Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Paris 3: Ah, the French

So, I went to the Louvre today.

To be honest, I still can't believe, I am in Paris. I have this big Paris poster in my room. So, I knew I would want to come here one day. Maybe once I find the guy, and we would go together. But never thought it would happen NOW. And, the reality of the trip, definitely, sunk in today.

Louvre without a doubt has the best art collection in the world. The architecture of the building is adorned with Greek figurines and columns. Louis XIV, like the Versailles, commissioned for Louvre's extension and spent funds in improving the fortress's structure. The building in itself is beautiful, with very impressive ceilings. After you are done visiting the art collection go outside and walk around the courtyard. You would find that each arch-window has its unique Greek-styled sculptures.

There is no way you would be able to see everything in the Louvre. So before visiting the museum visit the website and make a list of things you are interested in. The best place to start is the Denon Wing. It is here you would find Mona Lisa in the wing's 6th room. To be honest, Mona Lisa does look more beautiful in the original but the huge herd of people and constant shoving and pushing ruined the experience. Right across of Mona Lisa there is a beautiful and huge painting called "The Wedding Feast at Cana" by Paolo Veronese. In the frenzy to see Mona Lisa people fail to appreciate the artistic marvel of this late-Renaissance painting. I felt really bad for the other paintings that were present in the same room as Mona Lisa.

On your way to the Grand Gallery you would see the spectacular structure of the Winged Victory. So sit by the stairs to enjoy one of the most famous sculptures in the world.

Personally for me, I really admired Da Vinci's "The Virgin of Rocks" and Panini's work. They say that each painter has his/hers own speciality. Panini in my opinion is an amazing painter. In his paintings special emphasis is placed on not only the people but also the structures that are used not just as backdrop but are important participants of the story Panini has painted. I took several pictures of his paintings from every angle possible. At the Louvre you are allowed to take pictures as long as your camera's flash is turned off.

After the Denon Wing, my sister and I went to the Sully Gallery to see Venus de Milo. That is another beautiful sculpture. Again, the thing that makes it so amazing is its elusiveness. Her body is half-draped, and she is showing off her well-defined abs :). On your way to Venus de Milo do not miss out on the sculptures by Michelangelo.

I definitely felt something in my heart, when I saw the two sculptures depicting the unlikely love between Cupid and Psyche.

After the Louvre my sister and I did some sight-seeing. We walked over the oldest bridge in Paris called Pont Neuf, and the Palais Royal which was built in 1629. We also did some window-shopping in Forum des Halles. Paris is too expensive for us to actually buy something here.

After that we came back to our apartment to rest so we are ready to go out again to ring in the New Year. Since I have a cold, I have been drinking insane amount of Lipton mint tea they have here. It tastes really good and has really helped with the cold. I took a couple of Advil and I was knocked out.

For New Year's we planned to go to Chaps d'Elysees and the Eiffel Tower. The transit system was free tonight. I guess big cities like London and Paris can afford to have the subway running for free.

We walked around Paris at night time. And, I have to admit Paris is beautiful. Everything that you have probably heard of Paris is true. I wish I could photograph every inch of Paris. I can definitely see why people call it the most romantic city in the world.

Up until now my sister and I were avoiding going out too late in the night here. The French men are very flirtatious. Even the locals don't wear revealing clothes because the men are known for their rowdy behaviour. I honestly, thought we would not have to worry about this. But I think they have some weird testosterone in the French water. Men here are perverted.

Not to say all French men are horndogs.

But, tonight we didn't even stay out too late. And, tried to stay with other North Americans. We just wanted to see the Eiffel at midnight. And, we came home right after that. The streets were safe (crime wise). They had the police stationed all around the city. The subway was extremely busy. There was a huge line-up to enter the station, and then some serious pushing and shoving ensued inside the subway.

In spite of all this, the Eiffel Tower looked beautiful at midnight. Nothing could have prepared me of how spectacular the Eiffel looks at night. It changed colours from blue to gold right at midnight.

It is just a different culture here.

Btw, a Happy New Year to all of you out there. During the New Year's countdown I wanted to scream OBAMA, just for fun. Considering how this year will mark his inaugration and we are all counting on him to fix all of our problems. He is the modern day surfer dude of a messiah, folks. To be honest, I was also thinking of the recent Middle-East crisis. I know it is a beatup cliche but I really hope 2009 turns out to be peaceful for all of us. I really hope something good comes out of this New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paris 2: Wet and Cold

So, what do you do when you have a really bad cold and cough in Paris? You stand in the line for TWO HOURS, in the rain, which turned into freezing rain, and then flurries, to enter the Palace of Versailles.

There were two line-ups for the palace, one for the tickets, and once you get your tickets you line-up again to enter the palace. So the smart move is to buy the tickets online to avoid waiting outside. My sister ended up lining up for the tickets, whilst I waited in the other line. The only good thing about the waiting is that you get to talk to other tourists. There was an old couple from the States and a girl from Australia. Since she didn't have an umbrella we ended up sharing and she gave me a few tid-bits about Paris. Apparently there is a free historical walk tour. In the other line, my sister found out about this really good underground art gallery called the Palais de Tokyo. So considering how much we liked London's Tate Modern; we would hopefully get to check out some contemporary art in Paris, as well. I think the best part of travelling is meeting new people from all over the world.

