Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Leaving New York: Gratitude

I am grateful for an IMMENSE number of things! I'm probably going to forget at least half, if not much more than half!

First, and most important! I can never be grateful enough for the changes living here brought to my relationship with my sister. If nothing else had happened, if I had had to live in a hole in Westchester, if I failed and was evicted from the country, if I never made a single friend and spent all my time in a ball under my quilt, I would STILL want to have come here just to ensure this.

Thank you Gran Manzana for all the things Latin American to which you introduced (and addicted) me. Salsa, Tango, platanos, caipirinhias, salsa verde, frijoles negros cubanos, corn tortillas, bachata, merengue, margaritas, Venezuelan rum, Venezuelan chocolate, making people guess where I'm from, arroz con leche, pastel de tres leches, dulce de leche, yuca, Marc Anthony, Julia Alvarez...

I'm delighted that coming here to study sparked my interest in politics and current affairs. I might still refuse to read the paper....but I do know what's going on; I can now have conversations with total strangers because I have all these subjects I can talk about.

I'm grateful for all the wonderful wonderful friends I've made, they don't need to be named.

Thank heavens for all the adventures I've had...in all their variety and excitement!

And, I am immensely grateful that I've managed to redress one of my regrets! I'm going to Mexico for two weeks!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Leaving New York: Things I Will Miss

Obviously I will miss most of the things I am grateful for! There are a few other things, however.

I’ll miss the subway. Oh man I’ll miss the subway. I mightn’t be an uber world traveller, but I have been about a bit. And nowhere in the WORLD does there exist a system as cheap and convenient as the MTA New York City Subway. It runs 24 hours a day. Almost every single route that runs during the day runs all night. It’s cheap. You can get almost anywhere in the city on $2, and I mean from the northernmost end of the Bronx to the easternmost end of Brooklyn. You can even pootle out into Long Island on that same $2 fare. To a woman who was raised in Indian cities, who, even at 25 cannot truly rebel against having a curfew if she’s out driving alone past midnight, the subway is intoxicatingly empowering! I remember, when I saw my first semester schedule back in August 2006, I was horrified to discover one of my classes ran to NINE P.M. and I’d have to ride the subway all the way home, by myself, once it was done. I was terrified, New York isn’t bunnyland. (Hmmm…perhaps in some ways *snicker*) Cut to December 2007, when I went to a party in Brooklyn and rode the subway home at 4am. Painlessly. Of course I wouldn’t take the train up beyond 140th St alone after 2am. I wouldn’t ride it if I were sleepy or tipsy. But there lies the magic, all I’d have to do is hop into a cab, one of MANY that trawl the streets of Manhattan, and ride it home, which would not cost me more than $15. That’s HARDLY expensive! And it is completely safe, especially since I usually spend the ride chatting away with the cabbie.

I’ll miss the water pressure in the shower, No, seriously. Shampoo and conditioner vanish, muscles revive and soaps scrubs of painlessly in the shower. No, this does NOT happen in the India I have lived in.

I’ll miss Hot and Crusty, the bakery that’s literally around the corner. And open 24 hours. And home to the best pizza I have ever eaten. In the same vein, I’ll miss Turkish food, and Mexican food, and Caribbean food; sangria, wine, margaritas, martinis, southern comfort and caipirinhas; all the Caribbean rum I’ve had the joy of drinking, aguardiente/mezcal – whatever you want to call it, agua fresca, cheesecake and tiramisu, peach pie and heaven knows what else!

I’ll miss the fall. My favourite weather, windy and chilly, but bright and sunny. The perfect days to spend sitting on the sidewalk, hopping from restaurant to restaurant, wandering about the city, giggling, singing tunes from Mary Poppins and taking pictures. The bright blue sky, with my glasses darkening when I sit on a bench in the park to read my book.

I’ll miss the chick flicks! I’ll miss watching them at 10am in matinee shows to save $6.

I’ll miss wandering about the East Village with my darling friends; I’ll miss curling up on their couch to watch REALLY bad TV and then refusing to leave.

I’ll miss The Scientist - I already miss all the good times we would have had. We still must make snow angels babe! And do more cooking trips!

I’ll miss people dropping in to spend a weekend visiting and cursing my stairs as they hump luggage up them.

I’ll miss my mad latin friends; the wild behaviour, copious drinking and dancing on the street.

I’ll miss my flamedame, ESPECIALLY because I was STUPID and lost all the pictures of it.

I’ll miss my sister, and I’ll miss talking to her twice a day. I’ll try from India, but it won’t be the same.

I’ll miss the trips out to Jersey to see my mad family there, madder now with the dog. I’ll miss the visits of the Poo.

I’ll miss being in the perfect time zone to chat endlessly with all my virtual friends, especially the real ones with virtual presences!

I’ll miss GH! And Gossip Girl. And Ugly Betty. And The Gilmore Girls. And DVR!

I’ll miss the snow, whatever little bits we get, despite the PAIN it is to navigate through.

I’ll miss the pleasant thrill when a random stranger on the street offers to help me.

