10,000 Days and More

There aren’t very many people with whom I am acquainted that would be excited over something as trivial as their 10000th day of existence. When I reached it, I was. I celebrated with a performance of La Traviata at the Lyric Opera. That may sound pretentious but it is true. It still remains that I love the opera and classical music, even if it makes my friends call me posh.

IMG_091210000 days and counting, really. Let’s get back to that. Yes, everyone who is past 27 and a half years of age would have hit this milestone. I would not have remembered had I not had the sense to mark it on my calendar some years ago when I originally did the calculation. It also gave me a reason to write about some of the things that have happened to me in the past six months since I no longer have the urge to complete half-written and forgotten blog posts.

Since my last post, I’ve become even more involved in swimming. More than I ever envisioned myself being. I hit a lovely record of completing 50 laps or 100 lengths, in 50 minutes. Yes sir! It is feat enough for me. Almost two years since I re-discovered my love for the pool, chlorine allergies and all, and I’m still going strong. It’s just the feel and sound of the water against me. My mind revels in those moments of zen. I fell I am at absolute harmony with the water because it really is only the sound of my own breathing I am aware of. That and the splashes as I splice through the calm waters. Without my full conscious knowledge of the fact, I have shed nearly 40 pounds since I began! I shocked my mum, when she saw me last month, and my dad, just yesterday.

Apart from my several gadgetry acquisitions in the latter half of the year, which included two tablets – I’ve always wanted more than one OS!! – to satisfy the geek in me, several books and immersions into the German language – which I still find fascinating and largely interesting despite the very many rules and exceptions and formations – I received some rather ego-boosting news on the professional front.

My manager, now former, left me with an exceptional mid-year review. The highest rating that one can merit, actually. It was humbling as much as it was an attestation to my aspirations. While I’ve always known that I’d prefer to be on the managerial side of things in the long run, I never really thought it would show just two years into my career as a software engineer. I’m good at programming, I love code and the nuances that come with sitting in from of everything tedious about it. I still revel in it. But apparently I’m also very good at the other side of it, the processes and people part of any job. I was put into the position of making all those decisions only because no one else on my team seemed to want to take on that responsibility. Now, I’ve grown so much into it, that I hold ‘true 20131208_150255qualities to become a feature team lead‘. Yeah, it’s enough of an ego rub there. The humbling side of it for me is that fact that I did it all unknowingly. I was taken by surprise when I received the news. It just made me resolve to work harder towards it. It did nothing to change my attitude to the work I now do because I know that I still have time to make a lead. I need to stock up on experience and be more comfortable and accepting of people. I have that much more to learn because it’s a much tougher position to be in.

The end of another year approaches, marking my fifth winter in the mid-west and the cold chills of Chicago, a city that I have grown to love and call home. I have grown in my independence and strengthened my resolve and hold upon life. I have learned and lived through another year’s worth of trials and achievements, and while there are many things I would not want to face again, I know that I have become a better person because of all of them. Here’s to another 10000 and more!

Behold a few sights that did capture me so.

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2012 – A Retrospect Pt. 2

What should have been a hundred line post has now become two posts of more than a hundred lines each. It’s a whole year that I am attempting to surmise. I know it can be easily accomplished but I am not that skilled, nor am I in the mood to mince words. Hence, here I go again.

July

Summer fun went on in full swing with several picnics in the park during the Grant Park Music Festival, a 4th of July trekking trip and the thrill of another birthday. A Greek dinner with the larger group of friends, a riverside sea food restaurant and a steakhouse marked the week of my birth. That and my hair make over! Short hair, a bob cut that went with my suddenly thinner face and leaner self 🙂

There’s possibly just one other thing that must not go unmentioned – that token of acknowledgement and appreciation my manager initiated. He had already earned my respect for being a manager, a team leader and yet one of the team. He knows each person in his team, allows them enough lee way, but is trustful and has faith in each person’s abilities. Naturally each of us has to live up to those expectations and prove our worth as well, but my point is that when you’re working with someone who acknowledges you for who you are, professionally and in that informally formal manner, it’s easy to give your best.

August

A trip to New England was in order to drop my little sister off at college. At Yale, to be precise. It was a long drive up from Atlanta to New Haven but the weather was companionable all through. I believe it was at this time that I went on my American authors spree as I tried to keep up with my reading challenge.

