February 28, 2008

The real charades

Traditionally, I have been great at Charades or Dumb-C as we call it... But that was all with people who basically shared at least one single language. Here in France, the case is obviously different. It isn't so much a game as a survival skill. I've had a bunch of experiences where some basic actions have gotten me through sticky situations. Here's one- While I was visiting at college, I convincingly ordered a café au lait (coffee with milk) and gave 5€ to pay for it and was given back 45 cents. Now I knew it was utterly completely impossible for a coffee to cost 4.55€ in that part of the suburb. I looked around for a board of prices... And saw that it was being repainted. So I motioned the guy over and said - "I gave 5 (raising 5 fingers) euros." He smiled, gave me a high five and said "Merci." (Thank you). I tried again and this time his smile faltered a bit before thanking me again. A fleeting thought of letting the 5€ crossed my mind. But who was going to lose 300 rupees over some lack of understanding? After a deep breath I decided I had to use my limited french to get the point across.

"Je (=I while pointing to myself) gaaaaaaaaaaave (action of giving- didn't know the french word for that) cinq (five) hooro (french pronunciation of euro). Combien café? (How much for the coffee?)"

There was a sudden spark of understanding in his eye and he retrieved appropriate change (= 4€ more) and profusely apologized.

Whoosh.. a minor victory. (And thank god the coffee didn't actually cost 4.55 €. Now that would've been embarassing)

February 25, 2008

Mona Lisa

They've changed the rules of the Grand Gallery at the Louvre... Anyone can now take as many pictures as they will.. Here's one -

But the fantasy is lost.. The last time I was there, I had a fun time trying to get past the guard's attentions in getting a clandestine picture of the lady.. In fact I have saved well over 10 shaken photographs from that trip. This time around, it was simple.. If you waited for 2 minutes, you would get a position in the dead center and could take a photo square on. How boring.

A hair-razing experience

Those who know me know that I have a habit of 'curling' my hair when I am totally jobless or when I want to 'set' my hair well enough after a hair-raising headbath.. So it was no surprise that I had packed away my curler from the US for use here... Having bought a us-france plug, I figured I would use my curler to soften my curls 2 mornings ago. As is customary, I plugged the curler on and left it to heat for a while.. It usually takes about 5 minutes to gather sufficient heat to make any difference when I wrap my hair around it. My first hint should've been when in 2 minutes the light indicator (which turns from red when its cold to white when its hot) popped off the curler's surface. I didn't think much of it... Instead after a few minutes, I sat down and took a very small section off the front frizzy hairs and twisted them around the curler.. I usually have to wait a minute atleast before the curls get soft enough.. But then in a few short seconds I smelt burning... A sort of singed smell... the smell of hair being burnt. In utter panic, I unplugged the curler and then unwrapped my tiny strand of hair.. or atleast tried.. Because my hair was burning and sticking to the curler.. I jerked it away and it came off in my hands. I don't think I have ever been so shocked. Still shaking from the horror of it, illogically I pulled all of my hair tight to verify that my hair wasn't just falling and that the curler was to blame. Thankfully no more hair tore loose... Mercifully my husband stashed the cursed thing away..

It was a while before I was calm enough to examine the logic behind the sequence.. When I did, it was fairly simple and as an Elecrtical Engineer I had to take all the blame. Being a US gadget the curler required just 110V. The conversion plug we'd purchased was just that - a plug and not a transformer as I had for some unfathomable reason thought... I needed a step down transformer to plug the curler in to step down from France's 220V supply to the gadget's 110V. The only other devices I had used with the plug had their own adaptors - the cell phone and the laptop. No wonder the curler heated way too fast.. it was receiving twice the power it needed. And mercifully, I didn't burn myself or anything else.. all I lost was a few strands of frizzy hair.

