Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hello, I'm Sujatha ...

... and you are? Please, would you introduce yourselves?

If you read Blogpourri occasionally or often or regularly, but have never commented before, I'd love to hear from you. What are the kinds of posts you like to read on Blogpourri? Even if you are a regular visitor here and comment often (I know I don't say this enough, but I love the fact that you take time to read and leave comments!), it would be awesome if you could tell me what interests you on this blog.

Thank you and cheers!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I'm linking to a few ideas/articles that piqued my interest over the weekend.

1. Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine on a hitherto unexplored angle on President Clinton:
One person who did not leave Chelsea alone was her father. In acclaimed historian Taylor Branch's new book The Clinton Tapes — woven from Branch's recorded conversations with the President from 1993 to 2001 — the portrait of the relationship between Bill Clinton, a man who never knew his own father, and his daughter reveals a side we rarely saw on the public stage. Bill Clinton, it turns out, raised a daughter and ran the free world, sometimes in that order.
2. There was an awesome segment on 60 Minutes this morning about former Secretary of State Madeline Albright's collection of lapel pins. Each pin has a backstory - personal, political, historical - and now they are on exhibition in New York City, and Ms. Albright has a new book coming out called Read My Pins. I can't find the video on CBS' website, but all I found was this link to a short CBS News clip.

3. Andrew O'Hehir writes in Salon, in an article titled "Confessions of a Home-Schooler," about him and his wife starting out on the home-schooling adventure with their two five-year-old twins:
Both Leslie [the children's' mother] and I went to public school and had the usual assortment of excellent, mediocre and bad teachers. We're not zealots with some animus against public education. We're glad it exists and relatively happy to pay taxes to sustain it. As I said earlier, though, we feel dubious about the ideology that seems dominant in public education these days, and especially about the idea that sending kids to school virtually all day for 10 months a year, beginning at age 3 or 4, is the healthiest mode of delivering it.


I think home schooling has brought Leslie and me closer together.... The four of us are a pretty tight unit -- it's not us against the world, but us in the world, trying to experience the days as they come.

We've planted seeds and watched them grow into sunflowers taller than Daddy; read books about Alexander Calder and Squanto and the warm-blooded, egg-laying Maiasaura; told stories about how our beloved bunny Picaro made his final voyage into the Egyptian Land of the Dead. We say goodbye to the setting sun (when we remember to) and greet each new day with tremendous enthusiasm, often much closer to dawn than the adults would prefer. I'm not saying that other families don't do that stuff too. I guess I'm saying what I said already: It works for us.
4. Ra on the myths surrounding alternative education in India:

I thought I’d tackle some of the common points (some of them myths) that arise when there is a discussion about alternative schools first:
Alternative Schools Are all very Expensive:
I think people often think that alternative schools are the same as “international” schools and automatically assume that they will be expensive. There are some very expensive international schools in India, that do follow alternative models, at least in so far as they are “alternative” to the more conventional schools. But there are alternative schools that have been around for ages, such as the K schools and Mirambika that charge around the same as lots of other schools. Some of the alternative schools are boarding schools and thus charge more, but are not necessarily the most expensive boarding schools around. Some alternative schools offer scholarships and take children when the parents are unable to meet the full fees.
What caught your fancy this weekend?

Friday, September 25, 2009

G-20 Summit: The Obamas at the Receiving Line

A blow by blow account in the New York Times of the First Couple greeting the G-20* leaders arriving for dinner at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh:

Ooh, next is South African President Jacob Zuma! Which wife did he bring? The youngest of course, Nompumelelo Ntuli, who puts her arm around Mrs. Obama and holds her hand during the photo op. Mrs. Obama tells Mr. Zuma that she expects him to solve the global economic mess “by Friday.”

Next arrives Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, who clearly did something in the car to anger his wife because she glares at him, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Obama, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross her line of vision. The Obamas both look slightly
taken aback by her.

Wonder what happened in the car? The Ethiopian First Couple are quickly dispatched inside.