I’ll miss being an attractive, sexy woman.

I’ll miss the New York Public Library. Dear GOD I’ll miss the NYPL. The sheer joy of having almost instant access to almost ANY book you want! Look for it, reserve it, and wait till they tell you to pick it up at the branch of your choice. All for FREE!!!!

And lastly, I will miss Fairway. My darling supermarket. I pray that we can be together again! You, me and the 8-grain bread.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Meet my dear friend

Most of my life I have had a faithful companion. I'll be honest, mostly I hated her. I was repulsed by the sight of her, even though she has never left my side for as long as I can remember. Through most of my childhood she was the cause of relentless and hurtful teasing from everyone, immediate family included, even though they KNEW I couldn't cut her out of my life in a moment. It is only after I came to NY that I learnt to accept her for who she is, and not judge her for her existence or myself for my acceptance of her. With able assistance from my cousin and some other people I have even come to love her, embrace her and advertise her. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Champakavalli:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Auntly Wisdom

An aunt I have here drops these true pearls of wisdom at us. Now, a year ago I would have bust myself laughing if anyone had told me I would like her, let along get along with her or appreciate her advice. But, nevertheless, I feel an imperative to broadcast these two!

"As long as you get more out of each new boy than the previous one, in SOME way, you're making progress."

"It's VERY hard work being in a relationship."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Leaving New York: Regrets

As my time here comes to a rapid end, I wanted to, in my oh so twee way, sum it all up. To counter depressive tendencies, we shall begin with the sad stuff.

I regret that I didn't take as many photographs as I could have. I regret all those gorgeous fall days I stayed on the couch, bumming about online. I regret never getting pictures of Riverside Park in the non-winter months. I regret not going dancing every week. I regret not actively seeking out Latinos and making friends with them. I regret not getting ELT certification. I regret not doing adequate research about immigration regulations and the like, which would have helped avoid much of the chaos of the past six months. I feel stupid for not having had my yearly physical while I still had insurance! I wish I had gone to Yellowstone. And Maine. I wish I had gone skiing! I wish I had taken a road trip - somewhere. A long one.

I regret not having the backbone to control my living situation. I've only lately realised just how much it affected me. It made me bitter and just took the edge off any joy at ALL that I experienced here. Perhaps if I had done something - talked straight, said no I don't want to live with a boy I don't know from Adam, SOMETHING - even if it hadn't changed things a lot, it might have made me feel better. It might have prevented me from becoming this obsessively petty, highly repressed person, most definitely someone I'm not.

I deeply regret not going to Latin America. I regret not having had the courage to explore something new; the motivation to prevent my lazy self from reverting to the easiest option. Perhaps I'm just meant to BE a theoretical person, in that I'm excited by the idea of being the kind of person who does some things, but I can't be arsed to do them!

Most of all I regret not writing a thesis worthy of my abilities. Once again some events were beyond my control, but I could have done more. On the bright side, this is the first time my own deliberate academic underachievement has actually bothered me. Woo!

...to be continued...maybe!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bang! You got me!

You're the time of day right around sunrise, when the sky is still a pale bluish gray. The streets are empty, and the grass and leaves are a little bit sparkly with dew. You are the sound of a few chirpy birds outside the window. You are quiet, peaceful, and contemplative. If you move slowly, it's not because you're lazy – it's because you know there's no reason to rush. You move like a relaxed cat, pausing for deep stretches that make your muscles feel alive. You are long sips of tea or coffee (out of a mug that's held with both hands) that slowly warm your insides just as the sun is brightening the sky.

Now I dunno about all the poetic bits, but man is 6.49 am a good time for me! Stolen from la rebelde.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Poetry? Let's Grow a Tree!

i want real pie!
only i don't know anywhere that has pie
i cld go
don't wanna
i dunno where to get good pie

Friday, February 01, 2008

Things I Learnt on This Trip

Privatisation is BULLSHIT

My flight to Delhi is, as usual, late, but I do have three hours before the scheduled departure of my connecting flight. I exit the plane and go to the transit desk, to be told that the next bus to the international terminal leaves at 10pm (it was 905pm), and if I wanted to get there faster I would have to take a prepaid taxi. The line for the pre-paying was about 25 minutes long, but I decided to take advantage of flying Kingfisher and asked for help, so the girl jumped the queue for me. The line for the taxi was 15 minutes long, but since I had jumped the previous one I was ok. The taxi itself took about 5 minutes, because I was willing to get on the expressway and pay the toll. Normally it would have taken about 25 to 30 minutes, or more, depending on traffic, since the international airport is 8km from the domestic airport.

Cost of transit: INR 151.
Time of transit without jumps: 65 minutes
Time of transit if one jumps: 25 minutes

I’ll admit I haven’t done this transit in Delhi in this direction before, but if this is the theoretical efficiency of privatisation (topped by the proposed hefty fee of INR 700 for every passenger passing through the airport*), I’m happy to go back to the Sarkari days. At least one expected to run into cock-ups, and one left oneself with about 8 hours between the two flights.