The only major change, significant for me at least, was that I finally upgraded my phone, a Galaxy S III nonetheless, and moved out of my family plan to take on the responsibility of paying my own cellular phone bills, something I have not done in the ten years that I have had a cellular phone number to my name.

September

There was all of the going out and enjoying the light, dinners and the German classes. I had enough on my plate with just that and becoming a gym rat. Literally, no socializing apart from the people I already knew and even them I began to ignore at one point.

The highest point of this month, apart from the constant headache and annoyance emanating from certain people, was my promotion. It was a surprise to me because it resulted from my mid-year review, which apparently was excellent in every form. It was my first ever promotion at what I consider to be the first job of my professional career. Cheers to that!

October

I’ve begun to pay more attention to the city this year, exploring its many culinary and cultural offerings in addition to the quite conspicuous architectural glory. The city never ceases to fascinate me, this I have said in wonderment a million times over. Open House Chicago was fascinating in this venture of mine. I also took to visiting a new restaurant, by myself or with a friend, every weekend and treating my palates to various cuisines.

November

Fall set in a little late, or so I thought. I had been so caught up with work that I had failed to notice the change of colors till the very last week of the falling leaves!

Either way, a team outing of Whirlyball paved the way to wonderful business trip to Guatemala. The country had such an earthy feel to it I loved it! Of course, we stayed at a fancy hotel and were chaperoned through Guatemala City and Antigua, so I didn’t see the ‘real’ country, but you get a pretty good idea of it. The visit to Antigua was a short, quick one, and I so wish that we had more time! I would love to go back and visit Tikal and other centers of the Mayan civilization. Even the churches, the ones that have stood their ground through the ravages of time and nature, took me over – and I’m not religious. The whole trip made up for what is currently my worst flight experience – a cancellation, a rebooking, a change, a technical difficulty a second before take-off, another change, actually taking off, rushing through tourist traffic and making a connection in 10 minutes with my name off the passenger’s list… yeah, for me, that’s bad.

Thanksgiving became an affair with friends with three dinners over a period of five days, not including the left overs. I have never indulged in the madness of Black Friday sales and I can honestly say that I still haven’t done that. I settled for doing my shopping online and as is always the case with me, nothing I bought was on sale. When I received the eight or nine packages a week later I was reminded quite starkly of the amount of money I have spent online in the past year. Most of it on clothes that I required to replace all of those that no longer fit me, winter jackets and fall coats included.

The month included a very late night at work for me, an occurrence I do not wish to repeat, a surge of attention – some of it putting me in an awkward position of reluctance and non-responsive/placating mode – and a more secure footing of faith and trust.

December

The last month of the year. I had decided in November that I wouldn’t be able to complete 100 books in the year so I set my sights at the more achievable 80.

A longer trip home this time encompassed a five day sojourn to Miami and Key West. The sun and heat did not agree very well with me though I very much enjoyed the open, unrestrained lifestyle of the city. The vast flowing waters of the Atlantic and the Bay are enough to convince yourself that this is better than having a white Christmas and missing the first snow fall of the season (something I have missed in Chicago for the past four winters).

There are several things I wish I could have done this year, but I must admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed myself all through. I want so much more out of life, things that I know only I can accomplish or do anything about and I will be giving it my all as I take a deep breath and welcome another year of the 21st century. Here’s to more traveling, discovery, achievements, laughter, relationships and growth.

My July in Pictures

From the Tribune Tower looking South
Birthday dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse (the Original)
My haul of books from the 2012 Newberry Library Book Fair
A gift from a best friend
Birthday treats at work
Sleeper & Dreamers – one of the concerts at the Grant Park Music Festival

From the Ashes a Fire Shall Be Woken

Very few movies have me on tenterhooks, tense with anticipation and excitement. This year, 2012, ushered in an early onset of nerves; for The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit. Since I have precisely 5 months to build up to the second and am still reeling from the after-effects of an early morning showing of the first, I shall deal with the first.

I must say, before I get any more into it, Christopher Nolan is genius. The man is spectacular! He sustained a comic book character, that has been on screen since the 1960’s, through three movies, three brilliant storylines that have kept everyone on their toes.

One of the main reasons I’ve fallen in love with Nolan’s trilogy, starting with the first Batman Begins, is that he made Batman more human and realistic. “He could be anyone” to quote from the film and it comes through to you while you watch it, be it in Bruce Wayne‘s dulcet billionaire playboy tones, or in the gruff vigilante’s. He made it more than just a movie – which is usually supposed to be a popcorn & drink affair. He made it so real that you feel yourself being taken in by the story, you feel the pain, the fear, the exultation, the displeasure, the pleasure, the unworthiness, the tribulations, the injustice, the compassion… the need to make things right, to fix it, to be involved in something larger than life. It makes you want to believe. That was the essence, and the magic, that Nolan wove into each of his movies and he has ended it on an absolutely fantastic note. I could not have asked for more.