It appears that spouses in high places are not spared the mundane dramas that plague us regular folk.

And then further down:
Then it’s Brazilian President Lula da Silva, with his wife, and, finally, at 7:50 p.m., Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, and his wife, Miyuki, back from Venus. She is in an elegant black suit with a bubble skirt and carries a burgundy shawl.

Mr. Obama hugs her.

“I’m sorry we were late,” she says.
Wonder what the story behind that was and I wonder what the reference to Venus is. Hmmm. E! Entertainment cross-pollinated with a little bit of politics, turns out, still makes for an entertaining mix.

And if it occurred to you to ask "Why Pittsburgh?" you are not alone.

Click away!

* and other world leaders.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Books to Die For: A Nine Year-Old's List

This post has been in the works for a while. Ra's recent post highlighting her recommendations for a children's library gave C, my nine year-old son, the necessary kick in the ... er... motivation! So here, for your reading pleasure, is a list of some of C's favorite books (fiction) of the past year with his notes on the parts he liked or disliked. Although not as extensive, he has favorite non-fiction books as well. Perhaps in another post. My notes are in italics.

1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: With over 230 pages of pure illustrations, Hugo Cabret is a fascinating book about a boy who wants to find out about his father's past and his automatons with the help of friends.

The book is enthralling and keeps you at the edge of your seat at all times. Hugo, who is so poor that he scavenges for food, goes on the adventure of his lifetime while finding out about other people's mysterious pasts as well.

C and I started reading this book aloud. It went too slow for his taste. He ploughed on ahead and then the book had to go back to his library. This is one I want to read as well. The illustrations are rich with detail and feeling.

2. The Mysterious Benedict Society Series by Trenton Lee Stewart, Carton Ellis (Illustrator): Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance all have something in common - they have to take down Mr. Benedict's evil brother, Mr. Z. This book is about how the four kids work together as a team, The Mysterious Benedict Society.

What I like about this book is that you never know what's going to happen next. There's always a dilemma. I can't wait for the third book in the series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, to come out early next month!

3. George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt by Lucy & Stephen Hawking: This book is about three friends who find out that a rover is acting funny on Mars. They use their high-tech super computer to open hole into space. When they do that they find out that someone is trying to destroy earth.

This fun-filled adventure takes you all around the universe with amazing facts about outer space.

4. The Hardy Boys Series by Franlin W. Dixon: Two young boys, Joe and Frank, are following their father's footsteps by cracking mysteries by the minute. They risk their lives with every case they take on.

These action-packed books are amazing. My palms get sweaty as I turn the pages. A big must-read.

5. A Summer Adventure, The Hidden Treasure and The Only Witness (3 Novels) by Shashi Deshpande: Dhinu, Minu, Polly and Ravi are cousins. They lead normal lives until they get caught up in huge mysteries - one involving sinister robberies, the other involving their ancestors' treasure, and the last involving their friend's kidnapping and an encounter with mysterious bank robbers.

The setting is India, one of the busiest places in the world. The books' last minute captures and saves will keep your teeth chattering. (Thanks Chox!)

6. Gregor the Overlander Series by Suzanne Collins: This is a story about a boy and his sister who fall through their laundry shaft and land in a different world. There are several prophesies about this particular boy - he is supposed to slay several evil and disgusting creatures.

The books in this series (5 of them) are long and enchanting. They are about friendship and courage, and include a mystery about his father in the first book.

7. The Name of This Book Is Secret and If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch: These two books are about two dashing and daring characters who get mixed up in a mysterious magician's life. Evidently they're not the only people going after the magician. Two evil doctors are on the hunt, searching for immortality. That means having to capture the magician.

These books take the readers nearly everywhere. These emotion-filled and sometimes hilarious books are simply oversatisfying!

8. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterston: This comic book about an irritating boy and his best friend, an imaginary tiger, talks about 1980s politics and normal household life in the uttermost hilarious way.