The palace was worth the wait. It is gorgeous and like the most French imperial architecture is inspired by Greek figurines and mythology. The palace was commissioned by Louis XIV and it was here the Treaty of Versailles was signed (Duh!).

The most striking thing about the palace is that it is very underrated. The royal palaces in Russia are extensively decorated with gold and shiny wallpapers. Whereas, this palace was nicely decorated and didn't seem tacky. During the visit, we also saw the secret doors which Marie Antionette used to escape from the palace. The sad thing is that when the French people were dying of hunger the royalty was living lavishly.

Outside the palace there are beautiful Versailles gardens. Even in the freezing cold they seemed so beautiful and romantic. My sister and I were just wondering how could anyone be unhappy in the midst of all this beauty. But, I guess you know how they say that happiness comes from within. Yes, I am being very profound today :).

Photography is allowed inside the palace. And, it is just amazing how the French are so welcoming and open about their heritage. There were no guards present in the gardens. Visitors have the freedom to walk about and enjoy the beauty at their own pace.

After the palace my sister and I decided to walk about the city of Versailles. The architecture here was impressive, and the people didn't speak much English.

We bought bread from this bakery called Paul, which is really famous here. They have been around since 1889. Their bread and chocolate croissant are to die for. I was that embarassing tourist who took pictures of the bakery. Usually, back home I try to be more conscious about what I eat. But here I have been eating the carbs and the cheese and all the French goodness like there is no tomorrow. But, seriously the French know how to live. The rest of us...I don't know what the rest of us are doing.

By the way it is freezing in Paris.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Paris 1: Ratatouille

I love Paris.

The train ride from London to Paris was very comfortable. We got to Paris in the morning, but figuring out the complicated-pee-smelling Metro took us ages. It took us more than an hour to get to our apartment. When the journey time technically should have been only 20 minutes. Moreover, they don't have escalators inside the subway stations so you have to take the stairs, when changing lines or exiting the station. But, God bless the French men they took my luggage from my hand and carried it up the stairs. I am totally touched by their chivalry.

I don't speak French, even though I took French lessons in Russia. But regardless of my lack of French, people are nice and very polite. And, here people think I am Arab. I get that in Canada too, but people don't get disappointed when I correct them. Man, I guess my parents made a mistake I should have either been born in an Arab country or France :). I am considering going back home learning French and moving to Quebec City :). But, the French coming up to me, only to ask whether I was Arabic, was a bit strange. If someone had done this to me in Canada I would have been majorly freaked out. I guess people are very curious here.

The apartment I am staying in is beautiful. It is clean and extremely gorgeous. The washroom is divided into two rooms/quarters. The first one only has a toilet. And, the second, right next door, has a shower and the washing basin. I know this sounds gross. I think the washing basin and the toilet should have been together in the same room. My neighbours are American expatriates, who are extremely nice. I think on this trip I would be thinking of Ernest Hemingway a lot.

One of the advantages of renting out an apartment here is that you can save money on food and cook at home. After walking around our neighbourhood we did some grocery shopping. I saw a cute little rat. See, I am on such a Paris-high that I even found the idea of a small fuzzy rat inside the grocery store cute. It reminded me of the Pixar movie, Ratatouille.

The chocolate tastes so good here. And, the flowers they were selling outside the grocery store were so pretty. They had pretty pink-purple gerberas. I absolutely love gerberas.

I can see why people call it the city of romance.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

LDN 4: South Kensington

It was one of the busiest days. Our first destination was South Kensington Station. Architecturally, I believe it is one of the most impressive neighbourhoods in London. I was utterly impressed. Here, they have three museums all located very close to each other, the Natural History Museum, the V&A, and the Science Museum.

Since we got there early we had time to walk around the neighbourhood. We saw the Albert Memorial located in the Kensington Gardens. The Kensington Gardens are on the other side of the museum block. Imperial College is also located in the same neighbourhood. And so is the Royal Albert Hall. I really liked the buildings around the Royal Albert Hall, and the Imperial College. Again there were a lot of red and white brick buildings, and several other old brick buildings. Much to my sister's dismay I kept clicking away my camera. I just loved this part of London. I love the old London architecture.

Our first stop was the Natural History Museum. The building was built in the late 1800s during the Enlightenment Era, when scientists were sent out on sea expeditions to collect specimens so they could be stored and displayed in the museums. The building is also very impressive. I saw these really pretty pink blossoms, when I was waiting in the line to enter the museum. They smelled very refreshing. The museum has an excellent dinosaur collection. I have studied skeletal remains, so it was interesting to look at their skeletal structures and then compare it to those of our own, other amphibians and early primates. The Natural History Museum is definitely an excellent place for young children. They even had a visual stimulation where young middle school-aged students were talking about abortion. I believe, encouraging discussion of this rather controversial topic in schools is a very impressive way to deal with young pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Our second stop was V&A, which was just down the street. At the risk of sounding "boring", I would not have known this if it wasn't for my British friend, so knowing that all these museums are close to each other saved me a lot of time. At the V&A I was more interested to see the Islamic artefacts. The collection was very small, but it was impressive nonetheless. Most of the artefacts were from Bursa, Turkey and Kazakhstan.