I haven’t watched a lot of superhero movies because they’re literally almost the same. Iron Man was good because of the dialog, The Avengers and The Hulk too. But it’s not realistic. I mean, when compared to Nolan’s Batman. At least to me. Most superhero movies stick with the theme of – I’m good, there’s a bad guy, I’ll try to beat him, I can’t, I’ll try again, and I win. Yes, in theory Batman is the same, but while you watch the movie you begin to deal with a tumult of emotions. Watch, for instance, the last few minutes of The Dark Knight.

You understand sacrifice and are left with a need to do more. It speaks to you on a human level, one you can identify with because it’s all true. Even the evil ones – Ra’s al Ghul, The Joker, Bane – are perfect. We see and hear of atrocities happening all over the world and the bad guys in the Batman series give you that. That men can be brought down by pure evil. Harvey Dent, for example. “(The Joker) took the best of us and tore him down” as Commissioner Gordon says in the second movie. Isn’t that true in real life? Corruption and manipulation?

There’s also the human spirit that Nolan emphasizes on. That mankind is not doomed to evil, that we not always need superheroes to save us. People are enough. People that have morals. Bruce Wayne, billionaire philanthropist that he is, wants to do good for his city. That’s why he comes back and becomes the masked crusader. He believes that his city deserves more and is willing to sacrifice for it, as Batman. The innate faith in people is something that should exist and it’s beautifully brought out in all three movies.

I came out of the theater speechless. Literally. I’ve loved the movies, as I’ve stated before, and couldn’t have been more satisfied with the way it ended. It gave me all I wanted. I felt every possible humanly emotion at 6:00am in the morning and as I told a friend – I hyperventilated for approximately 160 minutes. Hans Zimmer‘s composition aided in making me feel that way because I was already in that tense, open eyed state since the soundtrack was release a few days before the movie.

This movie, along with the other two that make up the trilogy, will remain as one my all time favorites. Not just because of its darkness but because of its near accurate representation of reality. (Here’re some quotes from the trilogy, as a parting gift).

I think the following lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem about Aragorn are appropriate:

“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring”

He is a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A Dark Knight.

My Rant For Heavy Metal \m/

Heavy metal, or simply metal, is a misunderstood genre. While there is very little of mainstream music I admire or even listen to, metal has been a good friend through my teenage years and has followed me into adulthood. There is an element of metal music that hits home. It’s not just the loudness and the bass and distortions. There is feeling in it, the lyrics are more intense, the music conveys a far deeper meaning. It’s not noise. It’s larger than that.

I’m an 80’s child that grew up in the 90’s so I know what pop music is supposed to be and I’ve enjoyed my share of boy bands and solo artists. But most of the artists I like and songs I bobbed to were before my time. They were from the 70’s and 80’s. I couldn’t enjoy a lot of the late 90’s music because of the importance given to performance than actual singing or music. It became more about the ‘oompf’ factor. Metal, on the other hand, goes for the subtle bang. Yes, most to all metal musicians wear black and chains, have tattoos and long hair, wear leather and look creepy, are atheists or devout . But honestly, if anyone with a musical mind/ear listened to them, you’d hear more similarities to classical music than what you’d ever find in mainstream music – some genres of which I don’t even understand!! Before I get into my rant I should mention that I know my classical music too and have my favorites. From the Medieval period – RiquierPérotin; from the Renaissance – TallisOckeghemByrd; from the Baroque era – CavalliPurcellVivaldi, BachHandel; from the Classical era – Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert; from the Romantic period – LisztSchumannChopinWagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Dvořák, Verdi, Brahms, Rachmaninoff.

Think song/lyrical themes; metal compositions, while paying great attention to fantastic mind-boggling riffs and delectable beats – which takes (not only displays) talent but also skill with the instrument, usually deal with politics, war, relationships, soul-searing discoveries of honesty and truth. It’s not sugar-coated. Don’t expect it to be. Yes, it’s dark. But it’s the truth about humanity. No other genre, except perhaps certain rap artists, deals with something as brutally honest as metal.