Each book has over 50 comic strips with most funny twists bound into it.

9. Tintin by Herge: This series, to my utmost delight, is a set of jaw-on-the-floor-ing books about an amazing detective who cracks over 21 cases with the help of his old sea-dog friend, Captain Haddock, and his professor genius friend, Calculus, and his loyal and creative dog, Snowy.
These books have off-the-scale action and great characters with huge personalities.

10. Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop: This emotional and heartwarming book about gymnastics and bravery is a great read, especially for those who think they are too short and not able to do many things.

This is a great mythical story about medieval times, about dragons and kings. It's a fantastic story about a struggling kid who tries very hard to overcome his challenges.

11. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney: These are stories about a loser middle-schooler and his bully brother high-schooler, about how he manages to pull through every painful minute of his life and dreams of becoming famous some day.

These books have freakishly funny twists of comedy in them, and have great advice if you are in the wimpy kid's position.

12. Jake Drake, Bully Buster by Andrew Clements: This book is about a young boy who overcomes the challenge of defeating a super bully by gradually ignoring him and working together with him.
Another Andrew Clements classic and a very good read, but not the best. Frindle is the best.

13. Mansion in the Mist, The Dark Secret of Weatherend, The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb (the Anthony Monday Series) by John Bellairs:
These books are about Anthony Monday and his eccentric friend. They solve mysteries of magic, mythology and sorcery by evil people.

They have so much scariness, you feel like putting them down even though you don't want to. They leave you feeling scared and excited!

14. Books on the nightstand:

Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (reading it aloud with mom)

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (thanks a ton, Poppy!)

To be continued...


C's list definitely reflects the sensibilities of a boy who loves adventure and mystery. Lots of action and scary stuff. Increasingly he's also leaning toward fantasy. I helped out at the book fair at his school last year and I was delighted that the librarian at his school, the wonderful Ms. P, knew his tastes. She guided me down the aisles, pointing out books she was positive he would love. We did not go wrong with The Name of This Book is Secret.

Some of the books he read in 2008 include The Magic Treehouse Series, the Boxcar Children Series, the Classic Starts Series (with abridged versions of Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, Treasure Island, etc.), the Secret Seven and Famous Five Series by Enid Blyton (he thinks they take too long to get exciting and they end too quickly). He did not want to include them here because"they're for young kids" (!).

If you have other suggestions for an adventure-loving boy, please do let us know. He (and I) will be delighted!

A final note - Sujatha of Fluff n' Stuff also wrote a post about her favorites here. Please do check it out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Movie Review: The Informant!

Note: This post contains spoilers.

If you are contemplating going in to see The Informant!, it is more than likely you already know that the movie is based on true events that transpired at ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company), an agribusiness conglomerate, early in the previous decade. At the end of years of investigations, principals at the company were convicted and they spent time in jail for price-fixing. The man that made the FBI's case for them, a Vice-President at the company named Mark Whitacre, is the subject of this film.

Now, if visions of movies dealing with corporate espionage or corporate wrong-doing (such as The Insider or Michael Clayton) are swimming in your head, you would do well to banish those thoughts. That The Informant! deals with similar topics is all there is in common. While the seriousness of the subject matter and the thrill of watching a good guy taking down the big, bad companies came through brilliantly in those other movies, you get no such sense with The Informant!. Right from the get-go, in fact right from the first frame in which the disclaimer flashes across the screen (to paraphrase: "The movie is based on true events, but some of the characters are composites. So there."), it occurs to you that what you are in for is, rather, a tongue-in-cheek handling of the issue.

Mark Whitacre's personality and his antics - perhaps - lend themselves to such treatment. We are privy to his thoughts as he goes about his daily life - funny thoughts, profound thoughts, thought-provoking thoughts. We feel like we know the guy. We peg him as sincere and hard-working, as wanting to do the right thing, and as the movie progresses, as somewhat of a bumbling idiot.

Little do we know.

