Saturday, November 17, 2007

The rather weird traveller

The Statue of Liberty in the background.

At last I've put a picture on the blog- the dinosaur is learning, but still has a very long way to go. With the Sometimes Resident Engineer,
aka Vinod.

The famous trip was over on the 28th of October, when we got back home to Kolkata. When I think I thoroughly disgruntled the Sometimes Resident Engineer by expressing my ecstacy at seeing the vibrant green of the rain trees on the road down from the airport. He'd taken me half way across the world and we'd seen amazingly beautiful fall colours in various parts of the United States, and here I was, going gaga over the rain trees in Kolkata.

There was a song I used to love as a child-

The Scottish Soldier:

There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away
There was none bolder, with good broad shoulder
He's fought in many a fray, and fought and won.
He'd seen the glory and told the story
Of battles glorious and deeds neforious
But now he's sighing, his heart is crying
To leave these green hills of Tyrol.

'Because these green hills are not highland hills
Or the island hills, they're not my land's hills
And fair as these green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home.

Substitute 'trees' for hills, and you will know what I mean. What I really missed in all my travels was knowing which trees were which. There were leaves which I thought were maple leaves. Some of them were apparently oaks. I wasn't able to check what was what, and that left me feeling rather lost. I need to know the names of the trees around me, which then makes them 'mine'. (I have never claimed that I am not weird. This is part of my weirdness, which I'm glad to know that my elder son shares- he's been in New York for over a year now, and also misses having familiar trees around). I don't even know the names of all the trees where I live, but at least I know some of them.

It's such a pleasure to see trees that are fresh and green and alive. We are just into the best part of the year in Kolkata, when the weather is mostly pleasant, and drowning in perspiration isn't part of the daily kitchen routine!

Since I mentioned the weather, let me tell you that we had amazingly good weather for most of our trip. One rainy day in New York, and two cold, soggy days in England.The third day, when we went to London, was better. We were probably somewhat acclimatised by then.
But now I know why the British love to travel all over the globe- to get away from their awful weather.

I've realised that I can't write a linear account, city by city, of my travels. I will probably hop and skip around various places, and give you mostly general impressions, and some specifics. If you want details and facts about different cities, Googleji and Wikiji should be just right for you

People in America ( apart from New York, which is a different story altogether) seem to live in their cars. When they aren't driving from city to city, they seem to be driving around all over the place from their 'sub-division' into town and back. (We used to jump with joy whenever we spotted a pedestrian- rare creatures indeed. Joggers inside parks were another matter). No parking fees in most places, and humungous parking lots and stores. "Stores" is right- they seemed more like warehouses to me. Neat and shiny clean rest rooms. Horribly soft, springy mattresses and beds. (No wonder they have so many chiropractors). No dust. Their 'desh-ki-maati' seems positively well behaved. (We were thrilled to see some loose dirt on the edge of the road in a park Washington DC). Huge back yards. Dishwashers. Supposed to be a life-saver in the American kitchen, but- first you rinse the dishes, then you load the machine, then you unload it- it still seemed like a lot of work. The ubiquitous washing machines and dryers were very convenient for us - we managed with a mid-sized suitcase each, doing a load of laundry every two or three days. Practically every house we visited was covered with beige wall to wall carpeting. We tried to get used to the floors thumping when we walked on them. I tried not to feel guilty when our hosts and hostesses worked so hard at keeping us well-fed and comfortable, especially if they didn't let me help. Some days of course we'd be exhausted from sight-seeing, when I would gratefully collapse onto the nearest available sofa, and gratefully accept cups of hot tea from kind, ministering souls. (I do not think that the Sometimes Resident Engineer suffered from any such qualms or guilt. Lucky chap!) Almost all the men were very very 'hands-on' in their homes, in their kitchens and with their children. This was really such a pleasure to see- whether their wives were employed outside the home or not, they were really competent in their homes. These were all men who had had a fairly traditional upbringing in India. I think their wives can definitely take some of the credit for this. Our niece's husband made some wonderful Mexican food one evening, and excellent soup and pizza the next.
Since we were staying with either family or friends, we were very much at home in terms of language and good desi food. There is now a great variety of international cuisine available in India so we were familiar with Italian, Mexican and Lebanese food, among others.
I really enjoyed my first encounters with Greek and Ethiopian food. Being a vegetarian wasn't a problem at all. (The US has really progressed on this front in the last couple of decades). The staple grain in Ethiopian food is called 'teff', a tiny, millet like grain. It is fermented and ground and made into 'engera' (in-jeera) . The nearest approximation to it in Indian cuisine is the Malayalee appam. It is eaten with the hand, (cutlery is not recommended) along with good vegetable, chick pea and lentil preparations . Meat preparations are also available. Deliciously light and not at all oily or greasy. Mother and son enjoyed this, father did not, sad to say. Ah well, to each his own.