For the metal in me

Yes, the loudness of the music plays a big role in the sound of metal, but vocalists are plenty and have multi-octave ranges that are powerful as they are melodic and soul-searing. Gruff vocals – so suited to the image of machismo that this genre is supposed to be all about – death growls and clean, clear tones. Male and female singers, with a range of training, or none at all in a lot of cases, have made their mark here though a lot of them remain unknown to the general music listening population. Ronnie James Dio (my personal all time favorite – he never received musical training!), Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford, three men that ushered in the operatic vocals that inspired generations of metal singers, appear on every possible list of ‘Best Singers’. There’s Lemmy, a cult icon, with his gravely voice. There’s Geoff TatePerry Farrell and Robert Plant. The women also bring on a force that ought to be reckoned with, from operatic soulful voices to the intense growls there’re Tarja TurunenSimone SimonsMaria BrinkFloor JansenSharon den AdelAngela GossowOtep Shamaya and Kittie (one of the most successful all-female metal bands). Some personal favorites include Mikael ÅkerfeldtJames HetfieldJørn LandeRoy KhanShagrathMarco HietalaTony KakkoLuca Turilli, among several others.

Metal captures the softer side of humanity too. I’ve listened to Adele and I like her smokey voice. But I’m more moved by Judas Priest‘s Angel. I’ve cried when I’ve listened to this song. Even Apocolyptica‘s Not Strong Enough has stirred something in me. For the Fallen Dream‘s Last Dying Breath isn’t soft but the lyrics get to you. Sienna Skies‘ To All Aspiring is another example.

Dio – the man who gave metal its horns

Pain is a recurring theme in metal. It’s deals with human sacrifice and suffering and the simpler aspects of life, when the loss of loved ones or disappointment tears at you from within. Metallica’s Until It Sleeps and Fixxxer are perfect enforcers of music and words woven together from the soul. Meadows of Heaven by Nightwish is a prime example of beautiful lyrics and brilliant musical arrangement – this from the same group that recorded Master Passion Greed , which is of human greed, and Phantom of the Opera.

Drummers and guitarists are as important, possibly more, as the singers since there are instrumental metal bands that have found wide spread audience too. The first names that pop into my head when one mentions drums are Lars UlrichDave LombardoVinnie PaulTomas HaakeRichard ChristyIgor CavaleraChris AdlerMartin LopezCharlie Benante… if you don’t know them, you’re not really an appreciator of music! Same goes with the guitarists – Yngwie MalmsteenDave MustaineKirk HammettSynyster GatesDimebag DarrellFredrik ThordendalRitchie BlackmoreAdrian SmithSteve HarrisScott IanSteve VaiJoe SatrianiKai HansenEddie ClarkeJesper StrombladMikael ÅkerfeldtChris PolandJames Hetfield and so many more. Again, if you call yourself a music-know-it-all and aren’t aware of these men. Well, I wash my hands off you!

All of the names I’ve mentioned above are songwriters – they listen to a wide range of music, find inspiration and belt out amazing pieces of work. The same as most people in the music industry. The difference? These guys actually play and sing live. They’re not doing it for entertainment. They don’t wear skimpy clothes and sing only about love, sex, parties and drugs – isn’t that the most constant theme of every new artist? And every viral hit?

Eddie the Head – Iron Maiden’s mascot

There’s something intensely satisfying and powerful when you hear a thousand, sometimes, tens of thousands of voices, bellowing song after song at you. A four or five person group incites passionate responses from the crowd. They’re all there for the music! Not for the themed shows that singers put on when on tour. That’s the same with classical music – it’s about the music.

I guess my point is, before you call my music trash, take a moment and consider. There’s so much more to music than just the usual thumping from a radio or the Top-40 lists. I’ve heard them too. I love Goyte‘s Somebody that I Used to Know, I admire Adele‘s Set Fire to the Rain and Imogen Heap‘s Headlock . I’ve appreciated 2Pac‘s songs and JustinTimberlake‘s transition from a nasally singer of a boy band into a mature solo artist. I’ve danced to Madonna‘s La Isla Bonita and even Diana King‘s song with Celine Dion – Treat Her Like a Lady. I’ve bobbed to Abba and Boney M and The Beach Boys. But somehow none of them stuck. On the other hand, I was taken in by Metallica’s Wherever I May RoamMegadeth‘s TrustGates of Babylon by RainbowRime of the Ancient MarinerNumber of the Beast and Run to the Hills by Iron MaidenWar Pigs and Iron Man by Black SabbathCemetary Gates by PanteraThe Bible Black by Dio and his rendition of Dream OnQueen of the Reich by QueensrycheBattle Hymn by ManowarDivine Wings of Tragedy by Symphony XPull Me Under by Dream TheaterTestament‘s Over the WallNightfall by Blind GuardianThe Scarecrow by AvantasiaOnly by AnthraxTerminus by Dark TranquilityWish I Had an Angel by Nightwish