Turns out the man whose voice we hear, whose eyes through which we view the world, whose family we get to know, whose success - in exposing the illegal goings-on at one of the largest companies in the world - we are rooting for, is not who we think he is at all. We find out, some time into the movie, that he has bi-polar disorder - a disease that compels him to lie compulsively and allows him to entertain visions of a grand ending to his exposing the unlawful activities at ADM. He actually believes that the company will reward him by coronating him as head of ADM when all the wrong-doers end up in jail.

This is where the movie stumbles. We feel gypped. He now has our pity, our sympathy, for sure, but he no longer has our trust. Our loyalties are transferred to the FBI agents who have the monumental task of not only building a case, but also making sure their star witness does not end up jeopardizing it. It comes close more than once. By the time the FBI's focus shifts from the bad guys at ADM to Whitacre's own wrong-doings (embezzlement of the company's funds), the enormity of Whitacre's greed is mind-bogglingly obvious. His disease, the judge decrees, has no bearing on his greed.

Matt Damon, the actor with the star power in the movie, is brilliant as the slightly paunchy work horse with secret ambitions. With 30 pounds of extra weight on his usually athletic frame, large framed glasses and droopy moustache, his transformation from the international spy of the Bourne series to a 'bio-technician' in a farm products company is complete. Scott Bakula's turn as the slightly nervous FBI agent, Shepard, deserves recognition as well.

That this story is true at all is the most eye-popping aspect of the film. The conspiracy at ADM starts unraveling and the FBI becomes aware of it because the executives at ADM brought it upon themselves through a series of what can only be viewed as missteps (knowing full well that they are violating the law by price-fixing, they bring in the FBI to investigate the far lesser matter and things start going downhill from then on). These were the people that were running such a large company?

If there is one heartwarming angle in the story, it's the FBI agents' devotion and loyalty to Whitacre and his vital role in framing the case against ADM. They try to protect him not only from ADM, but from the FBI and from himself. One of them, agent Herndon, appears to stick with him through his years in prison, the final scene leading us to assume that he was even assisting Whitacre in putting together his plea for a Presidential pardon.

Sure some of the scenes in the movie are hilarious, but in the face of all the bits of information we are fed as the events transpire, you're left laughing less and shaking your head more. Discomfort replaces mirth; pity for Whitacre's condition replaces disbelief. You're not at the edge of your seat, you're cringing.

There are countless stories that lend themselves to hilarity and light treatment. I'm not sure this story was one of those.

Links: The movie's homepage. IMDb link to the movie page.

The movie is rated 'R' in the US for language.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Some lovely childrens' books recommendations...

... at Punarjanman. Do take a look. If you have suggestions of your own, please add them.

Related Post:

Books to Die For: A Nine Year Old's List

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The manifold advantages of a big brother

Last weekend both the kids had appointments for flu shots.

I was not worried about C (my nine-year-old son) at all. From the time he was three years old, I have been very upfront with him about the need for shots and how making a fuss would only make it more uncomfortable for him. I really had not expected the message to go over so well so quickly, and was heart broken that this little three year-old had let go of my hand, had walked up to the chair, lifted his sleeve and presented his arm to a skeptical nurse. The only one that cried that day was me.

With D, my daughter, who's now three herself, it's a completely different story. When we returned to the US from India two years ago she went through a spate of tests that involved drawing blood. The repeated visits at that age (she was barely one) and having needles stuck in her arm each time cemented a dreadful connection in her mind - a visit to the doctor meant injections. That association is starting to fray a bit, but we're nowhere close to me talking to her about not fussing for shots.

When our turn came at the doctor's office, C raised his hand when the nurse asked who was going first. He went through the drill with minimal talking. Then it was D's turn. Fully expecting her to bawl, C stood at the door and covered his ears. I scooped D in my arms and sat down on the chair with her on my lap. D, who had been watching C get his shot eyed the syringe warily. As the nurse lifted D's sleeve, inspiration struck C. He called D, told her to look at him and proceeded to dance a crazy little jig. She turned to me and giggled with an expression that said, "Look mom, C is being silly again." By the time she felt the sharp prick of the needle, she was too engrossed in her brother's antics to spare more than a glance at her arm. The colorful kiddie band-aid had already made an appearance.