February 21, 2008

J's day out - Part Deux

Another day... another adventure... a bunch more pictures. Yesterday was my second visa interview at the UK embassy (they sent me off at the first one because I was smiling in my photograph - grrrrrrrrrrrr) and the embassy is located just off the famed Champs Elysées. The appointment was for 4:15 and so when I was done, it was the wee hours of the evening and the sky was melting into a riot of colors. I was going to meet hubby dearest at one of the Metro stations in well over an hour. So that meant I had the hour to kill. Judiciously, I had lugged along his smaller Canon camera for the ease of carrying. After some of the sights I saw, I really wished I had brought my own bulky one... The pics in this weren't half bad but nevertheless.. And off I started walking down Champs Elysées, famed as the most beautiful road in the world.. I don't know about beautiful.. but it sure is long and its dotted with some of the most famous structures in Paris. Of course its ends are flanked by the famous Arc de Triomphe on one end and the Musee du Louvre at the other.. Along the way, comes the Place de la Concorde - the seat of the French revolution - more precisely the location of the guillotine that ended the lives of amongst others, King Louis Philippe XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette. Surprisingly, the concorde monument bore no reference to any of this but was instead just dedicated to the King.

Further ahead lay the Louvre. The temptation was unsurmountable. As a photography geek, I have always wanted to capture the glass pyramids in twilight.. And it was just turning pink in the sky.. I wanted to hang around there till dark and get whatever shots I wanted. I called the husband and made a change of plan to directly meet him at home. Though he insisted that the Louvre lay farther than it seemed and that I should probably take a train to it, I stressed that it was a stone's throw away and that I could see it rise just beyond the gates. It had to be a stone shot by a canon I suppose... he was as right as I was wrong. What lay behind the gates was merely a very large garden of sorts and what might've been a brisk 10 minute walk into the Louvre grounds seemed far more for my already tired legs. Having made the decision, I stuck by it and the sky turned purple by the time I got the first glimpse of the pyramid. The lighting was just perfect.. And the photos saw a lot more than my eyes did.

At the end of my day, I was tired, content, hungry and happy. It was time to head back home to the husband.

February 20, 2008

J's day out

Conquering a city has for some reason had its charm. Especially when you don't know the language, its even a challenge. With the husband having to go to office and being unable to obviously babysit me, I decided I had to spread my wings too. And so I undertook an excursion of my own. I had to find my way to college to greet the professors.. And then why shouldn't I just go to the Eiffel Tower and get some good day time shots? The weather was brilliant and there was no excuse really. My poor hubby probably thought I was going to be in lost world once outside the house and called regularly to interrogate my current location. Armed with the Metro Map and the ability to read, I was pretty much set. Off I went to the college armed with one more thing - the memory of having gone there once before. Once thats there, you pretty much tend to follow the steps rather than use the brain to maybe find easier routes. But on this case, I was spot on. I took the right bus and the right train and got off at the right stop (all thanks to the husband reconfirming it with me). And one small error. I needed to have found Sortie 3 (Exit 3) but instead happily followed the swarming crowd to Sortie 1 and found myself in completely unfamiliar surroundings. Having inspected a readily available map, I figured I was nearby but not right where I needed to be. Call the husband. After a few seconds of asking me where I did what and asking me to retrace my path, he informed me that I had the wrong exit. Alright then. On I marched to the right one and soon found myself surrounded with familiarity as I made my way to school with no further ado. After exchanging pleasantries, and a very-sadly-need-to-get-acquainted-lunch of simple salad, and some formalities later, I was free to find the Eiffel Tower. 2 Metros and 40 minutes later, I had the right stop. Now which among the 8 exits? I gave my elementary French some work and took a guess based on the names of the exits (the hubby didn't answer the phone).. and it turned out I was right! From sheer memory again, I walked out the station and found myself at the quarter... facing the Eiffel Tower. With brilliant blue skies, many trial panorama shots and many other pictures, the walk, the taking in of the mammoth structure was all worth my while. I was doubtful of the angle of the sun casting shadows on the East side of the tower and I walked a few long stretches to the other side and in the sun I couldn't see the results of my pictures. When I got home(by myself with no instructions) to load them on the computer , it was worth every second spent.