 All of these songs, and many more, have made a difference in my musical outlook. There’s a reason I don’t like dance and hip-hop. I don’t feel like going to clubs to have my eardrums blasted by what to me are nonsensical beats that people only want to ‘get down’ to. I’d much rather go to a symphony orchestra performance and be drawn in by the intricate beauty of sounds molding together, or a metal concert and be taken over by the surging power of riffs and beats.

I will continue to appreciate all aspects of music, I always do and have. I will spend lazy Sunday afternoons listening to pop and rock from the good old 70’s and 80’s. I will put on my heavy metal tracks or my favorite classical compositions when I want to feel raw emotion. I will continue to tolerate my family listening to the Billboard Charts and nod my approval to some of them. I have my tastes and you have yours. But don’t accuse me of having no ear for music and claim what you listen to is music.

I rest my case.

A Visit to the Emerald City

“Why Seattle?” is the most common question I’ve been asked in the past month, since I decided to go to Seattle. I’ve just shrugged in reply. It has been on my list of ‘places to visit in the U.S. of A.’ But why I, a twenty-something year old with money to spend, picked Seattle over New York City or San Francisco or Miami is not something comprehensible. I went because I wanted to. The other cities I know I’ll visit soon enough, Seattle didn’t seem like one of those. Besides, if I’d had enough vacation time, I would’ve flown to England on a literary tour!!

I had approximately thirty six hours in the city of Seattle and intended to make the best of it. I had roughly listed out the places I wanted to see and the things I wanted to do (you can get a visitor’s packet mailed to you from here). I was armed with my raincoat, boots, and extra changes of clothing, but Seattle decided to cooperate with me that weekend and was a nice ~60F and sunny all through!! I was quite surprised because Chicago has, on the day I left, given me a taste of what Seattle’s weather is normally famed to be!

The Hyatt at Olive 8

SeaTac International Airport was half-empty when I arrived, at around 10pm PST – there’s free wi-fi all through the airport which helps if you want to browse or download books onto your Kindle! The chauffeur/driver of the mini-van, which is part of the Downtown-Airporter fleet, gave us a verbal tour of the city, pointing out the Starbucks Headquarters, Safeco and Century Link fields, a bunch of restaurants and so forth during the 20 minute ride from the airport to downtown Seattle. Having lived in Chicago for three years, I was happily surprised by the size of buildings, everything seemed more open. I was dropped off at the Hyatt at Olive 8 (very nice upscale hotel that’s worth the money – everything you want to see is a few blocks away; public transport, tourist spots, shops and restaurants) in the heart of the downtown area.

The Seattle Skyline on the way to Bainbridge Island

I was up early the next morning and I found myself sitting at Seattle Coffee Works savoring a hot cup of Sweet Morning Chai Tea Latte and a wheat bagel with cream cheese as I planned out the rest of the day. Walking over to the Seattle Ferry Terminal I was treated to a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountains, Bainbridge Island, western Seattle, and the vast stretch of Puget Sound (and I fancied, the edge of the Pacific Ocean!). The ride across to Bainbridge Island on the Tacoma (one of the ferries) allowed me a half hour, or so, of indulgence in the natural beauty of this geographical region. Honestly, I was thrilled! I could see the mountains, Olympic and Cascade, the vast, seemingly endless expanse of blue waters, row after row of thick tall trees covering the landscape on one side, the Seattle skyline with the Space Needle on one side and the clump of rectangular structures on the other, and the sun shining in mild-ish haloed glory upon it all. The sound of the waves and the wind howling past as we powered across the waters, the cry of gulls, the splashes of water against the boats, the occasional sound  of the whistle… It is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve treated my eyes to. I didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown Bainbridge, but the short walk that I took had me thinking of a holiday home. On the ride back, an old couple sat at my table and we exchanged stories about Chicago, Bangalore, Seattle, Bainbridge, parts of Europe, classical music and the arts.