In university, I don't know if it is just the case for Canadian universities, we are all required to take one full year humanities course, regardless of our major. I took Russian and Ottoman history, they were offered as two separate half year courses. So the Islamic collection reminded me of the material I had studied in the class. Even though, my friend and I spent the entire time passing notes, and complaining about the professor, surprisingly enough there were certain pieces of information that have managed to stay in my bird-sized brain. One of the things I really find interesting about Ottoman art is how it is so similar to the medieval art. The Ottomans led several campaigns against Rome, Constantinople, and Russia, and most of them were very successful. But the similarity in their art and that of the Christian Medieval art is something that I have always found very astounding. Although, the Islamic collection at the V&A consisted of potteries and relics, there were a few Ottoman paintings there too.

After the V&A the plan was to go to the Science Museum across the street, but we were all museumed out, and were starving. So the Science Museum is another thing we have left for our last day in London. We ended up at Leicester Square to eat super healthy Hagen Daaz. I had this delicious brownie, chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet dessert, and man oh man I can still taste the raspberry.

After we walked through the China Town towards the BT Tower. From there we ended up in the City of Westminster. There were again some really impressive buildings in the area. Also, we saw a couple of Alfa Romeos and some very nice Audis. I also took a picture of a gas station, because I was shocked at the gas prices. Gas is really expensive in London. Almost the twice (if not more) of what we pay in Canada. From there we hopped on a double-decker which took us to the abbey. You know you are a tourist when you quickly climb up to the top floor and dash to sit in the front seat so you can see the city. Again, instead of buying the stupid tours, you can just hop on any of the double-deckers, and enjoy the city's spectacular architecture. We went to the Tower Bridge, and walked by the Thames River. It was a nice walk, but it was freezing, and I have a bad cold and sore throat now :(. My sister and I walked aimlessly discovering new parts of London, we had never been before. We also made it to their financial district to see 30 St Mary Axe.

After spending the night walking about my sister and I were absolutely sore and we had to get up early to pack for our train ride to Paris.

Again, the more I see of London the more I love it. Our initial plan was to go to Stonehenge on our last day but we have decided to spend our last day in the city. I think the reason London is so alluring is because it is historical enough to be foreign, but because of the language it is familiar. We roam around the city without a map, because even when we do get lost, somehow we always end up finding our way. That is what's so amazing about the London's transit system.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

LDN 3: Salad Platter

My sister and I decided to get an early start today. The museums here open at 10 AM, so we wanted to walk around the area before the opening. The plan was to visit the National Gallery and Tate Modern.

We got off at Leicester Square and walked around the area. This place is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in London. Here one could see the contrast between the old and new buildings. I have fallen in love with the old white and red bricked buildings here. Even though I walked around this area a million times before, I had never been to the National Gallery before. The building itself is in the Trafalgar Square and is gorgeous. The big dome inside the gallery is spectacular. I believe I took a picture of it. I am a bit obsessive with picture-taking, which annoys my sister a lot. Things my poor sister has to put up with, during this trip.

The National Gallery, like the most British museums and art galleries, is free, and very welcoming. I was drawn to this gallery because of Van Gogh and Monet's art pieces that are present here. This gallery also has one of the many water lilies painted by Monet. Monet and Van Gogh, along with Picasso, are my favourite artists. I also enjoyed the BSing session that ensued when my British friend and I decided to make sense of the paintings that surrounded us.

This was my first time visiting London with our very own Londoner travel adviser. He pointed out things that we wouldn't have noticed otherwise. Moreover, he pointed out our inherited Canadian traits, which were totally oblivious to us. Apparently, things considered polite in Canada are rather offensive in Britain. Also, he pointed out, compared to the British, we are overtly polite. He took us to a Persian restaurant for lunch. My sister and I had never had Persian food before, so it was a unique experience.

During the lunch we were comparing the degrees of racism between London and Toronto. Coming from Toronto, I had a strong belief that Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Although, I am not as defensive about Toronto as my sister. But my friend made me see racism in a different light.

In Toronto, people are colour-blind in the sense that everyone is seen as an equal. For that reason I used to think that Toronto is one of the most tolerant non-racist cities in the world. As a visible minority I have not been attacked by racist slurs, but I have experienced passive racism. For instance, I never realized I was different from the rest of Canadians until I became more socially involved and started entering venues where one wouldn't really see a minority. I think it is a combination of our political situation where we are more skeptical of Muslims, or the fact that I have become more self-actualized that I have realized how different I am from the mainstream culture. For instance, in Jhumpa Lahiri's book the Namesake the protagonist grows up hiding his parents culture, whilst trying to fit within the American mainstream culture, but in his 20s he realizes that he is neither American or Indian, he is somewhere in the middle.

So going back to the first sentence of the previous paragraph, you might wonder what is wrong with being colour-blind, and reckoning everyone as equals. (I pondered over this question all day today). But the thing is we are not equals. Malcolm Gladwell discusses this topic in his new book Outliers. In his book, he discusses the age old dichotomy nature vs. nurture. He mentions, Bill Gates attended a high school that had a computer lab, and back then only a few schools had computer labs, and only a few teenagers had an early exposure to the computers. Moreover, Bill Gates also had an access to the computer labs in Seattle's Washington University. So by the time he got to Harvard, he already had an early start compared to his peers. This gave him an edge, and an advantage over others.

Similarly, the children of immigrant parents are not only left to learn the culture of their parents' adopted countries and their birth country on their own, but are also required to interpret the culture and translate it for their parents. The responsibility is on them to find a middle-ground where they have to find an equal balance between learning two languages at the same time. Stephen Jay Gould also discussed this phenomena in his book The Mismeasure of Man. In the book, he criticizes the biological determinism theory, which claims that IQ is inherited or it is some gene that you can locate. He mentions that intelligence is a combination of myriad factors.

So in Canada, by ignoring our differences we are not being anti-racist, but we are ignoring the obvious. You have probably heard of the "melting pot" and the "salad bowl" expressions. So after hours of pondering on London's double-decker I tried to come with an expression to classify the problem we have in Canada. Canadians clearly don't suffer from the melting pot phenomena. Canadians are allowed to express their cultural identities. We have Mandarin, Bengali, Jewish, Greek, and Muslim schools in Toronto. In downtown Toronto we have Little Italy, Portuguese and Greek neighbourhoods, the largest Indian bazaar, and one of the best China Towns in North America. Heck, our China Town is even bigger than the one in London.

But just because we don't have forced assimilation doesn't mean we have the salad bowl situation in Canada, where all the flavours are mixed. People from the same ethnicity (in most cases) have no exposure to other ethnicities. In my university, they had a halal hot dog vendor. Mind you, University of Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse universities. But, there were these two white students who had no idea what the word halal meant. One of them thought it meant that it meant the meat was organic. If someone asked me to explain halal, I would either explain it using the Jewish kosher meat practice, or just simply brush them off saying, "Oh, it is a religious thing." I don't know if I can blame this on my Canadian culture, for not really giving me the vocabulary to explain my religious heritage to someone, because after all we do focus on our commonality. We are all Canadians. We all came from somewhere. Regardless of our different ethnicities we all have equal opportunities in our True North strong and free.

Since, in most cases, we express our ethnic uniqueness only within our own communities, in our own community centres, we don't really get to mingle and learn about each other. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the opportunities to express our cultural beliefs we have in Canada. I also love the fact that we have so many cultures living in Canada. But, we are all hidden in our own little neighbourhood pockets. The children who are brought up in Italian communities and neighbourhoods have no exposure to other minorities. They learn to classify them all as one social group, "the minorities", but yet as Canadians.

So what we have in Canada is a salad platter not a salad bowl. You have all these cultures present in the same country but there is no intermingling. However, in London, as my friend pointed out people are more aware of each others cultural uniqueness. They know what a sari looks like. There is no beating about the bush. They realize that not all British are the same. They are British but they are from different cultures. So in order to have a successful society you need to fulfill every one's needs as a collective-society, not as an amalgamation of various communities.

So this is where London, is yet again, better than us. Yes, there are cases of racial profiling where people of a particular ethnicity are stopped at the security checks. But the authorities are only doing that to ensure we are all safe. It is for our own safety.

So that was an enlightening discussion.

Going back to the details of my day. After lunch, we walked around the city. I think the best way to get to learn about a new place is through walking. But, for some reason London is extremely cold. I feel that I am dishonouring my Canadian heritage by being cold here in London.
I also had the best hot chocolate in this really posh place. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the name of the place. The hot chocolate was served in china cups, with three different types of sugar. There was a library in the sitting area. They also had a fireplace. Having a British friend totally paid off here :).

Later in night, we also visited Tate Modern. I had learned about this museum in the Time Magazine. As the name indicates the museum promised a collection of contemporary art. (Duh!) There were paintings, and visual and audio displays by a diverse group of artists. I really enjoyed the "Material Gestures Contemporary Paintings" wing. Here there were two amazing paintings by Pablo Picasso, called "Goat's Skull Bottle & Cattle", and "The Studio". I also really liked the following paintings:

- Albert Oehlen's "Loa"
- Mark Bradford's "Los Moscos"
- Claude Monet's "Water Lilies"
- Lee Krasner's "Gothic Landscape"

In the 1980's wing I exceptionally liked Julian Schnabel's "Humanity Asleep". The museum also has other interesting wings such as Poetry and Illustrations and States of Flux. The building of the museum reminded me of this building we had in my university (CCIT - if anyone's interested). It is by far the best museum I have visited during this trip.

After visiting the National Gallery earlier in the day, I had a new admiration for these contemporary artists. There was an illustration where the artist printed out a whole bunch of one paragraph stories and pasted them on a wall. And, you look at it and may wonder what is so special about this, anyone could have done that. I don't know if this art display would survive the test of time, but it surely, in my opinion, showed confidence. The artist had so much faith in his work that he sold the work to Tate Modern so other people can see it and wonder about it.

This made me think of Van Gogh. I consider Van Gogh as one of the best painters. His vibrant colours, self-portraits, starry night, sunflowers, his shoes, the painting of his room are beautiful in my eyes. But during in his life, he never considered himself to be good enough, and lived a life of sordid oblivian. I guess (and I am just hypothesizing here because other than the compulsory high school art credits I have never taken art history) what Van Gogh lacked was confidence in his work. As far as I know, he died alone, unknown, and poor.

Going back to Tate Modern, it is one of the most stimulating art galleries you may find. The only thing like this we have in Toronto is Nuit Blanche, where they display modern art. Tate Modern has the perfect location. On the way back we walked on the Millennium Bridge to return to Central London. I am planning on visiting it again, so we are gonna try to squish it in on our last day here in London.

I know this is probably the randomest post in the history of blogging. So apologies for that. I just had to get it all out, even though I am a day behind. I also apologize if it is incoherent as I am tired.

Friday, December 26, 2008

LDN 2: Globalization

Today I visited the Westminster Abbey. In the words of Friends's Joey, "It is hands down the best abbey, EVER." And, I absolutely concur. It is baffling to me why I had never been to the abbey before.

The abbey was built in the Gothic style, which is one of my favourite architectural styles. It is a burial ground of several British sovereigns, warriors, political leaders and literary notables. Structurally the most impressive part of the abbey is its ceiling, and columns.

The carnation chair of the British royalty is also on display here.

But, I was more moved to see the burial memorials in the Poet's Corner. Several of the British literary patrons are buried in this part of the abbey. Including, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Chaucer, Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters. Robert Browning is also buried here, however his beloved wife and the source of his love poems is buried in Florence. There is a memorial dedicated to William Shakespeare, who is buried in Stanford. There were talks of transferring his remains from his hometown to the abbey, but they decided to keep the remains in the original graveside.

The abbey has witnessed the carnations, and funerals of several Kings and Queens but it is still here, and till this day functions as a place of worship. There are monks who live in this historical building.

Charles Darwin, whose theory of natural selection and evolution are considered blasphemous, is also also buried here. I was bemused by the irony. Take that Creationists. The only other scientist who is honoured here is Sir Isaac Newton.

There was also a prayer request for a Muslim who is being tortured. I found that very touching. Here in a Christian house of worship they are requesting for a safe return of a Muslim soldier. I think people need these little reminders to help them realize that religion is not the source of all evils, but it is just used as a device to increase barriers between people.

All in all, I enjoyed my vist to the abbey. Moreover, it seemed like they were having a North America Appreciation Day today. The place was full of North Americans. The reason I am stressing on North America, so much, because I have already been mistaken for an American THREE times. This has left me feeling very insecure about my "aboot's" and "eh's".

After the abbey, my sister and I went to the newly opened Westfield Mall to check out the British retail stores. Needles to say, because of the Boxing Day, the mall was extremely crowded. I guess, that is a good thing, hopefully our global economy would improve with more people spending their money. However, I was shocked by the globalization. They have AMERICAN Apparel here. I was so shocked to see this store that I even took a picture of it. Their H&M, The Body Shop, La Senza, Zara, and ALDO are exactly like the ones in Toronto. I have to admit the British GAP is a lot more colourful than the ones I have seen in Canada and the States. I really liked the bags they had at Accessorize, but even with the sales everything was extremely over-priced for me.

The biggest culture shock was the food court at the mall. The food court had a sushi bar, and many other proper restaurant-like food kiosks. No wonder we are the ones fighting obesity. When the British people are eating healthy proper meals during the shopping breaks, we are busy stuffing our faces with New York Fries, McDonalds, KFC, et al. Here was another shocker. They serve food in proper stoneware plates, and silverware; as opposed to where I am from, where all we get is styrofoam plates, and plastic spoons and forks. I guess their way is better for the environment, but recyclable plates would have been more time efficient.

After the mall, my sister and I walked around the posh Kensington area. This is where we saw the brightly lit Harrods. Then we hopped on random double-deckers and got a tour of the city, in its Christmas glory.

By the way, it is extremely cold here. It seems like the cold wind follows me, wherever I go. The sun rises really late, and goes down really early.

Okay, I shall get some sleep. I have an early day tomorrow, and my eyes are closing on me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

LDN 1: Happy Christmas

My flight from home to London was delayed, due to the bad weather, so my sister and I were stuck at the airport for at least 3 hours. Since we got here on Christmas Day and everything was closed, including their transit system, we ended up staying at Holiday Inn Ariel. It is a good and reasonably priced hotel to stay in, if you have a layover in London and you want something comfortable. The day was spent catching up on sleep, and watching the British telly. I have to tell you the British soap Eastenders is bazzaringly interesting. In the evening, we went for a walk and picked up bread and cheese for dinner (I guess we are trying to prepare for our trip to Paris).

In Toronto, we have trash cans (both for recycling and garbage) at every street corner, but that is hardly the case here in London. I wonder how they keep the city clean. Or maybe there is a conspiracy, maybe they are only visible to the locals.

My personal goal during my 5 day stay in London is to get over the love and enthralment I feel for this city. But I have to admit the city keeps amazing me. I keep wondering what it feels like to live in this city. The city has so much to offer, both historically, culturally, and socially. At the Heathrow Airport they had special visible arrangements made for the travellers seeking political assylum. I have not seen that in Canada or the US. Yes, we have refugees in Canada, but even our immigration and refugee policies owe a lot to Britain.

I wonder, what Londoners feel about living in the midst of all the attractions that draw so many tourists to their city.

Happy Christmas, everyone. Apparently that is how the British say, Merry Christmas. Sounded very weird the first time I heard it. But, now, it has grown on me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I apologize, my dear readers, for not blogging lately. I have been busy with planning a trip for the holidays. You see, I am leaving for London and Paris (Yes, Dickens' twin cities) soon. So the trip planning really took a major toll on my time and social life. But at least now that I know what I am going to do during my trip, hopefully I would be able to relax and enjoy myself :).

I am not sure if I would have the internet in London, but I will try to keep you guys updated from Paris. Turns out my procrastination paid off, and I was able to rent an apartment in Paris. The apartment is in this bourgeois neighbourhood, and the legend has it that Ernest Hemingway used to hang around there. Plus, I got a very good deal. I did some serious e-bargaining via the email, and tried to dazzle the guy with shameless emoticon smiling. It all paid off, folks :) - See, I am doing it again.

I am very excited. It all sounds very exciting. Travelling in the midst of an economic crisis. And, people think I don't know how to live on the edge :).

Until the next post, I would like to wish you guys a Happy Belated Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year. And since I am from Canada, and we are all about political correctness, I would like to wish you all very happy and safe holidays.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


by Dan Chiasson

I lack the rigor of a lightning bolt,
the weight of an anchor. I am
frayed where it would be highly useful—
and this I feel perpetually—to make a point.

I think if I can concentrate I might turn sharp.
Only, I don’t know how to concentrate—
I know only the look of someone concentrating,
indistinguishable from nearsightedness.

It is hard for you to be near me,
my silly intensity shuffling
all the insignia of interiority.
Knowing me never made anyone a needle.

Source: The New Yorker

Friday, December 12, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

So I finally watched Slumdog Millionaire. There is so much to say about this movie, and I am gonna try my best to not give anything away. I have never seen a movie like this, and I can't recommend it enough.

In one word, Slumdog Millionaire is inspiring.
I don't even know where to begin.

Okay first something about Simon Beaufoy's screenplay, which is based on Vikas Swarup's novel Q & A. The screenplay is not a close adaptation, but the story unfolds in the same manner as the book. I think the reason Beaufoy only followed the premise of the book, because even though the book is about "Jamal" (in the book the protagonist has a different name), the novel seems like a compilation of several vaguely similar short stories. I personally can't compare the screenplay with the novel. They are equally amazing, and go beautifully together. I can't believe Simon Beaufoy, who had never been to India prior to writing this most awe-inspiring script, was able to capture the lives and struggles of these slum kids with such blatant honesty.

Okay now about the direction. Danny Boyle is brilliant and extremely observant. He captures every little detail about Mumbai. I have never been to Mumbai, but I have been to Karachi enough times to know how these developing metropolises work. The rich are extremely rich, and the poor are poor beyond our imagination. Young children are bathing in murky water, and their mothers are doing laundry in the same water. I have actually seen that happening in Karachi. Again, you MUST go watch this movie to really appreciate the dedication that went into making this movie. I really hope Danny Boyle gets an Oscar for bringing this amazing story to our ignorant Western lives.

The acting is brilliant. The story follows Jamal's life from his childhood to adulthood. The child actors in the movie are actual slum kids. This part made the movie watching experience more painful, and the story more authentic. I have to admit, I was cringing and covering my eyes, grabbing onto my jacket to keep myself from bawling my eyes out in public. Everyone in the movie is brilliant, and does complete justice to their respective roles.

The background score is produced by A.R. Rahman, who is a brilliant musician. When asked about Rahman, Danny Boyle said, he doesn't know how to explain Rahman's musical brilliance to the Western audience, who are not fully familiar with his music. I am not a big Hindi music person, but I have always been an admirer of A. R. Rahman's songs, especially Chaiyya Chaiyya, and Ae Ajnabi. Sorry, going back to Slumdog Millionaire's soundtrack. Again, the music is so amazing that I am listening to it right now as we speak. Each character has their own distinctive theme. Again, another thing I would urge you to spend your money on: buy the Soundtrack :). My favourite song (there are so many to choose from) is the one called Dreams on Fire by A. R. Rahman and featuring Suzzanne. But again every single song on the record is worth your penny.

Before going to the movie, I was wondering why don't the good folks in India (Bollywood) make movies about the slums in Mumbai. Instead of showing the poverty in India, Hindi movies show rich Indians living in extravagant houses. But after watching the movie I found my answer. The reason we have the heart to watch movies about slums in India, and extreme poverty is because these atrocities are not part of OUR reality. We spend 12 bucks on a ticket, watch the movie, get moved by it, and return to our heated homes. But, a person in India who sees the slums, or is from the slums would not like to spend his or hers hard day's earning, just so he or she can be reminded of their ubiquitous brutal reality. They need a break. They need to escape from that reality and for a few hours want to be dazzled with the Indian singing and dancing, so they can witness and experience something other than watching kids fight for the last piece of bread, or just basic shelter. The other thing that is shown in the movie is how Indians literally worship the Bollywood stars. To them these are the screen gods who allow them to dream, who provide them with temporary happiness, and an escape from their lives.

Again, I can't recommend this movie or the book or the soundtrack enough. Please do go watch it. Films like this don't come around too often.

p.s. I hope they fly out the child actors to LA for the Oscars, because they need to be a part of the celebration and critical accolade.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Carcass Day

Otherwise known as Eid ul Adha. In the Islamic lunar calendar we have two Eids (Christmas like festivals). Just in case you mess up on the gifts the first time around, you can make up for it on the second Eid. See, for instance, my friend didn't get anything for his girlfriend on the first Eid, which enraged her, as she had gone all out for his present. So, this Eid (I almost wrote Christmas) he got her three presents, and during the economic crisis too. So that ought to count for something.

Out of the two Eids, the second one, the one today, is my least favourite. The reason I call it a Carcass Holiday, because this Eid is a nightmare for non-meat-eaters, such as yours truly. See, on this Eid, raw meat is distributed among the poor and relatives. A portion of the meat is kept and cooked for big family feasts. Therefore, there are hardly any vegetarian options at these extravagant dinners.

So if you love meat and love food, I would strongly recommend you to find yourself a Muslim buddy, just like Bart Simpson, and indulge in the meaty goodness that this holiday promises.

If you have no idea why I just name-dropped Bart Simpson to legitimatize this Muslim holiday, I am talking about the Simpsons episode called "Mypods and Boomsticks". Here are a few clips from the episode (the only ones I could find on YouTube) to get you all caught up:

On his way home from the mall, narrowly escaping being attacked by the "phonies", Bart gets allured by the BBQ smell, coming from someone's backyard. He goes in to find a Muslim boy, Bashir, bbqing lamb. He loves the exotic cuisine, and befriends Bashir. But, then Moe et al fill up Homer's head with Islamophobic comments, and Homer suspects that Bashir's parents are terrorists.

The episode ends off with the following message:

Now that I have outted Muslims for loving meat, I hope PETA people don't turn into the Eid Grinch.

In all seriousness, this holiday is not that bad. There are opportunities for people to provide meals for orphans in impoverished villages around the world. So these poor children can also be a part of the holiday festivities.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Puddle of Mush

Perhaps I should wait till Valentine's Day to expose my mushy side. But, I am a giant puddle of mush right now, so I figure writing about these embarrassing guilty pleasures, would be an effective way to evade me of my temporary insanity.

So here goes (in no particular order)...

1. The Prince & Me (2004)
I like this movie for sentimental reasons. It was filmed at my alma mater, in one of the several chemistry labs I had to take. The movie came out when I was taking pre-med requisites, so I felt some sort of kinship with the female lead, Paige Morgan (played by Julia Stiles). Paige falls in love with the Prince of Denmark, who for some reason has a British accent. Shouldn't he have a Scandinavian accent? But, hey, I am not the one to complain :). Regardless of the alluring accent, the best aspect of the movie: the girl is strong and she doesn't have to make sacrifices to be in love. Usually in the popular media, it is almost always the female lead who has to give up on her dreams to have that proverbial happily ever after. Even on Friends, Rachel had to give up on her Paris-dream to be with Ross. (Yes, clearly, I am still peeved about the Friends finale).

2. Two Weeks Notice (2002)
I love Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock's chemistry. I love Bullock's character Lucy, who is an environmental lawyer, working hard for various social causes. She is smart and headstrong. Hugh Grant is very dashing and charming.

Wimbledon (2004)

4. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) - Translation: The lover will take the bride
In spite of its cheesy title, this was my first Hindi/Bollywood movie. So if you are considering on getting on the whole Bollywood bandwagon, I would strongly recommend this film. The story is very simple and extremely sweet. The movie is about two British-Indians who fall in love during their trip to Europe. The way the story unfolds is beautiful, because these two couldn't be any different. But when they get back to London, the male-lead finds out that the girl is already engaged to someone in India. The girl leaves for India, and the guy goes after her. There is a lot of singing and dancing involved, and the male-lead is very charming :). I think this is by far the best Indian movie I have seen.

5. Mulan (1998)
How can I not love this movie! There is an evil matchmaker encounter at the beginning of the movie. Mulan is unlike any other Disney princess; that girl can kick butt. This movie, I reckon, can be blamed for my love for Spring Blossom trees. Yes, sadly, I have a favourite tree.

Okay, now my turn to reveal my sappy book choices.

Love Story
You have probably heard of the most famous and beat up quote from this book: "Love means never having to say you are sorry." They even made fun of this line on the Simpsons. I have read this book a gazillion times, and know it by heart by now. Whenever I am sick, and too brain-dead to read anything, this is the book I turn to. It is a sweet romantic story, but it is not cheesy.

Breakfast at Tiffany's
This novella by Truman Capote is ten times better than its film adaptation. Capote is an amazing writer. I love the way he has written this story; leaving the reader with a little glimpse of hope.

Now time to reveal my absolute mushy songs. Again, in no particular order:

Lady in Red by Chris De Burgh
Wars have been fought over this song. When my friend and I first discovered this song, we argued to decide who would get to make this particular song their wedding song. The battle is still unsettled, so whoever gets married first would get to play this song at her reception.

Take My Breath Away by Berlin
I absolutely love this song. Nothing can kill this song for me. Not even Jessica Simpson.

Heaven by DJ Sammy
This was the song, when it came out. It was the song they played at my high school formal. It brings me back to those times of gleeful innocence, where you are not so jaded by the reality, and things are still very rosy.

Edge of the Ocean by Ivy
She is dreaming about a place where the sun never goes down. It gives me that twirly feeling :).

Dreaming of You by Selena
I absolutely love this song. It is such a bittersweet song.

With or Without You by U2
U2 is my favourite band. I know, a lot of this has to do with Bono's humanitarian efforts. But, I think their music has evolved with time, and yet they have somehow managed to stay true to their genre. I think, it is a very sweet song.

Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits
I love the lines: "I can't do everything but I would do anything for you / I can't do anything except be in love with you."

When the Stars Go Blue by The Corrs & Bono
This is the perfect wedding-first-dance song. I know there are many versions of this song, but I only love this one.

Fidelity by Regina Spektor
I think, this song right here describes me to a T.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for by U2
Another U2 song. I figure this song would be the perfect way to finish off this post.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Confused OH-EH

Now that the American politics has settled in somewhat; Canada has decided to stir up some political drama of our own. See we are not all "aboot" hunting, and hiking (Great, I'm making fun of my own people). We are finally trying to be as politically interesting as our neighbours to the South.

So here is the low down. In October we had elections, and the Conservatives were re-elected for another term. But, with the economic fallout the opposition parties (Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois), decided to graciously entertain and distract people with some unnecessary political drama, which unfolded today. The opposition parties claimed that Prime Minister Harper broke his campaign promises, and should therefore resign. The Prime Minister retorted that the opposition parties do not have a constitutional right to dissolve the government. The opposition parties were planning to hold a no-confidence vote on Monday, in the parliament, to dissolve Harper's government.

But, Harper got up early in the morning and met up with Governor General Michaelle Jean, and convinced her to suspend the parliament until January 26th. This gives Harper enough time to revamp the federal budget, and hopefully create enough suspense and "will they, won't they drama" to steal America's thunder. You see, the world finally gets rid of Bush on January 20th, six days before our parliament is reinstated.

I believe, Governor General Jean, Queen Elizabeth II's representative, made the right decision. This would not only give Prime Minister Harper time to fix the problems in the new budget, which is scheduled to be announced on January 27th, but it would also provide the opposition parties an opportunity to realize that Liberal Party leader, Stephane Dion, is nowhere near ready to be our next Prime Minister. Some prominent MPs of his own party are against his leadership, and have suggested that a new party leader should be announced before the 26th. NDP leader, Jack Layton, could be the next Prime Minister, if they still decide to go through the parliamentary vote in January. But that would mean that Layton's staff would constantly have to be on the Internet, plagiarizing Obama's speeches and ideals, and selling it to us poor Canadians.

But in some ways I am grateful to the opposition leaders for providing us an opportunity to join a facebook group which has a direct relevance to our national policies. See earlier this year, my friends, due to the lack of options and our dull politics, had joined Obama's facebook group, even though they had no say in the debacle we call the US elections.

By the way, I think Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth would be proud to know that the Governor General decided to suspend the parliament, when she met up with Harper, over morning TEA. Seriously, we are so British with our tea mannerism, and so American with our political drama. We are oh so confused.

p.s. A most un-Canadian caper - I love this article. It shows how this recent political uncertainty we find ourselves in, is so un-Canadian.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Two Cents

Calling All Pakistanis
In this article, Thomas L. Friedman suggests, Pakistanis should take to the streets to peacefully protest the Mumbai attacks. He points out, the Pakistani government and media have strongly condemned the attacks. But, India needs to be reminded that their Pakistani neighbours are with them in the mourning of at least 173 innocent lives. If Pakistanis don't explicitly show their disdain for the attacks, the relations between their neighbours and them would deteriorate, immensely.

At the same time, India should realize the enemy is not Pakistan per se, but it is these heartless individuals, who think they can achieve whatever distorted goals they have in their minds, by taking innocent lives. The world and Indians need to be reminded that Pakistanis really do care for their Indian brothers and sisters. The world also needs to be reminded that you can only curb terrorism in Pakistan with education.

Terrorism That's Personal
Every time I look at this picture, I get shivers down my spine, and my heart sinks in. But then I realize, I only have to see this picture for what a few seconds. This woman, on the other hand, has to live with this face for the rest of her life, unless someone pays for her surgery. Like many other women from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India, Naeema Azar was attacked by her former husband, who threw acid in her face. Why, you ask? Ms. Azar used to earn a decent living, but decided to divorce her husband, when he became interested in another woman. After their divorce was finalized, the husband requested to come by the house to bid farewell to their children. Naeema was sleeping, and he attacked her with acid, which not only burned her face, but caused her to lose her eyesight, and her ability to support herself and her three children.

Nicholas Kristof, who is reporting from Pakistan these days, said he had the first draft ready for an article about the Mumbai attacks, but instead decided to write about this grotesque form of terrorism, which we really don't hear about in the news. In November, a group of Afghani men attacked school going girls with acid. In this part of the world, women really don't matter. In Nepal, they are sold like commodities to the brothels in Mumbai, India.

Terrorism is, sadly, not just about people blowing up hotels, and killing foreigners. But it exists silently in the streets of Pakistan, where these nameless women are subjugated and pushed to the curb, when all they have done is dared to speak their minds.

I really hope to travel to these places one day, and do my small bit to help these women, and young children.

Until then...