There’s a reason people are rude and bitchy in airports. It works.

The afternoon of my departure, I received a phone-call from American Airlines. ‘Hi ma’am this is Anchal from American Airlines. Am I speaking to Ms. MinCat? Your American Airlines flight to Chicago is delayed by twelve hours. We can find you a connection onward to Newark leaving Chicago at 8pm. Yes ma’am we can also put you on the Continental flight to Newark out of Delhi. Ok ma’am your new itinerary is Delhi-Newark on Continental Airlines. Thank you for flying American Airlines.’

Smug, I disconnected, since I had been expecting just this to happen, and had my butt safely covered, getting to Newark direct and thus able to hang out at my aunt’s house after she picked me up. Well done MinCat!

Once I got to Delhi, I went to the Continental counter, where I was told I would have to be ticketed at American first. It was 10pm when I got to the American counter. The Continental flight was scheduled to leave at 1155pm. I approached one of the personnel and politely waited for her to finish her lengthy and friendly chat with three white Americans. Once I got her attention I explained my situation, including the fact that I had had my itinerary changed for Continental. ‘It’ll just be a few minutes ma’am, please wait here I’ll be with you in 2 minutes.’

1010pm. I’m getting slightly stressed out. The girl is nowhere to be seen, so I approach another one, who is, I later realized predictably, having a long and amiable conversation with a group of, you guessed it, white Americans. ‘Ma’am we’ll do our best, don’t worry we’ll have you on the flight, please wait in this queue, if it doesn’t move in 15 minutes I’ll help you out.’

1025pm. Nothing has changed, except my teeth have been ground down about a millimetre. The girl I last spoke to is avoiding looking in my direction. There are about four guys in suits standing about watching one guy at the first class counter do something. I approach a third girl. I say, look the flight leaves in an hour and a half, please look at my ticket. ‘In a minute ma’am.’

1035pm. I catch the last girl again and am a little strident, look I’ve been here for nearly forty minutes, and what happens if I miss the Continental flight because you won’t look at my ticket. Reluctantly she takes my ticket and passport, telling me sternly that ONLY IF my itinerary reflects that I have indeed made that change will she ticket it for me. She joins the gaggle at the first class counter and shares several jokes with them.

1050pm. Another girl comes to me with the ticket and says here, go to Continental. I say, it’s almost time for the counters to close, aren’t you going to contact them or send someone to help me? She waves a porter at me, who has no clue where we’re going or why. As we go towards Continental’s counters the girl who took my tickets passes by with a stressed out passenger in tow, and looks at me and then pretends she hasn’t seen me. I see that the screens that were displaying the Continental logo have been turned off, and break into a run, only to be stopped by a nice man who says, I’m sorry, the flight is closed, we can’t hold it for American passengers. We told them to have their passengers with us by 1030pm.

11pm. I return to the American counter and let it rip. ‘Will someone pay attention’ I bellow. A girl at a ticket terminal looks up and says ‘yes?’ ‘The Continental counters are closed,’ I say loudly and stridently. ‘The agent said you were asked to send us there by 1030. I’ve been asking for someone to look at my ticket from 10pm. Now please tell me how you’re going to get me to Newark by 11am?’ She’s looks taken aback, after all it wasn’t her who had dealt with me previously. Interestingly, every single one of the people I had spoken to earlier had vanished. The yelling, however, means instant service. I’m bumped to the head of the ticketing line and in about 15 minutes they have issued me a ticket on Air France (which is quite dreadful, being as it is, filled with French people and stewardesses, besides having a layover AND a guarantee of no non-meat food. On the bright side there was that lovely merlot, that I didn’t even want to finish cos I dunno, drinking alone on planes is BORING.)

Essentially, I had been polite, I had been patient, I had been, in fact, quite non-Indian. Unfortunately, since I was neither white nor first class, I got no service, and eventually I am paying the price for behaving well. The question I put to the manager: Do you WANT people to be obnoxious? Because that’s the message you’re sending.

European airports, at least the ones that seem spanking new, are eerie.

Madrid Barajas has a new international terminal, and it is an architectural wonder. It has high, undulating ceilings; it is banded in bright primary colours; it’s airy and cheerful. It’s also ridiculously large. And empty. There are huge rows of empty seats for waiting passengers; long, vacant corridors; tons of shuttered shops; and miles of walking through glass-enclosed walkways before you actually see someone who wasn’t on your flight. You even need to take a subway train-ride of about 5 minutes to get to baggage claim (this after the 20 minute walk from the gate to the train stop).

Paris Charles de Gaulle seems to be trying to do the same thing! It has high ceilings, VERY chic modern seats (comfy too), double rows of internet terminals separating gates, glass and chrome and sleek lines everywhere, bright strips of coloured lighting, the glass walkways and beautiful views of the city from them, modern art on the walls, warm carpets, glass towers with LCD TV screens every 10 feet….and no people


*Actually all airports charge those kinds of fees, about 30% of the domestic travel fare in the US goes to airport taxes, for example. But it’s a disturbingly large amount of money to pay for the execrable service!