Wednesday, 25 February 2009

It's Time For The Gloves To Come Off

You can have too much of a good thing. Now that winter in Boston is entering its fifth month, I am convinced of that.

Did I say something recently about the cold, invigorating air? Sure it's invigorating. Just like dozens of small knives slicing into your face.

Winter is retreating, and it's downright ugly. The dense pile of snow that covered everything for months has now turned into treacherous slabs of ice. I risk a fracture with every step when I take the dog out for her walk. She, of course, continues to be blithely oblivious to her surroundings. She can only focus on one stimulus at a time, I think, and the scent of squirrel blots out the cold for her. I'm not so lucky. I am fully capable of noticing multiple stimuli, and so I feel the cold in every part of my body.

It's tiresome to wear layer on layer of clothes even to step outside for a few minutes. I long for summer, when outdoor wear will again mean t-shirts and shorts. I'm desperate to put away the fleece-lined gloves, the down-filled jacket, and the beanie hat. Especially the beanie hat. It's such a ghastly thing to wear. Beanies are great for women, they make them look willowy and graceful. But if you're male and you wear a beanie, all it does is make your head look round.

But it's not my fashion sense that's protesting, it's my common sense! This interminable winter is not what humans were designed to endure. I'm told I should be grateful that the Boston winter is bright and sunny, unlike the dreary grey that many other places experience. Well, that does not make me feel any better. Cold and bright is still cold, and Boston gives the word 'cold' a depth of bitter meaning that few other places can impart.

These were the thoughts that went through my mind this morning as I took the dog for a walk again. It was just a bit warmer than days past. The slanting rays of the rising sun glanced off the ice-plated ground, giving it a faint gold sheen. Once again I was arrested by how pretty it all looked.

Then, without warning, I started sliding slowly and helplessly down the sloping, iced-over path. And in that moment I knew a truth that would not be denied. Winter sucks!!!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Look Before You Hit The "Start" Button

Florida is a lucky state. The balmy weather here casts all things in a favourable light. Under a warm breeze, even the certifiably insane seems pleasantly eccentric.

And eccentricity is certainly abundant here. You can find it at the local laundromat. The other day I was about to toss some clothes into the dryer when I happened to read the instructions on the front of the machine:
Step 1: Open door
Step 2: Check for small children and animals
Step 3: Set temperature


Check for small children and animals? In a tumble dryer!?!?!?!?

But perhaps that instruction does make sense. If you’re a small child trying to escape from an alligator, the dryer might well be the safest place to crawl into.

And if you are a small child in Florida, the idea that you might need to hide from an alligator is not very far-fetched. The biggest alligator on record in the state was a 24-foot monster, and it was found inside a lady’s kitchen. The authorities suspected that the lady had been feeding the reptile, so they put the animal down.

And you know what, I am fully prepared to believe that someone would be nutty enough to feed a 24-foot alligator as if it was just another fluffy household pet, like a guinea pig or a bunny rabbit. Earlier this week we were at the Everglades national park, when a fellow tourist decided to stroke a passing alligator on its tail. As if that’s not crazy enough, our tram driver told us of an incident when someone actually placed their baby on top of an alligator to pose for a photograph!

Now it is true that after a couple of hours in the national park you've seen so many alligators that they seem as commonplace as houseflies. If, that is, houseflies were armed with two feet of vicious teeth running down either side of their jaw. Alligators are said to have brains the size of a walnut, but even they know better than to leave their young to the mercies of their own kind.

But that’s Florida for you. Warm. Relaxed. Peopled with alligator-stroking weirdos who continually misplace children and small dogs inside household appliances.

And you know what? I could live here. If only they didn't have those pesky hurricanes...

Monday, 16 February 2009

Sun, Palms, and a Dash of Triple Sec

It wasn't exactly love at first sight. It took me an entire half-hour before I was smitten by Miami Beach.

It began in the morning when I looked out of my hotel window at acres of sand fronting endless miles of rich blue Atlantic Ocean. Soon afterwards I went down to get some coffee and breakfast pastries. I had walked a hundred yards or so when I abruptly realized that I was walking twice as fast as anyone else. I slowed down, looked around, and with a contented sigh I let myself slip back into island culture.

And make no mistake, Miami Beach is an island culture. It has the veneer of designer labels, plastic surgery and overdone suntans. But it also has the lilting sounds of Spanish, English and French, all spoken in Caribbean accents. We heard them all in good measure when we went for a stroll on the promenade at South Beach. And we obeyed their mingled subliminal message to relax, relax, relax.

Yes, we were at the South Beach, known for its bods and it's low-carb rival to the Atkins Diet. Sure enough, we saw plenty of bulked-up men with bare chests as they peacock-stepped with their very tiny dogs. It was just a little less camp than watching The Birdcage, but it was every bit as delightful. There were enough and more bikini-babes as well, and my wife and I soon tired of ticking off different kinds of plastic surgery.

We were rapidly catching the infectious feel of the place. How could we resist, when we were walking in front of the most beautiful buildings I've seen in America? We walked past one magnificent Art Deco building after another. Hints of Aztec motifs mingled with a Spanish aesthetic to create buildings with a delicate but casual grace. Palm trees set off their pastel colours to perfection. Looking at those buildings, it was only too easy to imagine them peopled with smiling, unselfconsciously stylish men and women who knew that life is meant to be savoured in the company of friends.

As we continued to explore it became clear that not all the dogs here are Hollywood miniatures. On the contrary, those not owned by the Liberace set seem genetically enhanced. I saw a Bassett Hound the size of a pig, and a Golden retriever as big as a little pony. I did not see any felines, but I bet a Miamese cat could eat a Siamese cat for breakfast and still have room left over for some empanadas and croquetas.

Perhaps the thing that I liked most of all, the thing that made me feel most at home, was the sound of music everywhere. From the cars cruising past broadcasting urban rhythms in English and Spanish, to the street musicians trying to parlay their talent into tips. This is a city that feels like it never forgot to disco. The songs of Donna Summer and Miami Sound Machine mingle on the streets. And at lunch we had to wait for several minutes for the waiter to take our credit card because he was busy dancing with one of the waitresses. We didn't mind; the Margharitas were exquisite.

Friday, 13 February 2009


I know, I've been very silent. I was on a 2-week business trip that ended today. As with all such trips, the days immediately preceding it were manic, to put it mildly. So for the past month there's been little time to think clear thoughts, let alone write them down.

But now I am back home. Mentally I roll the word 'home' over my tongue a few times. After 6 months of living here it seems that Boston has finally become home, if only for a time.

I felt it the moment I got off the plane. The smell of burnt Colombian coffee and freshly fried hash browns drifted through the corridors. I guess that is the smell of mornings now.

I stepped outside to get a taxi; this time I did not reel back at the exposure to the winter air, even though I had just returned from balmy Mumbai. There was a time when I would have said that my face was blasted by a gust of dry, freezing air. But now I would tell you that I felt invigorated by the sharp, robust breeze. Cold, but invigorated nontheless!

The grimy grey snowbanks by the roadsides seemed natural now, not regrettably ugly. And it was only natural that the taxi driver would have a vague African accent.

It's nice to sit on the staircase landing in my drawing room and munch on warm buttered toast. It's nice to look out at the sun shining on the deck outside, and to imagine how nice it will be sit out there again in a couple of months.

Most of all, it's nice to come home to the waiting hugs.