Merchants Cafe in Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square (map) was my next stop. I’d picked up a map of the place which cited ‘7 wonders of Pioneer Square’, all of which are within a three block

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

radius – between Yesler Way and Jackson and 1st and 3rd Avenue.  Here’s a quick walking tour you can use as a guide.

The 7 wonders you will, at some point, walk across are Pioneer Place & Pergola, Smith Tower, Yesler Way, Occidental Square & Pedestrian Walk, Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial, Waterfall Garden Park and the Museums – Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park and the Fire Museum. While you’re walking about you’ll see Merchant Café – the oldest restaurant in Seattle, the starting point of the famous Underground Tour, several old buildings from before the Great Fire (and after), a lovely paved road that leads the way to the Safeco and CenturyLink Field, and a whole lot of cafés – Café Umbria I’d recommend – and art galleries. Indulge in some heavenly chocolate at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – with the bears sitting by the window urging you to sit in and savor delicious chocolate. Stopping for lunch at Ivar’s Acres of Clams, I enjoyed my baby shrimp cocktail and Dungeness crab sandwich while looking out over the Sound. I wandered about Alaskan Way, peering into other sound-side restaurants and fast-sea-food counters. Eventually I landed in a bus that would take me to see the Fremont Troll.

The Fremont Troll

Now, we’ve all heard the troll stories. The ones that live under bridges and pop up to question unsuspecting passers-by, remember Three Billy Goats Gruff? Seattle offers you it’s own troll, nestled under a bridge on Troll Avenue. The troll clutches in its hand a Volkswagen Beetle of an unsuspecting Californian 😉 and gazes out at you rather dolefully as he seeks more victims.

I walked through this mini-suburbia sort of area relishing the good weather and sloping sidewalks, all leading to the Sound one way or another with startling views of snow-capped mountains. I found the troll just when I was about to give up!! Very sneaky one, that!

By the time I got back downtown, it was around 4:30pm. Grabbing a somewhat customized Chai Tea Latte at a Starbucks, I returned to my hotel and spent an hour swimming – they had music playing in the pool! – my tiredness away. Feeling refreshed, I wandered in and out of a few stores, bookstores included. An hour later I found myself walking through Post Alley, nestled quite prettily between stone buildings and serving as an extension of Pike Place Market.

It reminds one of the happy European street side cafes, with people in summer clothing, sitting about in leisure and enjoying/savoring the sights and sounds of the town around them. It was something very clean out of a painting, I could put

The Space Needle

words to it in my head. A light dinner of onion soup and French bread at Cafe Campagne was followed by some more walking along – Koolhaas‘ building which houses Seattle’s public library, SAM – Seattle Art Museum – with the giant Hammering Man.

My original plan had been to visit the Space Needle in the evening – get one of the 24-hr passes which would allow me to go up once in twilight and then in daylight. But due to the 50th World Fair anniversary celebrations the Seattle Center and Space Needle were reserved for some private event. That just meant more wandering about for me! I returned to my room a very tired being. The concierge at the front desk helped me procure my tickets to the Space Needle so I wouldn’t have to wait in line the next morning.

I was up and about by 8am. The streets of downtown Seattle were literally empty. No beast or man ventured upon the cobbled pavements. It took me a good five minutes to find the entrance to the mono-rail which runs between Westlake Center and Seattle Center. It’s a 5 minute ride to the Space Needle, which is away from the hustle of the city and beautiful in its own right.

Downtown Seattle from the Space Needle

Having lived in Chicago, a city with over 200 skyscrapers, the Space Needle was, in a word, small. But the view was unparalleled. At 160m, it stand tall and proud and offers a beautiful view of Downtown Seattle, Mt. Ranier, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and the islands around the Bay and Sound.

It is just astonishingly breathtaking!! I walked around the observation deck, smiling to myself as I gazed upon the land. I should’ve considered lunch at the SkyCity restaurant – yup, the one that revolves, but I wanted to return to Pioneer Square and the International District, and I had less than half a day left.

Though I’d spent less than 48 hours in the city I felt like I already knew a lot of the downtown area, hence, took to walking about some of my favorite spots, enjoying the fluttering pink blossoms. I wandered into Pike Place Market, where fresh produce of the day were just being laid out to the welcoming eyes of all that were there. While I’m no great sea food lover, I could enjoy the sight of fresh sea animals on ice – they looked equally creepy and delicious!