I've just discovered a tiny little mouse in our bedroom. I wonder how it reached the second floor. I've decided not to scream and shout and chase it about since the Sometimes Resident Engineer is snoring away and it would be unkind to disturb him. I just hope it leaves without bloodshed.
Will update!


Savani said...

I LOVE your snippets! And I want more. The picture is smashing! I was laughing all the way at your observations. they are all soooo true! And which park in DC did not have ill behaved maati. gotta report that :D

dipali said...

Hi dotmom! That was the park around the Jefferson Memorial, which I loved. Let me blasphemously add that I found Lincoln far too verbose in the speeches put up at his memorial.
TJ was so succinct and so clear in his thinking. I found Washington DC
to be a lovely city. didn't have the icecream there, though.

Sue said...

Aw Dipali, I love your take on globetrotting! Reading this post was like sitting and hearing you chat.

About the mouse, what did you do? Last time I was confronted with one I screamed. :)

Anonymous said...

It felt like we were chatting about your trip with a cuppa. Nice narration.

About the picture - I had a different image of you in my mind :-)

Waiting to hear more about your trip...

Raj said...

That was a lovely Scottish poem. Know who the poet was?

dipali said...

Sue,I haven't seen the mouse after that, so I hope it's gone away. If I see it again I will probably indulge in some heavy duty broom-wielding and screaming!

2B's Mom, I look different with different haircuts! In summer I keep it severely tied up and look most school-marmish.

Raj, unfortunately I don't, and Google didn't tell me either. But the complete version is on the Net, and they also play the rather rousing music.

Unknown said...

Hey Dipali,

First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to actually read my book. I am thrilled. And even more thrilled to know that you liked it. Appreciation is like fine quality heroin. Aaah!. Anyway the email addy is

I've enjoyed this travel post a lot. Take care

Choxbox said...

nice to see your pic! btw you sounded like a 20 yr old on phone.. you have such a lovely voice!
you were lucky with the weather actually. you shuld check it out now. sunless and raining away with cold winds - good ol' brit winters.

Anonymous said...

I can see you are a very considerate person. I, on the other hand, would have stood beside the sleeping person and screamed. Once he had woken up,I would ask him to drive away the mouse for me :)
Yes, yes, I know I am heartless :(

Usha said...

brought back memories of my trip earlier this year - although you give them better words!
Ah yes, now I see, knowing the trees matters to me too.
I hope this is not all but just the beginning of these delightful accounts.

Unknown said...

What a lovely post, and great to finally put a face to the name.
BTW, tagged. From thirtysixandcounting.

Sue said...


Aanchal said...

Oh oh oh! I need to have familiar trees around too. And, I thought I was weird! :-D
For the longest time after moving away from home, I missed the Ashok trees that we have four of in our house. And, the lemon tree under which I had my tree-house/hideaway when I was a kid. :)

the mad momma said...

oh what fun.... and to think we chatted abt everything but your trip. you really need to visit me again :)

dipali said...

Jawahara, thanks for visiting. I will mail you soon.
Chox,thanks,it was lovely talking to you too. You could mail me some pics so I can see you and your family.
Lekhni, it was such a tiny mouse, not scary enough to wake someone up for:)
Usha, I need to gather whatever jet-lagged wits remain:) Thanks.
Kiran, I've done the tag!
Sue, shall do soon. Promise!
Three drinks ahead, nice to know that you're a kindred spirit! We have loads of ashok trees on our road:)
Mad Momma, we had so much to say and so little time. The trip continues 'bloggable'!

Mampi said...

You sound so much like me Dipali, in enjoying, feeling guilty, and being fed by the family and friends in Umreeka.