Saint-Germain

Finding a parking always proves tricky in any city. More so in Paris.

For someone who memorises the local street maps and drives with a staunch dependency on the GPS, it is not quite difficult to locate proper car parks; paid or free. However, being able to park closer to the point of destination gives a strange feeling of achievement.

In this case the destination turned out to be Saint-Germain. Intention was to walk the alleys in a completely lost manner and to do some window shopping. A soft drizzle added to the depth of the situation. Hooded jacket came handy. In any case an umbrella would be the remotest option with a camera fitted with extra-battery compartment and a heavy glass. Drizzling made the already crowded restaurants more tightly packed. No one could enjoy the life drifting by from the wicker chairs on the pavement, casually covered with deep coloured awnings, thanks to the rain.

Missed out on the reflected lights on rain-drenched cobblestones the city is famously known for, this time. There will always be a next…

awnings

umbrella

crossing

yellow van

cobblestones

red

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Stranger to stranger, with kindness

Alleys of the village
may not have the flourish of sophistication
urban-dwellers often take for granted.

Instead
all you get would be a smiling face
of a complete stranger.

An invite to a cup of tea.
And more than a few helpings of kind words.

wall

Playful kids
that follow a wandering photographer
with an amusement
lacing their merry laughter.

sisters

Babies that coo for no reason whatsoever
and jump to reach for the camera lens,
often with their lavishly-salivated tiny fingers,
wondering what on earth is going on
in a world so new to them.

kid

From one stranger
to the other.

Everyone, same-same
and
miles and miles away from their homes.
Homes, they call their home.

The Mall and the Shamal wind

Come evening and the multi-storied car parks of the mall becomes full.
The rows of cars approaching the mall never seem to end till late into the night.
From the car park heated by the summer sun and idling engines to the coolness that embraces you stealthily from all sides.
Walk into the mall with soft and bright lights…

Food courts overflow with long queue of families waiting for a seat in their favourite restaurants.
Movie theatres run in full capacity.
Boutiques with up to 70% sale got no space for another potential customer.
Children play in the designated space seen with their Nannies in pale blue or pink uniforms.

Paper-bags, huge ones, with thin rope-like handles, find it difficult to accommodate themselves in the hands of shoppers.
Occasional lost kids calling “baba, baba” looking for their Daddy, almost in the verge of a tear short of bursting out. Mall securities nearby with their crackling Motorola handsets.
Sales professionals getting busier by the minute at their kiosks of perfumes, white gold and silver jewellery, mobile accessories, spa promotions, teen watches and many more.

Credit cards rake up unpaid debts shaming the speed of light.
Notion of happiness is thus for the chosen few.
Who is sleepy?
It’s only 3AM.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city.

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No malls.
No car parks.
No sale on-going.
No small, rectangular, plastic cards with or without a cute chip.

Just plain talks and laughter, when someone makes a remark, mostly funny.
Laughter even when one opens his mouth to say something.
And then the beverages are served from a nearby tea shop.
A small break from roasted sunflower seeds.

No malls could ever give that feeling being with friends out in the open with the Shamal winds.
Or could they?

Songs & Prayers

Be not that far from me,
for trouble is near;
haste Thee to help me.

prayers

A scene from the famous church of St. Mary (Marthamariam Cathedral) in Manarcaud, a place close to Kottayam, Kerala, India. The ancient practice of 8 day fast and the Feast of Virgin Mary’s Birth are celebrated between September 1st and 8th of every year at the cathedral.

Baker

Succulant Chicken Tikka.
Freshly grilled Riyash (Lamb Rib Chops).
Tabouleh, the great salad made of Flat Parsley, Mint, Tomato, soaked Burgul wheat and Lemon.
Hummous, the chick peas and garlic dip with olive oil.
Kubooz from the Tandoor (a brick-and-mud oven) completes the list.

Kubooz bakeries comes alive as the sun sets.
The baker remembers who came first and what he had ordered.
No notepads and paper slips.
Everyone is served.

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White beads

Yes.
All those toys are hers.
But no.
Those are not for her childhood to play with.
And no, again.
This is not a great photograph.
Nothing to boast of.
No great shutter-speeds.
Nothing with the ISO.
Just like the little girl wearing that cheap beaded necklace…
She ain’t no great in sales, either.
Just helping her Grandpa – the balloon-man for the rest of us – sell those toys.
Silently.
No sales pitch.
No requests.
No sad stories.
But one look into her eyes is enough to make you buy
all those toys.
The depth of helplessness felt at that moment
is beyond any pictures
or words.

balloon

The Other Shop

The shop in Muharraq Souq (Bahrain) specialised in valve radios… working ones, among other interesting lost-in-time items. Green-tinged, thick, Coca-Cola bottles, for example. Prices for the radios ranged between BHD 100-BHD 140 (roughly USD 250 to USD 350).

Mhrq-shop (5 of 7)

Mhrq-shop (1 of 7)

The owner agreed to reopen his shop late in the evening.

Mhrq-shop (2 of 7)

Mhrq-shop (3 of 7)

Mhrq-shop (4 of 7)

He and his friend also agreed to pose for a few photographs.

A similar shop was seen in the souq in Madinat al Isa (Isa Town). The souq hosted several shops selling everything: fabrics, hardware, coins, antiques, furniture, plants, mobile phones, sunglasses, Oracle latest release, auto-parts, curtain clothes, key chains, bathroom accessories, perfumes, bukhoor, lingerie, incandescent and fluorescent and neon lamps, kites, knives, DVDs, used books, pipes, lighters, mobile Apps, abayas, local fruits, plastic toys and dolls.

Friday being an off day at work, a casual browsing along the souq had become a routine. Knew several vendors by their first name and vice versa. The shop that belonged to a Bahraini – an old gentleman – who dealt with coins and currencies and precious stones and prayer beads. He spoke in perfect Hindi about old times and how the present generation feels shy even to say the word “souq”. He spoke of his travels to Bombay (present day Mumbai) with his Father.

It was another Friday and the usual chat with the coin-shop owner went past the prayer time. The mildly sugared red tea must be the one responsible to make time pause somewhere in the 80s. The old man excused himself and asked me to be at the shop while he finishes his prayer in the nearby mosque. Before I could say anything he was gone.
He thanked me for waiting for him after he returned. I just wished such friendliness and trust last another thousand years.

The Bride

Restaurant Le Consulat on the way to Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre, Paris, was most widely read about during the research before the recent trip to France. After the visit to the church on a mildly-rainy day, a hot coffee and a crepe sounded good. Rain had drenched the wicker-chairs outside the restaurant. Few tables were empty and took a corner one with the street view. As the crepe was half-way through, rain ceased. A small commotion ensued outside and could get a glimpse of a tall-handsome man in his almond-suit and a petite woman, beautiful, of course, in a white wedding gown. A photographer with a high-end Nikon gear was seen capturing the bride from all possible angles. Finishing the coffee, and paying the host, remembered that the camera was kept inside the car parked somewhere downhill. It was raining. With the iPhone, decided to take a chance. Bridegroom gave permission to capture his lovely bride as the man-with-the-iPhone approached him with a smile.

bride

Town of Annecy

From the parking lot at Musée de la Grandé Chartreuse, there is no return!
In other words, the way you enter is a one-way. One must drive around the museum and join the road to Saint-Laurent -du-Pont. Here D520 somehow meets D1006 leading to Chambéry. Driving further north in the A41 with a toll of less than Euro 5 would take us to Annecy.

Mid-April is beginning to bring in all the flowers of the season. Mostly tulips. Walked off to the car park. It is a long way to Mont Blanc.

tulips

swanlake

Being weekend, the parking areas of near Palaise de l’Isle was packed to capacity. Driving down the road by the lake-side D1508, a parking was found. No parking fee. From the car park, it is a few minutes walk back to the medieval part of the city.

canal bank

The canal was lined with restaurants. Took up an empty table just outside the entrance to a cafe. Ordered an Oignon Pizza and an Espresso. The pizza needed a few gentle reminders every 20 minutes or so. But then, who is in a hurry?

Thiou canal

Crossing one of the many bridges across the Canal du Thiou takes us to the famous street Rue Saint Claire. The place was crowded and so were the shops.

roadside

Annecy was a short break en route Chamonix. The place is so lovely that one needs a few days to imbibe all its beauty.

Welcome, winter

The turn in weather from summer to winter in here is often seen with the beginning of Shaamil winds. This time, the weather changed to a cool 30 degree Celsius from beginning of 40s almost overnight, sans-Shaamil. But that was almost a month before. Bahrain is now around 20C with mild sunshine. However, it feels its warm for December.

Christmas day saw incessant hum of the rains almost the whole day. Grey skies with light and dark clouds covered the sun for a full day.

Saturday was bit more sunny.

Took the family out to Arad bay area which was made into a beautiful picnic spot by Bahraini families. The walkway around the bay, with a close view of the international airport reminded of Chowpathy beach for some reason.

319s to 747s flew in and out from the airport close to the bay. More flights flew around the region and less around world as long-haul flights enter into active mode towards late to mid-night.

Low tide made bare the sea-bottom visible which was clear and sandy. A few unconcerned flamingoes were seen casually wading through shallow waters.

Kids still played in the green lawns dotted by date palms outside the café. Kites were flown by a few girls and rental bikes were speeded by the boys aged between 4 and 14 between parents who rested on rugs brought from home.
Land Cruisers and Lexuses were parked neatly nearby.

While returning, the debate was whether to visit Fareej al Rashdan (which means “neighbourhood of Rushdan”) or La Café; both restaurants serving authentic Bahraini cuisine. Former is nearer to the sea but with a low tide in play, proximity turned out to be a neutral consideration. A dinner of Potato wedges with jacket on, Mixed Grill with Lebanese bread, Tabouleh – a green salad made of chopped Parsley, Mint leaves, Tomatoes and Burgool wheat, Hummoos – a dip made of Chick Peas paste, Garlic, Sesame paste, Lemon juice and fresh Olive oil, and Turkish Coffee from La Café made the day.

Fareeda Khanum’s “Aaj Jaane ki Zidd na karo” created a great ambience on the way home in the car.

Welcome, winter.

Entertainer

The Cello player at the street corner
turned many a heads
and sharpened
many a ears…

cello

As the bow rode
over the taut strings of the Cello
Many ‘brows became bow-like,
sheer annoyance.

A few paused,
confirmed all is fine
before continuing on their way
to their own felicity.

Few others
stalled their stroll
consigned to oblivion for a moment
got lured to the four strings.

To that single bow,
the moving hands,
the quivering fingers,
on a gold-lit night.

That made music
so heavenly and deep
mildly squeaking but mostly stringy
with random pitch et al.

Rising now, falling then
Nuances of the notes…
An enflé here, a coulé du doigt there
Plainte, a-plenty.

All in a train
moving along merrily
reflecting on the face
of the Entertainer.

Coffee in Sudan

When my next door neighbour from Sudan got a new born baby boy, a visit was made to congratulate the parents.
What followed after the visit was not just wonderful but amusing too.
Coffee was served!

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Coffee preparation is an art in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Coffee preparation for guests is a ritual affair, with various spices added to the clay pot in which it is brewed.

The stove with lit charcoals was bought to the living room and coffee beans are first freshly roasted over the small fire. The beans are then crushed by hand in a mortar and pestle. The pots used to make/serve the prepared coffee are of clay with a long neck and spout – the traditional jebenas, as they are called.

The beans are put in the clay container, together with spices, usually a few cardamom pods and some pepper. This is then slowly brewed by the side of the fire – and when done, is poured over a sieve. As the room is filled with the lovely aroma of fresh coffee, the smoke from Frankincense burned rose up creating a magical atmosphere.

Very small cups are then placed on a tray – the cups, too, are traditionally round, small and cute. Coffee cups on the tray are then passed around.

The baby was still asleep.