Pike Place Market

I would up walking along the Sound, half way to the Space Needle, again, before I retraced my steps. I stopped at Bacco – a very nice Italian Cafe – for lunch, indulging in a new found favorite the Dungeness crab and some very very fresh juice. It was while I sat here in this sidewalk cafe, reading and really being very tourist-y, that I realized what the people that stood a block away from me had in those round baskets. Live snakes. I don’t care very much for snakes. I’d like to stay as far as possible away from them. I’m scared of them – I won’t bother them and I’d prefer if they didn’t bother me. It was with a little jolt of terror that I walked two blocks over and then back to the market to look for souvenirs and gifts.

You know that feeling that you find the best things by accident?? That happened to me. A bookstore. Filled with books of all sizes, shapes, age, color and languages, lining the walls from top to bottom, stacked from left to right. The smell of paper drew me in. Tucked away into a corner just by the entrance to an ice cream store, Lamplight Books is a treasure. I literally lost track of time as I slowly paced by the shelves, cherishing the feel of being surrounded by words of favorite authors and so many more undiscovered ones! I’m not paranoid, but I did feel like the books were speaking to me – whispering through the chasms of time even to just be picked up and read. Honestly, this is my heaven. That feeling of longing that overcomes me every time I’m in a bookstore or library is something I can never fully explain and I know I can never escape

Lamplight Books

the power it holds over me. The leather bound volumes smiled at me as I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of printed pages. If you’ve never felt this before, you wouldn’t understand it. It is the best feeling in the world! I found old editions of the Oxford English dictionary and even early editions of Penguin classics – ah the memories these evoked!!

Anyway, I obviously couldn’t leave without buying something (this is my only weakness – that I cannot ever walk out of a bookstore empty handed). Considering the fact that I had very little space left in my bags and I had no check-in baggage, I settled for a book on German verbs, and dragged myself away before I splurged on books that I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring back home with me.

I walked back to my hotel playing the tourist card quite fondly this time as I waded through the gathering crowds. A quick stop, at Nordstrom to arm myself with cosmetics that I’d forgotten to bring, later, I was back at my hotel, retrieving my bags that had been held for me after my noon checkout. And I was off to Westlake Station to get on a Central Link light rail to the airport. It’s very different from the public transport I’m used to – because the bus and light rail stops are in the same underground area! The trains have their

The Olympic Mountains

tracks, but buses go along the same lines, which was weird to me. It was so much better than the CTA and does have a much more scenic route! Mt. Helen rose up majestically over clumps of green as the train weaved it’s way south toward Sea-Tac. A fascinating sight – civilization on one side, the wild overgrowth and then snow capped mountains.

I slept through most part of my flight back to Chi-town and was glad to be back home. It was an absolutely delightful way to spend a weekend and I know I’ll definitely return to Seattle on holiday just because it is a relaxing breath away from the bustle of a large city. It’s calming and vacation enough for me, though the next time I visit I will probably like to go into the mountains!!

Pride & Prejudice – The Play

I love my books and I like good adaptations of them as movies, plays, musicals, television series, etc. So, when my Deutschlehrerin casually told me that she was going to watch Pride & Prejudice I went, literally, berserk. How could I have not known about it?!

The Lifeline Theatre, Chicago

A little theater company called the Lifeline Theatre was putting up a two month production of Pride & Prejudice – the third in its history. Naturally, I didn’t care where it was (just a half-hour ride on the CTA Red Line, so that was good) or how much the tickets cost (a reasonably priced ticket actually), I looked for a weekend when I would be able to attend, not even bothering to consult the guests I was supposed to be hosting last evening, and got my tickets.

 I was excited, but a bit subdued. No use getting my hopes up only to be disappointed, I told myself. This is, after all, my most beloved book ever. Nothing else that I have read in the thirteen years since has compared to Miss Austen’s writing. North & South comes a close second in the genre, but over all, P & P has never been ousted from it’s position of ‘No. 1 Favorite of All Time‘. Thankfully, it wasn’t to be so.

It was a small stage, very well setup, with a cast of ten – some playing multiple roles. It begins as it should –

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.”

And for two and a half hours – with a break after the first act, which ends with the Bingley quitting Netherfield – one is treated to the very story that has given rise to many a fantasy, for women, to find their own Mr. Darcy. There are several scenes from the book that are cut out, and characters remain unused, but it isn’t noticeable in the flow of the adaptation. The essence of satire and drama, the very ones that Miss Austen intended bring out in her works, are retained admirably. The actors were good – each of them taking on their characters easily. You could believe that they are the ones from the book. Of course I wished it were Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, because he is my favorite Mr. Darcy, but this performance didn’t leave me wanting for more. The script stayed honest to the lines from the book – I caught myself reciting with the actors many a time – and some added jibes which had a very Austen-esque feel to it.