February 19, 2008

Un café si'l vous plait

I haven't really noticed how the cost of coffee varies from city to city inside the US...But I sure have made a short n sweet study in Paris in my short while here. Maybe its coz one tends to drink soo many coffees or probably one drinks soo many coffees because of all those cafés scattered at every street corner. Whatever the reason, the cost of living gradation is pretty obvious from these prices -

Coffee At --------------------------------Price in €
School (suburb) -----------------.----------0.65
Near home (posh suburb) ---------------- 2.00
City outskirts ------------------------------3.50
(2 min from posh suburb)
City - pretty setting ---------------------- 5.00
Champs Elysees --------------------------- 6.00

There you go.

February 18, 2008

Moment of truth?

The wedding is such a big deal.. to you.. the family... the people attending. Its a defining moment after which "life is never the same" - for good reasons of course. But somehow as I lived through my wedding, I had a very vague feeling of disjointedness... Like I was looking over someone else's wedding. I was the one getting ready but I was not the one getting married. Anyone ever felt that before? It was beautiful yet unreal. That would explain my 3rd person reactions.. the thumbs up, etc. Even now as I am with the hubby, it feels like I am living with a friend and shadowing his lifestyle.. nothing too different. I wonder why and I wonder when the realization of the magnitude if the events is going to dawn if it ever will...

February 16, 2008

Makeup Madwoman

Another of those wedding posts.. When you are the bride, nonsensical things like make-up assume astronomical importance on D-Day. One of the main things S & I were particular about was that the makeup be absolutely natural.. not overdone, blah blah. We found S aunty who was a debutante but did a commendable job with the makeup on all the velais... She was a tad apprehensive about doing the reception makeup though.. because I had insisted on curling my hair. Anyone who knows me has by now raised eyebrows to the curling part considering that my hair has the most unmanageable curls on the planet. I think thats what did S aunty in and she didn't exude the supreme confidence that one requires of their reception makeup artiste. And so Clara came into the picture.. She was the one who'd prepped me up for the wedding and so I put my face in her hands.

With 2 hours to go for the reception to begin, I was supremely confident that things were in control.. I had gotten through the rest of the wedding with appreciable aplomb and poise (all self claimed and universally approved except for the roach incident). My dear Kadalais had started arriving to help me get ready. Clara was on time... She said she'd start with my face, get to the hair and then the sari. Sounded good to me.. S aunty worked on my face for an average of 15 minutes to get the natural look.. So I assumed that Clara would at most take a half hour to overdo the makeup - a basic requirement to survive without melting under the lights of the reception. 20 minutes of cleansing, moisturizing and using my own makeup later, I saw the horror reflected on ML's face. It seemed the eyeliner was messed up.. That meant cleaning the entire eye and that meant reapplying the makeup.

Scrub 1.

ML took control to her hands and started applying the liner herself.. After a few critical strokes, she seemed happy with her work.. which was good enough for me knowing the perfectionist she was. Then suddenly she looked at my hair and her expression changed.. The makeup had gotten to my hair and made it whitish.. and no amount of water sponging seemed to help. Yikes!!! Then came the mascara application... for the hair!!

It was now just 45 min to go.. I ordered Clara to get on with my hair.. And what did I see her unpacking.. traditional curlers and not a curling iron!!! Mother of the Lord.. And she didn't have eyeshadow and was planning on using lipstick instead.. And she didn't have proper lipstick either and I donno what she planned to use. ML to the rescue again... She fished out some eye shadow, lipgloss all in a jiffy and worked on my face while Clara struggled with my hair (amongst my curses). With the hair not getting done and the face still a white haze and 15 minutes to go, panic set in. SM started putting the jewelry on me.. And while I was halfway through the sari draping, a knock on the door and - "Mappilai ready.." my brother announced categorically. I fumed. What did the Mappilai have to get ready? While I sweated in this airconditioned room to get my makeup, hair, clothes and accessories ready, the mappilai had slept blissfully, thrown on his clothes, done a hair check and hey presto! he was ready. Talk about unfairness.

Then I looked at the mirror.. and gagged.. I was white. A digicam image verified as much. With no time, profuse evasive action was required. I grabbed a tissue and wiped away liberally.. taking off over an hour of Clara's work... When I slowly saw my skin color return, some peace stole in. My eyelashes were still a little white (Clara's mascara had run out).. But that couldn't be helped. Talk about fiascos. At the end of it all, I had go out.. and smile for a million photographs and VR has the nerve to ask me - "Why haven't you shown your genuine teeth-wala smile? Your closed mouth smile is sooo unnatural."

For those who saw the photos and thought they were gorgeous.. I thank ML.

February 6, 2008


Why is it that sooo many of my posts revolve around my entomophobia? Maybe 'coz of the phobia itself.. But whatever the reason... the insects, especially the one starting with C have wreaked havoc in my life at many important moments showing themselves at places they are least welcome.. like the wedding.

So, we were done with all the thaali tying.. and for anyone who's observed the typical TamBrahm wedding (or been in it themselves), they know that the homams all involve the men primarily and the bride has nothing better to do than symbolically hold hands once in a while and stare at the crowd to catch the many familiar faces and nod thanks to all the pouring congratulations. There we were.. seated in the pristine setting among a blazing fire, melting ghee, many veshti clad vaadhiyars and a lot of smoke and sweat. And the vaadhiyar pulls out the dried varati (cow dung cakes) to feed the fire... and guess who's seated on top of that? None less than 5 huge cockroaches. While they scatter in all directions (3 in mine) from the heat, my panic surges in a microsecond and I realize that I have lost my voice... The priest is trying to calm me down.. and I am caught in the dilemma of fleeing the mandapam lest they get into the madisaar and of drawing some significant attention which would do something to rid them. My F-I-L was shocked at my panic and S (busy with all the homams) hadn't a clue why I was screaming frantically and half jumping on his lap. They dispersed without much ado. Thankfully they weren't the muchad variety. Even then I marveled at their making their presence felt shortly after the most important moments of my life... Some species just don't get that they are never wanted... Hmph.

February 4, 2008

Tear Factor

Traditionally my family has been teary-eyed. It happens at good occasions or not... with good reason or not.. Its like everyone has a tap affixed somewhere. And the moment they want to, they can cry. That includes the women and the men. No offense meant. Everyone has their feelings and as someone says anything is better out than in. And with my wedding that just happened, there was no better excuse really. For me, its a different type of tap. My tap is turned on when people I really love are in tears... no matter what the reason.. even if they are weeping for a silly movie. So the first tears started at home everytime they thought of the 3 day wedding festivities. I wasn't so affected by that maybe coz I expected it. But my tap burst on oonjal day especially when I saw my dad in pools of tears.. I couldn't see my brother then.. I assume he was in tears too.. And I choked. Thats when S smartly moved me away while hushing in my ear that I would be ruining the wedding pictures. I calmed down.. And the next time I got close enough to dad and he was not in tears I told Appa that that was it for the tears. It was a happy occasion and we had to make it one. My biggest worry at that time was that I would burst out crying when the thaali was tied- the sacred moment for all teardom and importantly the defining moment of the entire wedding. The ceremony proceeded surprisingly fast and soon I was handed the koora podavai - the red and gold traditional brahmin wedding saree.. and before I knew it, I was on Appa's lap for the mangalyadharanam. I was a li'l panicked, a li'l calm and I stared around for some reassurance. And I got it in S Mama... who subtly shook his head from side to side to indicate that I wasn't to weep. I looked up at S - the thaali in his hands. And a moment of surreal calm set into me. And I could see just him and thankfully he wasn't crying. :) In a moment.. it was over. I was married! And I hadn't cried and thats when the double thumbs up came. I am told it was captured on a friend's camera's video... And I am sure it will be in the official one as well. And then I heard the tears... my patti, my Amma, my Appa and who not. This time I was sure though. The tears were all happy.