As far as D is concerned, C is a major source of fun - he's great for horse rides, to watch movies with, to make puzzles with, to bounce on the bed with, to play tag with, to raid the freezer for ice cream with, to read books with, to tussle with. I hope it's not long before she wraps her mind around all the tiny ways in which he makes her life a little less hurtful.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tennis: Del Potro's 2009 US Open Victory Speech

Woo hoo for Del Potro. That was an amazing victory over Federer. A victory he had every right to savor. Which he did - in spite of a miserly Dick Enberg, the CBS Sports commentator and host of the prize ceremony.

For those who weren't able to watch the match's concluding moments, Del Potro dutifully answered Enberg's questions. Half-way into the rather embarrassing recitation (by Enberg) of the dollar amounts Del Potro had won and the names of the sponsors who had funded the prizes, the 20-year-old asked to say something in Spanish. Enberg brushed him off saying that there was no time left and promptly continued his way down the list. I'm not really sure how there could have been no time. What if the match had gone on a few games longer?

A few seconds later Del Potro repeated his request. Enberg then launched into an explanation of what Del Potro would do (really, who needed the explanation?) and reluctantly tipped the microphone toward Del Potro, who proceeded to, as far as I could make out, thank his vociferous Argentinian fan-contingent in the stands and tip his hat to Guillermo Vilas.

It was short, very sweet and so heartfelt. Those few moments rounded out a great run at the US Open for an up-and-coming tennis star. I wish Enberg - who has been around the block few times in these situations - had been a bit more magnanimous. Yes, we, the TV audience, get to watch the match courtesy the sponsors, but really the sponsors and the audience are there because of the players. May they please have their moment?

Update: Fixed the spelling of Vilas' name and added a Wikipedia link to Vilas, South America's only other US Open champ.

Update 2 (09/15/09): Link to CBS video of Enberg-Del Potro exchange. Note that they don't have the portion where Del Potro makes his request to address the audience in Spanish. Also note there are ads in the video with (briefly) language that is not office or kid-friendly.

Update 3 (09/16/09): Thanks to BPSK for this video of the relevant portion of the Del Potro-Enberg exchange:

CBS defends Enberg's performance:
“Dick had a number of elements that he had to get through on a very tight schedule,” said LeslieAnne Wade, the senior vice president for communications for CBS. “It was Dick’s job to get through those as quick as he could. And in the end, he did give him the opportunity to make his comments.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Memories of 9/11

We have two pictures* of the Twin Towers around the house. One was taken from a boat as it sped away from the city toward the Statue of Liberty. The other from the ground as I lay on my back at the foot of the towers and snapped a photograph from a quirky angle. In that shot the towers seem to be leaning toward each other.

I don't go to New York that often, but when I do these days, my eyes scan the fast-approaching skyline. The Twin Towers were hard to miss when they were there. Their absence is hard not to miss now that they no longer straddle the horizon.

In Washington, D.C., I have driven by the Pentagon countless times since 9/11. Every single time, I turn and look over to where the third plane ploughed into what I thought was a fortress. New concrete, new glass, new paint and a brand new memorial have more than managed to smooth over the terrible scars inflicted on the building that day. Whether the scars inflicted in the human beings have smoothed over is quite another matter.

The minutes may have merged into one another, no longer distinct, clear; the day itself making its presence felt, and not just on anniversaries, as a vague, anxious feeling, amorphous, floating in the air. It makes its presence felt every time a loved one gets on a plane and I refresh news pages on my computer until I know the plane has landed; when I get into a large building in a large city and look around trying to ... I don't know what; when tunnels and bridges don't seem as enjoyable anymore.

This year, particularly, I've noticed that small flags are lining lawn edges and plant borders in the homes around me. The memorial tree in my neighborhood in remembrance of my neighbors who died in the Pentagon on 9/11 is lined with flags.

Every year there is a new way of remembering. But there is remembering. It is difficult not to remember.

Some of you may have noticed a link to a post in the side bar to the right - 9/11 Remembered. What appears below is that essay I wrote four years ago.


A generation ago, the question was, "Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?"

For my generation, there are too many questions. Tragedies and calamities abound in our collective memories, but one question that will be asked again and again is, "Where were you on 9/11?"

At this time of year, that question doesn't even have to be asked.

I was at home in northern Virginia with a cup of tea and a newspaper in my hand, standing in the breakfast room and looking out into the backyard through the bay windows. N** was already at the baby sitter's and V was on his way to work.

Three days ago, N and I had returned home from a six-week trip to India.

I savored all the little things I had taken for granted, but had missed sorely when I was away from home.

Outside, the sky was blue, cloudless, bright with that early fall sunshine that was not too hot on the skin. A slight breeze ruffled only the tops of the tall trees in the backyard. Everything looked fresh, clean.

Inside, Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson's easy, morning talk show banter filled the silence in an otherwise quiet house.

Then, confusion.

In Diane Sawyer's voice. In Charlie Gibson's voice. The banter was gone. Replaced by broken sentences, words that were coming out staccato. Too many pauses in between. They were searching for words, for understanding, for any information that would explain what has just happened. I turned to look at the TV screen.

There were no video shots yet. Just two lines repeated over and over - the Vice-President of CNN had seen a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. His office had a direct view of the World Trade Center.

I flipped furiously to the other channels - NBC, CBS, CNN.

The first images that replaced the Good Morning America studio scene were shots of the Twin Towers, smoke billowing out of a gaping hole near the top of one of them.

None of the TV channels had any confirmation of the news that a plane had crashed into one of the towers, yet. The discussion focused on whether there was an explosion in the building. Or speculation that may be it was a helicopter or one of those chartered planes. They are known to fly low, staying just above the Manhattan skyline, sometimes even seeming to dip in between the buildings. At this point, there was no thought (at least none that was voiced) that it was anything but an accident.

I called V, who was still on the road, on his way to his office about eight miles away.

I watched the TV screen, describing the scene to him. Then I saw a plane entering the screen from the center-right side. My first reaction was, "God, how stupid is he? He's too close to the buildings!"

Within a few seconds the plane rammed into the other tower. A ball of fire followed by an inferno, black smoke.

The TV anchors were just repeating what I had said to V when describing the second plane. The theory of the pilot's stupidity now duelling with the theory that may be, it was not an accident. Compounded by the shock that this was happening twice within the space of a few minutes.

There was no other way of reporting it. They had no more information than I did. The pictures were there for all to see.

There were no background file photos. No fillers. There was no script.

This was not pre-meditated war. This was not a natural disaster. This was not a multi-car pile-up on some icy interstate.

This was the story of two planes that came out of the clear blue skies that sunny September morning and crashed into the Twin Towers, those pillars of American achievement.

This was as real as TV could get.

I wanted all three of us to be home. Right away.

There was a deep sense of foreboding. Something was not right. I could not explain what I was seeing on TV. The people that were supposed to be able to explain could not, did not, explain what I was seeing on TV.

I wanted V to turn around wherever he was and come right back. I wanted to get N back from the baby sitter.

I could not. I was stuck at home. One of the cars was in the garage for maintenance. V had taken the other. He told me not to worry, that he would be back home as soon as he could and pick up N on the way back.

I'd been standing all this time. As I sat down on the sofa, remote in hand, I heard a loud thud. The windows rattled, the house trembled. Blasting at a construction site, I thought.

Without warning, the the television screens switched to Washington, DC. Claire Shipman was on TV, mike in hand, her back to the Vice-President's office, plumes of smoke rising from a building behind her.

