a wee bit displaced from the place I call my homeland.
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Date: 2007-07-10 10:50
Subject: Surreal visits
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Music:She's Not There - The Zombies
MirrorMask, a must watch for every Gaiman fan. Made of soft dreamy material, strong charcoal art, a pure Gaiman sense of humour and a sweeping soundtrack. In short, fan-friggin-tastic.

Yeah, and Stephanie Leonidas reminds me a lot of Helena Bonham-Carter.

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Date: 2007-05-10 15:23
Subject: Swiss Trip
Security: Public
Tags:destinations, picture post, travel
They say the life of an average Indian is incomplete without a trip to the upper middle-class Indian vacationer's mecca, Switzerland.

Though three days in the Swiss Alps is just the tip of the iceberg, as friendly German teenagers in Swiss-rail compartment were quick to observe, this trip was, a real pure natural high as long as it lasted.

As usual, weeks before the trip, I was bogged down with maps and excel sheets and frommers.com. So many mountains, so less time! Finally zeroed in on Mt. Pilatus as opposed to the more popular Mt. Titlis with highly advertised revolving cable cars, the must-visit: Rooftop of Europe and finally, a bit of Zürich, Lucerne and final stop at the falls of the Rhine, Europe’s largest.

A morning arrival at Zürich airport and we set off to grab our youth passes for Swiss-rail, and hurriedly hopped onto the next connection.

Destination Lucerne : Light showers welcomed us to this quaint old city. Took the bus from Lucerne to Kriens, which was painfully slow and an initial mood wetter (literally!). Finally at Kriens, boarded the aerial panorama gondola. The fresh scent of forest vegetation and cowbells in the air revived spirits tenfold. Completed an ascent to Fräkmüntegg, also Central Switzerland's largest rope park, and featuring Switzerland's longest summer toboggan run of 1350 meters. We then moved to a closed larger gondola at this point. As we gained altitude, soft snowfall bathed the slope and ascent to Pilatus Kulm of 2132 meters, also known as the Dragon mountain.

Legend has it that the peak has been possessed by none other that the ghost of Roman governor Pontius Pilate, hence the name. Visited a few souvenir stores, checked out the viewpoints, and began descent to Alpnachstad, on the world's steepest cogwheel railway. Riding this very near to vertical mountain train was breathtaking, all the while getting a closer view at alpine vegetation and snow covered rock faces, with a sheer panoramic drop on the other end! Slowly chugging down, arrived at the vantage point at Alpnachstad, overlooking the picturesque Lake Lucerne.

The plan was to cover the return trip to Lucerne by boat, a slow idyllic two hour slice of paradise. Had a late lunch of spaghetti in the boat dining car, with a setting of various hues of green and blue. At the sides of the lake, strategically positioned summer cottages came into view. At the end of the cruise of the two whole divine hours, docked at the city of Lucerne, and proceeded to check out the old Musegg wall, and a quaint old wooden bridge by it, before hopping again onto Swiss rail and heading to Interlaken where we had our hotel reservations for the night.

The city of Interlaken does not boast of the glacial history of Lucerne or more commercial attractions of Zürich, but has it's own piece of clear blue sky and fresh blooms,  a city hemmed in by two lakes on either side. We roamed the streets of Interlaken, scouring for chocolate and army knives, and detouring ever so often to take in the scenery. At our hotel, we were pleasantly surprised by complimentary coupons for watches from the Kandahar Swiss watch company. Almost immediately, we turned in for the night.

The next morning, after farm fresh eggs and steaming cups of coffee, we set out to conquer the rooftop of Europe, Jungfraujoch. Boarded the Bernese Oberland rail from Interlaken East to Grindelwald. Changed to cogwheel railway here for ascent up to Kleine-Scheidegg, altitude 2061 meters, at the foot of the notorious Eiger North Wall. From here the Jungfrau Railway climbs to the station at Eigergletscher, well known for its mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels. The trip continues through the Eiger tunnel to the stations at Eigerwand and Eismeer, with a five minute halt at each to admire spectacular views right through windows hewn in solid Alpine rock itself.

Jungfraujoch lies in the heart of a glorious glacier world on the very roof of Europe at 3454 mts above sea level. The view from the Sphinx observation hall and terrace extends as far as the summits of the Vosges Mountains in France and the Black Forest in Germany. The Great Aletsch Glacier, at 22 km the longest ice-stream in the Alps, begins on the Jungfraujoch. Among other attractions is also a Ice Palace, with the most intricate carvings and statues of glass, and complete with tunnels and hallways of glistening ice.

On the way down, spent some time again at Kleine-Scheidegg, and this time descended through the other side of the mountain into Lauterbrunnen, which was undoubtedly the most memorable descent of the trip.

The valleys and mountain streams came into view in microscopic detail, the village of Lauterbrunnen viewed from various vantage points was simply breathtaking. We had also planned a trip to the Beatus Caves, a natural wonder of rushing waterfalls through 40,000-year-old stalactite, and the Alpine garden of the Schynige Platte, but had to abandon the same as we were running late.

Back in Interlaken, stopped by for a visit to the Kandahar watch showroom to collect our watches just as it was closing. This little known watch company is more of a family legacy of watch-making, private and non-commercial, and the name has nothing to do with the immediate connection which springs to mind of a city in southern Afghanistan. The name is, in-fact derived from ski-bindings, otherwise known as Kandahar. These watchmakers pride on fashioning custom-made watches as memorabilia for visitors to Switzerland, and we then proceeded to pick and fine-tone our own.

The last day saw us back in Lucerne for some sightseeing, visited the famed Chapel Bridge framed in the lake and a whole lot of swans swimming around, while the bustling city lay all around. Next stop, the Glacier Garden, where we steeped ourselves in the history of Lucerne at an video show, encountered woolly mammoths and fossilized ferns and a mussel graveyard in ice, and got ourselves quite confused and completely lost in a huge mirror maze.

Last stop on the agenda was the Rhine-falls, at Schloss-Laufen. Took the boat near the falls to the viewpoint flying the Swiss colors. For Europe's largest, however, the Rhine falls did not seem too much of a torrent.

And finally, all the way in Switzerland, we were able to interact with an arctic Husky, owned by a German couple visiting the Rhine-falls. The Husky showed as much intelligence as it did strength, even enunciating a form of speech by his barks! I was genuinely impressed.

Now winding up our three day trip, had dinner at the airport, and took the flight back, which left us with, this time, a birds-eye view of the glorious Alps, yet again.
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Date: 2007-04-29 12:07
Subject: A one and a two and a....
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Tags:foreign film

"Does a person at any given point of time know only half the truth,  just like not being able to see the back of one's head?"
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Date: 2006-12-14 02:22
Subject: Some things cannot be erased...
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Music:Anarchy in the UK - Sex Pistols
One hotel room, three characters and two whole hours. Trust Richard Linklater to attempt, and pull something like that off with total grace. The 2001 film Tape is based on a play by the same name.

The effects of the film are something very personal to the viewer, and a lesson about what first perceptions are and what they later turn out to be, as the audience views each character slowly, as if through different pieces of coloured glass.

A fireman-cum-drug-dealer with unresolved issues of violence, and for whom you start to develop some fondness outright, for he is something so real in his moral ambiguity and easy take on life.

A hollywood aspirant documentary film maker who dreams of portraying and hence preventing what society can potentially become through his films. A tad grandoise, at first look, maybe a shammer of sorts. The first mental image is the ubiquitous individual whose sense of morals and ethics are strongly enforced by society,and if questioned about anything beyond, crumbles.

And a sure-footed intelligent looking lady working at the DA's office, who is badgered first by one, then the other about a particular incident in the past, on which all three have different takes on what exactly happened, and some are looking for closure in their own ways. And a lady who knows her mind, and who hits precisely back where required, and we know she is the real stuff.

Being deliberately vauge, but watch it, to find out! The resolution, is brilliant, to say the least.
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Date: 2006-12-11 13:45
Subject: Lifeline
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Music:A New World - Björk
Tags:film, picture post
Ten Minutes Older : The Trumpet is a 2002 portmanteau film with seven segments of ten minutes each, but one that is most sublimely poetic in its black and white visuals is the short movie “Lifeline”, by Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice, who has a filmography of only three major works, not including the short film in question.
On hot summer’s afternoon, a mother and her new born babe sleep soundly in the silence of an idyllic Spanish countryside. A heart shaped fresh bleed appears deep and brown on the babies white clothes. Meanwhile, all around the countryside, nature and routine follow the unstoppable stream of life. The midwife kneads dough with her short stubby fingers, ritually replacing the glass jar of water on a newspaper to her side. A desolate child slowly swings to and fro, staring at her feet; farmhands repeatedly rake the dry parched grass. A woodpecker plucks out fruit from a tree, as a snake writhely coils through the apples spread on the grass. Seated alone in the shadows of an attic, a boy draws the face of a watch on his left wrist. When he finishes, he puts it to his ear as if he could listen to the steady beat of the world around.

Chronos, with its watchful eye, attempts to control life… but life drains away. Blood blooms across the baby’s clothes as an endless rose, and a steady dripping becomes clear in the background. Water drips slowly from a faucet into a basin. An inquisitive feline visitor enters the room, almost imperceptibly sniffing, and lifts itself up on its hind legs to peer into the cradle. A fly’s steady buzz as it crawls on the babies head is loud in the sticky and still atmosphere. The child in the attic deletes from his skin the pretend watch.
Suddenly, the babies cry pierces the heavy and laden silence.
A dozen people suddenly rush. The midwife perceives the source of discomfort and remedies it with a scissors and fresh change of clothes, consoling the baby. Silently framed in the doorway are numerous faces, the maid, a girl with the scars of pox still visible on her face, the friends she was playing with just a minute ago.

The babe is handed to its mother, and as the parents gaze down at it, their faces are those of pure and strangely composed joy, not of happiness, not of relief, nothing faintly reminiscent of the baby's prior unease. The baby echoes the sentiment as it calmly now stares back into their eyes. The glances of the parents are playfully questioning it, asking it why it wanted to leave, re-iterating.

A lullaby floats in the air, rendered in a thick and rich Spanish voice– not now my son, not now…! The bloodied clothes are immersed in the full basin of water, slowly now tinting the water until it is a complete thick brown. The echo of history printed on the pages of the useless newspaper fades away, as water seeps into it from the discarded jug. Darkness descends again, the ambience is pregnant with death and destruction, and the date is visible- Friday, June 28, 1940.
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Date: 2006-10-31 10:54
Subject: Somebody robbed me of my bridesmaid-to-be!
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Tags:bollocks!, musings
Darn, and just when I thought bridesmaid search accomplished, only the groom man-hunt to go!
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Date: 2006-10-27 11:36
Subject: Musings from the Abyss
Security: Public
Location:Tampere, Finland
Music:The Empty Restaurant - Joe Hisaishi, Spririted Away OST
Tags:books, musings
I sat on the bed. I looked at the rorschach blot. I tried to pretend it looked like a spreading tree, shadows pooled beneath it, but it didn't. It looked once more like a dead cat I once found, the fat glistening grubs writhing blindly, squirming over each other, frantically tunneling away from the light.

But even that is avoiding the real horror.

The horror is this: in the end, it is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness.

We are alone. There is nothing else.

-- Watchmen, Issue #06, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster. And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

-- Freidrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
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my journal
November 2007