Monday, May 26, 2008

Pilgrim's progress

I know the exact moment the insouciance turned to cold fear. It was in the "Pork for Non Muslims" section of the supermarket when one of my keepers* said with great enthusiasm: "Why only half a kilo, let's get more." I see. So expectations are rather high then. We were buying ingredients for pandhi curry or Coorg pork. To be made by me at my own insistence.

It's not even that it's a laborious thing to make; most important of all is the fact that devotees of it do not handle disappointment well. Sure I've made it before, but that was for me and more for amusement than sustenance. Cooking for others is a nightmare. My brother and sister-in-law will testify to this with a certain arid lasagne as Exhibit A. (I doubt it was biodegradable so it's probably still there, lurking dangerously in a dark corner, biding its time). The brother probably also has stories from much further back.

In anticipatory panic this afternoon, I actually picked up the phone to call the cook in California whose recipe (and therefore, responsibility) it is, to demand the exact percentage of colour in "really black". I didn't make the call because I was in the middle of roasting the spices and didn't want to miss the good bit where it went from really black to too black. Also, it would have been five in the morning there.

But as with all elaborate cooking, the process relaxes you and you start to enjoy yourself. I strongly believe it comes from the same root as the satisfaction you got from stirring the squelchy stuff on the edge of a puddle with a stick.

Three and a half hours later, I have such an excellent pandhi curry that I wouldn't believe I made it if I hadn't witnessed it with my own piggy eyes. And cooking with a maid to clean up after you and a grocer who delivers to your doorstep is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

*Another post, another time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Red sky in the morning - storm warning

A friend recently moved from Georgia to Florida and I have been treated to a series of photographs. They have alligators in a lake on the property that they live in and it seems to be perfectly acceptable for their four-year-old to stand on the edge and talk to it. Perhaps that's how it's done there. I also got a link to Florida Hazard Watch. It's quite exciting until you actually click on the links and read it, since it's been written by the same guild of artists that write the deep and meaningful regulation boards in the airports. There is much reiteration of nothings in the tone of voice that comes in installation CDs. A mere storm is nothing compared to the awful horrors that will be visited on those who haven't got the prescribed survival packs. Cute little terms like StormReady and Firewise leach all the power and glory from the phenomena. It also makes you wonder that any life exists in Florida at all when they seem to be battered by every kind of severe weather there is, except volcanoes, practically all the time. As if the large and legitimate problems from earth, wind and water are not enough, they have also added to their particular list what the official sites are pleased to call space weather events. And of course terrorism. And something that is labelled surprisingly tersely as simply "nuclear". You get the impression that what life there is must be paranoid, psychotic and lived curled into a tight ball in a concrete bunker.

But they also had this animation of the different kinds of damage inflicted by different kinds of storms. It leaves you feeling that maybe a survival pack is not such a bad idea – though I don't see how it'll help in a Category 5 unless it includes a collapsible hovercraft.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Burning or drowning?

When I first got my iPod (free, incidentally, with my Macbook), I went through the motions of loading music and then put it in a drawer. I didn't know what to do with it since I have no need of portable music (headphones get on my nerves while exercising, earphones are anathema at all times). Now that I have no other music player, the iPod is suddenly getting a lot of work. Just now, the familiar strains of Here Comes the Sun caused an absolute tsunami of homesickness for my CD player. It also suddenly occurred to me that seas have storms. Ships sink. Things happen. After the first sweeping horror, I remembered they’re still making Linns, they will probably sell me another. Over time my books and CDs can all be replaced. Even the most "irreplaceable" pair of shoes isn't really so. The only thing I now wish I'd kept with me are the photo albums. So it seems I have an answer now to the annoying "What would you save in a fire?" question. It's also uncomfortably close to the choice of death one. Leonard Cohen now in the headphones, singing Who by Fire. Quite.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mistral Gagnant

For six years I watched the sun track the changing seasons across these walls (though not often this early in the morning). White walls, the colours as always are in my head. Pastels lately, mostly bright colours faded with time and too much sun. They are bare now, the rooms echo. It looks exactly as it did the first time I saw it, on a hot May afternoon just like this one and found on my own the flat the real estate agents claimed not to exist. Then, it was the silence of a stranger who might become a friend, now it's the quiet of a time that has passed.

But the air is light, not heavy, with emotion. My overwhelming thought is thank you. For existing in the teeth of their assurances that I would not get my "unrealistic" requirements within my budget. For the empty patch of land in front (one of the requirements) that has stayed empty for six years, in a city where even roundabouts are not safe from construction. For the birds that came to my balcony in the middle of built-up Burdubai. For a launching pad and a sanctuary from which to live what would turn out to be a most eventful slice of my life.

This is ridiculous. I feel as if I'm leaving an ancestral home. It's been made worse by the stream of formal goodbyes I have endured in the past two days, reminiscent of nothing so much as the leave-taking of old retainers. The maid, the laundry man (whose fortunes must have been made by my penchant for flimsy dry-clean-only clothes), the maintenance guys, the security guards, even the landlord's office. My full deposit was ready to hand over even before the barely cursory examination of my flat. The building supervisor insisted on arranging for the pick-up truck to take my last bit of luggage across town to my friend's house. Everything's gone now, the goodbyes are over, but I am reluctant to leave, to hand over these keys, to lock the door knowing I will not return. I hate the people who will live here after me, in my flat. I'm very glad they're paying an utterly extortionate price to do so.

Te raconter surtout / les Carambars d'antan / et les coco-boërs / et les vrais roudoudous / qui nous coupaient les lèvres / et nous niquaient les dents / et les Mistral gagnants
Mistral Gagnant, Renaud, Album of the same name, 1985

Saturday, May 10, 2008

25˚15’33”N and 55˚16’09”E, Port Rashid

There's a ship called Ariana out on the high seas now. It will eventually arrive in Dubai to pick up fifty boxes with my name on them.

The thought that my stuff is going by sea – something I haven’t had a chance to do yet – fired up my ever-ready enthusiasm for all things boat-like and my rep at the shipping company has collected a few dinner party stories. She thinks I'm especially neurotic about my possessions. First I wanted the name of the ship, then I wanted to know how big it was, how fast it went and where it's coming from. I did stop short of asking for a nautical chart and how much draught it needed, but it was close. All I got was the name and I'm not at all sure I wasn't fobbed off with any old thing (if she thinks I don't check the ship listings, she's going to be thinking differently soon).

Then I did some intense cajoling to be allowed to watch the loading. She spent a lot of time assuring me that every care would be taken of my cargo, disregarding my assurances that I wouldn't notice if they tipped the whole lot over the side. When she realised I'm not easily dissuaded when I really want something, she thought fuck this and went for the nuclear option – "security clearance".

I wanted to ask her whether she knows that the anchorage is poor, so the ships need to play out more chain when dropping anchor. Well I do, so there. And much use it is to me. I've watched the activity in the port from my office tower almost every day for the past six years and I still haven’t managed to find someone who can get me in. I did get in once during one of my walks, slipped in through an open gate in the shadow of the container giants. I was escorted out after a blissful five minutes.

I won't be going down to the docks this time either. I won’t see the pilots bring her in, though I know exactly how far away they will board her – I've seen hundreds come in – but at least I have representation this time. My shoes and bags alone are worthy ambassadors, and that's only a quarter of the boxes.

For two more days I will live with their echoes and then I will be gone too, though sadly not in a cargo ship.

*Coordinates of the port control tower.

Reason for radio silence

Have been in the throes of moving.

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