From one angle, the building behind the Vice-President's office is the White House. No one was certain what this meant. May be a fire in one of the buildings? At this point, no one, least of all me, was connecting the loud thud with the smoke.

A few minutes later, the connection was clear. A plane's tail was sticking out of the side of the Pentagon that faces Arlington.

I called V. The cell phone circuits were jammed. I called all of my family that's in the US, made sure everyone was fine. I called India, told my parents and in-laws we were all fine. Everyone was trying to call everyone else. It took us all a few minutes to reach each other.

I still could not reach V. He managed to call me.

Washington, D.C. was being evacuated. He was turning back. But there was no place to turn. By this time, the morning rush hour had mushroomed into a monster. Two-way roads were switched to one ways, vehicles were going around in circles. Rush hour that was usually uni-directional was becoming bi-directional. All the bridges coming out of Washington, DC into Virginia were choking with the overload.

As V would say later, the evacuees were sitting ducks for anyone wanting to target huge numbers of people with nowhere to go. That evacuation was anything but orderly. It was an unmitigated disaster. It took V three hours to cover the distance that would normally take 30 minutes, to get home.

Still no information on what was happening. I don't know, may be because of the movies, or may be it is what I was getting used to, may be getting spoiled even - what with all the news channels, all that information, the idea that the nation should know what is going on, the images of Presidents addressing the nation - but I kept thinking, ok, the President will be on any minute. There will be something someone at the White House will say that I want to listen to.

Everyone had their two cents in. Everyone except the people I wanted to hear from. I was waiting for an answer to a simple question, "What is going on?"

The thing is these thoughts rolled through my mind right then. They were not the result of some post-mortem of the events that transpired that day. That day, I realized for the first time that I was looking for something from the government, something other than services or social security programs or budgets, or low interest rates.

The image of David Bloom - with ash, debris on his hair, his voice hoarse, his face gaunt, his eyes red from the dust, from hours of standing on his feet, his back to the falling towers - is the strongest in my mind from all the hours of TV coverage we watched, compulsively.

Then news of Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. By this time, the shock was gone. There was the dull realization that whatever this thing was, it was relentless.

Hours, days, later, the stories.

Of bodies flying out of the windows of the towers, a desperate attempt to escape the fire and heat inside. Of policemen and firemen and dogs risking their lives to save others'. Of Todd Beamer and Lisa, the telephone operator who connected him to his pregnant wife, also Lisa, for a final few words before going to meet his death.

Of people trudging home on foot for hours. Of firms losing all their employees in a span of minutes. Of a six-month old baby waiting for her mother to come home and wailing every time the door opened but the mother did not come. Of rows and rows of cars waiting in vain at metro stations in New Jersey for their owners to come drive them home. Of my own neighbors who work at the Pentagon (two of whom died in that attack), coming home shaken, unable to eat for days.

Of depression among the people living around the World Trade Center because they are no longer in the shadow of the Twin Towers.

Their view outside their windows and our view of the world inexorably altered.

* I will try to scan the pictures and put them up.
** C was known as N then on my blog. D wasn't born yet.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Maine-ly Delights!

If there is one thing that is all uniquely Maine that I adore, it's got to be lush lawns edged with natural stone containers brimming with colorful flowers.

The fact that I am besotted with this particular Maine feature must be all too obvious to you by now. So rather than go on and on about stone-walled flower containers, I will tell you about this tiny, heavenly patch on the east coast of Maine called Bar Harbor.

Rosalie's, a popular Pizza joint

About two and a half hours north of Portland, Bar Harbor is a long drive from Washington, D.C. - about 16 hours. But split over two days - with a layover in Boston on the way up and in New York on the way back - it's not too bad at all, even with and for the two kids in the back seat.

'2 Cats,' a restaurant and coffee house. Scrumptious doesn't begin to describe their breakfast spread.

Although the week we were there was sandwiched between two hurricanes, the weather was perfect. In the low 80s and high 70s during the day and in the 40s at night. The sun was bright but mild. Great weather to go biking, whale watching, driving around or just loitering the streets of Bar Harbor, all of which we did.

Bar Harbor is on Mt. Desert Island, the major portion of which is preserved as Acadia National Park, home to numerous lakes and the 1,500 ft. tall Cadillac Mountain. Thoughtfully laid out paths (thoughtful from the perspective of allowing visitors to extract maximum enjoyment out of their visits) for hiking and biking meander around crystal-clear lakes and through thick woods.

We rented three bikes for four hours. The lady at the counter looked us up and down and recommended that we bike the path of "intermediate" difficulty. I was skeptical. The next step was to choose the right bikes. Hope replaced the skepticism. Hope that had been springing eternal ever since I got to this country and faced my first non-Indian bike back in 1995.

I asked the man that was helping us for a bike with no gears. He looked at me like I was from another planet. Which I might as well have been given that what was driving my request was fond memories of riding bikes as a fifth-grader in Bangalore. Not-too-fond memories have managed to sneak in in the interim. Bikes with gears and I don't mix very well, you see. I just want to get on it and keep pedaling. I don't want to be bothered with figuring out what gear works on slopes or on hills. (But with cars I'm completely the opposite - I loved driving cars with gears.) Almost always, I find myself in the wrong gear.

My hopes dashed yet again, I resigned myself to a tussle with the bike for the next couple of hours and we started off. My husband and D on one bike, C on his own and me on mine. The very first hill almost had me turning back. The legs burned. The bike moved in spurts. It was incredibly hard to pedal in patches but I made good progress, and ridiculously easy in others but I had hardly moved. Argh! In the meantime the husband and C had shot off and were waiting for me atop the slope.

Thus the story went - I straggled, they waited, I walked alongside my bike, they waited, I flipped gears furiously, gently, cajolingly, they waited. Once in a while C would bike back looking for me and be my personal cheerleader, "You're doing great, mom! The last time you biked was five years ago. See, you're a natural!" Maternal pride and burning embarrassment jockeyed for real estate on my grimacing face.

The ride was well worth it, though. Not least because the path was punctuated with slopes going downhill as well. One spectacular slope lasted a good three or four minutes. The sweat we had worked up only amplified the coolness of the breeze floating in from the lakes. Plus it let us get closer to some beautiful parts of Acadia National Park than we would have been had we just stuck to the car.

But I must confess that driving around Mt. Desert Island was an infinitely more pleasurable activity. Drives on coastal roads are our favorite anyway, and Maine's rugged, scraggly coast was the perfect setting.

It took us to the top of Cadillac Mountain and gave us expansive, 360 degree views of the surrounding beauty.

It took us to the Somesville Footbridge. Somesville is the oldest village on the island and this footbridge is apparently very popular among photographers. I can just imagine the gently curve of the sparkling white bridge forming a delectable contrast to fall foliage.

It took us to the Bass Harbor lighthouse. It's not a great shot, and we apparently missed a better angle because we did not know there was another approach to the lighthouse. Oh well!

It took us to Thunder Hole. See how the rocks are angular and not rounded? They entice you to walk further and further out because they don't look slippery, because you feel like they are solid and they give you a good foothold.

But this is exactly what brought us to Maine. So I swallowed my trepidation and we walked out as far as we could and we just sat for a while, taking in the wilderness and the sounds and smells of the ocean.

The drive took us to Sand Beach, the one semi-proper beach on Mt. Desert Island.

As night fell, we took a long walk along the pier in Bar Harbor, the ocean on one side with the boats coming ashore for the night and beautiful, beautiful homes on the other side.

The highlight of the trip though, hands down, was the whale watching boat trip. A good one hour into the ocean and we came across a large pod of pilot head whales.

Pilot whales going about their business while we gawked

They were not shy at all and seemed content to swim circles around our boat. Nothing came close to delighting the children as much as happening on those whales did.