The Staging Area for Pride & Prejudice

An aspect that very few plays take into consideration is the audience participation – mainly because the actors shouldn’t be distracted – but this one did it well. Elizabeth Bennett speaks to the audience, not necessarily expecting a response, just as Austen speaks to the readers occasionally.

I had the added advantage of sitting in a corner of the very first row and could see every actor and every part of the stage with great clarity. It was like being a part of the whole story once more. I could imagine the grounds of Pemberley, the Netherfield ballroom and the assembly rooms at Meryton with ease, just using the characters as puppets in my imagination. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? 😉

Fact remains that the book is always better, no argument there from any quarter, and it isn’t exactly easy to adapt anyway. At least, into a stage performance. For that the adaptor and director have my congratulations. They’ve done it justice – and it isn’t very easy to satisfy die-hard Austen fans.

A short talk with the director and a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, which was also attended by the principal cast members – Mr. Darcy, Eliza Bennett and Mr. Bingley, was a good way to end an enjoyable evening.

I have now discovered another gem within the city and I know I will return for more.

My Irish Weekend

The Irish are fascinating, aren’t they? My earliest interaction with the Irish began with leprechauns, as is with most children outside of Ireland, I think. Little old men with pots of gold… 🙂

My festivities began rather early. From the end of January, if memory serves right, when I found out (it is for this reason alone that I’m glad I have a newspaper subscription) that the Riverdance company would be performing Chicago. I’d watched Michael Flatley‘s Riverdance and Lord of the Dance shows as a child, most than a decade ago, and while I was a bit put off that it wasn’t his company, I still delighted in the prospect of watching a live performance of Irish tap dancing!

The Oriental Theater, Chicago

I fretted over the tickets for a good while before I paid up and got, what I deemed, the best seat possible. I’m pleased to report that it was all worth it. The Oriental Theater/Ford Theater itself was a bit of a surprise for me, what with all the awesome carvings all over, and a rather sophisticated and old feel to it. Anyway. One and a half hours of awe-inspiring tap dancing, in both hard and soft shoes, a fiery flamenco performance, foot tapping (get it? :P) pieces by two tappers who also gave the show a comic feel, wonderful and moving instrumental pieces (drums, violin and pipes), singers and the grand finale with the entire company joining in in song and dance. Here’s the breakdown of the two acts, scene by scene. I loved the perfection of the dance; they made it seem so simple and easy to stand on ones toes and prance about with seemingly no effort! Next step, go watch Michael Flatley! 🙂

Riverdance

Now, when I moved to Chicago two year back, I had been told of the tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. Most (un)fortunately, St. Patrick’s Day has always fallen on a weekend of Spring break, which meant I was never in the city to witness the splendor of watching the brownish waters of the river turn neon green for a few hours. This year, I made my trip home early in the month so I was around to watch this happen!

Given the freakishly warm season and the rather unexpected early onset of Spring (Chicagoans would know exactly what I mean by this), I knew it would be crowded. But nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for the thousands of people lined up along the Riverwalk, river, and bridges. If I thought the dyeing of the river was crowded, I was in for a bit of a shock when I walked through the throng of people, all dressed in green, towards Grant Park onto Congress Parkway where the parade was underway. Thousands and thousands of people! The final count, I believe was more than 350,000! I mean, seriously!! I wonder where all these people have been in the past few months, because I’ve never ever seen so many people on the streets of the Windy City in my time here! I guess the weather brought them out 🙂 But apparently this happens every year for St. Paddy’s.

East view of the Chicago River from the river walk
Looking west
Canoes on the river!
Some thousand people at the parade

A City’s Birthday!

The City of Chicago turned 175 years old this year, i.e. from the date of it’s incorporation – March 4th, 1837. I’ve been around for about 3 years now and I have fallen in love, repeatedly, with the city. It is simply vibrant and caters, quite willingly, to my every whim and fancy, eccentriicities included. I’m sure Los Angeles and New York, who in terms of population are placed above Chicago, are just as great and fun, but I love Chicago more. The Windy City has become my home and does not cease to fascinate me.

Here’s an excerpt from Carl Sandburg‘s poem entitled Chicago (1916):

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness …