Saturday, January 31, 2009

WinterCity Festival '09

WinterCity is a winter festival (Duh!) going on in Toronto. So, if you are in the city, do check it out. They have street circus by the Dutch street theatre troupe Close Acts, in the Nathan Philips Square. The act is called Pi-Leau and the performers are brilliant. My friends and I thought the act was based on 'Little Mermaid', but it really isn't. We are clearly bunch of ignorant idiots. It is actually about global warming. Seriously, in Toronto we are all about saving the planet. Go T Dot! (Yay, my love for Toronto has been resurrected).

Here is a video friend of a friend made about Toronto's transit system:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Nikolai Gogol: Diary of a Madman

One of my resolutions for this year is to read Russian literature. I was sharing this ambitious and rather suicidal goal of mine with my sister; and here is her response: "Make sure you also put down 'MUST NOT KILL MYSELF' as a resolution too." My dad, who is fluent in Russian, has been encouraging me to read Nikolai Gogol (in English, of course) since I was in middle school. He got me Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls when I was a mere tween. And, people wonder why I am so morbid. So I finally caved in to parental pressure, and gaily cracked open my first Gogol: Diary of a Madman.

Diary of a Madman is a satirical and the most hilarious tragedy I have ever read. This short-story was written by Gogol in 1834, during Tsar Nicholas I's oppressive regime. Gogol wrote, ironically, to Pushkin: "Diary of a Madman met with a rather unpleasant little snag from the censor yesterday. But thank God things are a little better today. At least, all I have to do is throw out the best parts."

The story is set in imperial St Petersburg, my favourite Russian city. Gogol mocks Russian government offices, clerical staff, and social hierarchy through the insignificant eyes of the protagonist. Ivanovich, the Madman who writes these entries in his diary, sometimes refrains from writing about his love for the General's daughter.

The protagonist, in some ways, reminded me of the recurring character on SNL, Penelope, played by the amazing Kristen Wiig. Penelope is awfully hilarious yet a very annoying one-upper, whose brags miraculously turn out to be true, in the end.

The layout of the story reminded me of blogging. Ivanovich's journal entries begin with the corresponding date. In one of the entries he states that our desire to write comes from our innate need to share with others. As my high school English teacher used to say, "People inquire about your day not because they care. They ask so they can ramble about their own day."

There was an article published in the Atlantic a few months ago, wondering about the existential question many bloggers have faced: Why I blog? Here is my favourite excerpt from the article:

"As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book. As you piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems—and is—more truthful. Logs, in this sense, were a form of human self-correction. They amended for hindsight, for the ways in which human beings order and tidy and construct the story of their lives as they look back on them. Logs require a letting-go of narrative because they do not allow for a knowledge of the ending. So they have plot as well as dramatic irony—the reader will know the ending before the writer did."

My first posts were more impersonal, more about the impending humanitarian crises that concern me, such as Darfur. But with time I have been able to relinquish personal inhibitions, and, embarrassingly enough, have succeeded in broadcasting my single-status boo-hoos here. Blogging has also allowed me to connect with people who share similar interests, allowing me to associate with like-minded people. In some ways you guys know more about this so-called nerdy/dorkish side of me that I don't really reveal in real-life encounters. The reason I started this blog was because I realized I was running a risk of losing friends :). You see, I was boring them with my regular political rants. In fact, I have only told a couple of my friends about my existence in the blogosphere. I would find it really embarrassing if people who I associate with read my Random Ramblings.

"You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you are experiencing, and share the moment."

Blogging, dorkishly enough, also defies the space-time continuum. People in the blogosphere are linked by time, but separated in space. (Sounds cheesy, right?) For instance, look at the time when Obama got elected, almost all of us wrote our myriad views on what his victory meant to us. This one event in time linked us, and prompted us to write something - positive or negative. A few years from now we can go back, and comb through our blog posts, and experience the immediate rawness we felt when these significant events, we blogged about, were unfolding...

Apple & Sudoku Know Best

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

iPhone Day!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Foamy's Rant

Following clips contain offensive language - just a friendly warning :).

Accidents at Home

Words and Phrases

Fortune Cookie

Monday, January 26, 2009


"Milk" is the story of a death foretold; released in the wake of Proposition 8 referendum.

The movie tells the real-life story of Harvey Milk, the first openly homosexual man to be elected to public office as supervisor, in San Francisco. I have to admit, the movie has all the elements that one may expect from the "biographical" genre. However, this film is critical in the sense that it reminds us of all the events, and sacrifices that made Obama's inauguration possible. Obama's campaign transcended biography. But the only reason he could afford to ignore to talk about himself and/or his race, at the inauguration, was because of the struggles people like Milk went through in breaking the boundaries their sexual orientation or ethnicity imposed on them.

The other striking factor is that it was only in the 1970s, when people were struggling to keep their jobs because of their sexual orientation. So it was reassuring to know that in just a few decades we have come a long way. I realize, in terms of equality there is a lot of other issues and stereotypes we still have to tackle, but the movie gave me hope. I know, all this optimism is almost nauseating :).

Milk's character is played by the always brilliant Sean Penn, and he has completely transformed himself for this role. He played this character with both vulnerability and assertiveness. And, of course, James Franco's presence in the movie didn't really hurt :). The other remarkable part of the movie was the inclusion of archival footage from the 1970s, providing us a glimpse into the period we don't really hear or read about.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tropic Thunder

I had made plans to see this movie at the newly opened AMC theater downtown. But, for some reason, it didn't work out. I think, I ended up going to the Chinese Lantern Festival, instead.

I exceptionally enjoyed watching this movie. It is really funny, and edgy. There was controversy surrounding this movie. Apparently some groups believed, the movie ridiculed people with disabilities. Having volunteered with people with intellectual disabilities, I have a strict policy against the use of word "retard". Even though, the characters use that word a lot; the joke is not on people with disabilities, but on Hollywood actors, and filmmakers.

The movie promises brilliant performances from Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey. And, let's not forget my favourite Robert Downey Jr. I fell in love with him in 'Iron Man' and 'Charlie Bartlett'. Kudos, for his Oscar nomination.

P.S. I thought the trailers in the beginning of the movie were hilarious.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This movie is no Forrest Gump. Brad Pitt is no Tom Hanks. Having said that, the movie is good. It is about love and life. It even got me choked up.

As the name suggests, the screenplay is based on the fairytale-like short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald's simple, and beautiful, short story is about a boy, Benjamin Button, who ages in reverse. Benjamin is born as a 70 year old man, and with the passing of time gets younger. But this is where the similarity between the screenplay and the short story ends. The writer Eric Roth, who also wrote Forrest Gump, took the premise and turned it into a story about compassion, and human curiosity.

However, Brad Pitt's acting is anything but curious. He seems distant, and does not fully embrace the character. Brad Pitt, unlike Leo DiCaprio, does not have the ability to move the audience with his performance. But I have to hand it to him, Pitt does look boyishly handsome in the movie. And, as an elderly he looks scary and cute at the same time.

In the movie, storm and water are used as symbolic devices. Storm is one constant unifying device which creeps up throughout the movie, tying the lose ends of chaos that is life. The water, the waves, and its myriad vivid colours never looked better on screen. I think, the water symbolizes fluidity. The message that in essence we are the same, no matter how we weather or, in the case of Button, thrive with time.

The movie filled in the gaps that Fitzgerald left in his very brief short story. The original story reminded me of Margaret Laurence's Stone Angel. When the protagonist, Hagar, in Stone Angel, is approaching her demise, she has flashbacks of her life. But the question is what happens when you come to this world weathered, wrinkly, and crippled, but die with innocence and baby freshness? Is it better to be haunted by the mistakes one made in his or hers life, or is it better to forget about the past experiences, and die with no recollection of the life lived?

Here is one of my favourite poems about death by Dylan Thomas.

"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Infinite Playlist

'Lover' by Devendra Banhart: A cute fun song.

Nick & Norah's Theme: Reminds me of the movie, and the twirly feeling it imparted.

'Last Words' by The Real Tuesday Weld: Love the beat.

'Baby, You're My Light' by Richard Hawley: A very sweet ballad.

'Ottoman' by Vampire Weekend: I absolutely love Vampire Weekend. They are Columbia graduates and that fact alone makes them oh so very appealing. (I clearly suffer from the Spiderman syndrome). This song is right up there, for me, along with Oxford Comma.

'After Hours' by We Are Scientists: Reminds me of all the stores closing down because of the economic downfall. Sad, I know.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Decrease in Demand


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Blogworthy: I'm What I Read

One of my New Year's resolutions is to write a weekly blog post about the articles, anything from the world wide web, which I found interesting. Yes, can't you tell I am single and I have no life :). So here's the first installment.

1. "The Power of Prayer" [The Wall Street Journal]

"Barack Obama mostly seems focused on ideological rather than denominational diversity. He chose Rick Warren, who opposes gay marriage, and then added Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopal bishop from New Hampshire, to pray at a morning service. He's also reportedly going to have a full range of faiths -- including Muslims and Jews -- at the prayer service the next day. But at the high-profile, official event -- the swearing in -- there will be just Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery, both Protestants."

Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony is on this Tuesday. Just an obvious pointer, in case you have been living in a cave for the past two years, and missed the news of America electing its first Black president. In my opinion, I think it is wrong to call him black. Because phenotypically he may look black, but genetically he is also half-white. This brings my attention to Pasha Malla. Malla wrote the following about racial terminology and assignment:

"When people ask me my "background," a common question, I've started telling them that I'm "half white." This usually proves inadequate, and sometimes disconcerting. Folks want to be able to categorize other people based on difference: knowing what you "are" will dictate how they can interact with you — and more importantly, what they can and can't say. My ambiguous response might seem snide, but I struggle to think how it's any different from people defining themselves as "half" whatever ethnic minority. Regardless the halves, I'm still neither one race nor the other."

Pasha Malla in this insightful article, "Self-portrait of a racist" points out, we are all racists. I actually agree with that. Malla kept a racist journal, and here are a few of his journal entries:

"…today I was sitting on the subway beside a black man. When he got off at his stop, I instinctively checked my pocket for my wallet."

"… at the movies I noticed a Middle Eastern-looking guy in line, wearing a backpack. For a moment, I second-guessed going into the theatre."

"… a Hasidic man cut in front of me at the grocery store. My thought was not: 'Asshole.' My thought was: 'Jew.' "

He continues:

"We often hear that racism is largely a result of ignorance — but I live in Toronto, with regular exposure to all races. If my journal is any indication, exposure to other cultures doesn't necessarily allay racist tendencies. Maybe part of the problem is that Toronto neighbourhoods are often divided along ethnic lines, so (with a few notable exceptions) there's little interaction between one cultural group and another. My only real communication with the city's Vietnamese population, for example, is when I order pho tai from one of their excellent restaurants."

Furthermore, judging by "Stuff White People Like" and the Onion, Obama is as "white" as they come. But going back to the inauguration article, I personally believe that they should not include religious priests in the inauguration processions, because that in my opinion makes the inauguration ceremony too much like a coronation.

p.s. While we are discussing racism I would recommend another article, "Would You Have Been A Nazi?" - This article discusses Milgram's average rate of obedience.

2. "Clara" [The New Yorker]

It is a short-story about love and life. Lately, I find myself wondering, what is that keeps people together? What is that makes us take the big leap, and decide, "Okay, you, right there, I want to spend the rest of my life with you." I keep hearing that in life you don't get everything you want. Sometimes you have to meet destiny halfway. But, how about those who refuse to compromise, and persistently remain on their quest to find the right person? Are these the individuals who end up losing out in the end? And, those who are not really happy but still stick it out, are they smarter than the idealistic individuals, such as yours truly?

My biggest fear is settling down with someone who seems okay at first, but then things fall apart once the honeymoon period is over. Enter these 2 breakup songs: James Morrison ft. Nelly Furtado - Broken Strings and Gnarls Barkley - Going On. There are certain people who sound perfect in theory, but their personalities and values just don't mesh in the end. And, then there is the case where you meet the person, who has everything you ever wanted, but something is awry. I am starting to think that this relationship stuff is very complicated. People should either live alone. Or, when they get married their brains should be reprogrammed to fulfill each other's needs and wants.

Geez, when did this blog become so confessional! In my defence, I just got a "talk" for being too picky. My mom clearly took a page from Mama Bennet's 'How to successfully get your daughter married' book. I always believed that the only important thing a person should look for in a relationship is mutual respect and appreciation. But now I feel, respect and appreciation alone can only take you so far. I guess nobody understands this stuff, hence the abundance of movies and books addressing this subject. Theoretically we all know a successful relationship is based upon myriad factors. But it seems that when push comes to shove we are required to have a moment of solitude and decide what is important to us. Or, if some one's making you do that, and things don't flow and fit automatically, then you know it is not working. Right?!

3. "Horatio Alger Relocates to Mumbai Slum" [The Times]

This article is about 'Slumdog Millionaire'. The movie won the Globes last week, and has a strong chance of winning the Oscar. The million dollar (insert: embarrassed smile) is what makes this predictable fairytale story so exceptional? The writer here says, in Jamal the American audience sees Great Gatsby. It is the first movie out of India which is not about the exotic land or about the Indian singing and dancing ('Monsoon Wedding').

The movie for the first time shows:
"The arbitrary power of the police officer toward the citizen and the gangster toward the slum dweller. The schools where teachers throw books at students and lessons consist of choral echoing of the teacher’s words. The slum where cooking and child-rearing and defecation are semi-public activities, and where it would be hard to develop the mental independence to question an arranged marriage or abuse by the better-born."

But that is not it, it also reminds Americans of an important lesson of Collectivism, a cultural belief Indians hold very dear, and sometimes use to attack the West; but now trying to shed.

The movie works because:
"It is roots and linkages that many Indians now seek to shed, and many Americans now seek to reclaim. And that may be the silent allure of “Slumdog Millionaire.” It is a tribute to the irrepressible self, filmed in a society now realizing it has given the self too little, watched in a society now realizing it has given the self too much."

4. "One Day You're Indispensable, the Next Day..." [The Times]

"'Nobody is indispensable indefinitely,” said John Kao, a jazz musician and innovation consultant to corporations and governments. “The ‘great man’ theory does hold water, but mainly at times of transition when a charismatic leader lends what psychologists would call an individual’s ego strengths to the organization or country as a whole, to allow it to regroup and move forward.'"

This article, ponders over Steve Jobs's indispensability, and what the future of Apple would look like in his absence. Resisting the urge to mention any of Bart Simpsons jokes I have already mentioned here, in the past.

This article about indispensability makes me wonder, how Obama would be tested. Bush in his last interviews has said that only time would be able to judge his 8 years objectively. The article also mentions that in 1930s Churchill seemed indispensable, but by the end of his term in 1935 that was clearly not the case. On Tuesday, new era would be sworn in. I have doubts and my share of skepticism, but you cannot really go wrong with hope, eh? Maybe I wouldn't mind dating an American guy after all ;). Only if Obama knew, how happy he is making the North American-South Asian community :).

N.B. I have included pictures, I took on this beautiful Snowy Sunday.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Long Overdue Mumble Jumble

I have been wanting to write a final post about my trip (as if I haven't annoyed you enough), since the day I got back (January 5th at 3 PM). But, I couldn't bring myself to write about the amazing time I had. So here goes, all the things I have been wanting to say about my trip, in no particular order.

1. My first trip where I did not read a book or the newspaper. (Do I sound a bit proud of my ignorance?) I had taken Dickens's 'A Tale of Two Cities' with me but I forgot it on the plane.

2. My first adult trip without parental supervision. I had travelled to Pakistan on my own once, but I stayed with my dad's parents. I spent the one month I stayed there, thumbing through Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' and Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter'.

3. I made a trip itinerary and named it 'A Tale of Two Cities'. I wanted to make sure that we would make the most out of our 12 day trip. I got teased about this particular schedule. But it saved us time. We also ended up losing the itinerary in Paris, but luckily my friend had a copy.

4. I found maturity in the fact that I have an international, British to be exact, friend, whom I met for the first time. You know how in the movies, the grown-ups always have globetrotting friends, who they meet for dinner, and later they discuss world affairs with them. My dad has friends like those all over the world, and now I do too :D. Well, only in one country. Hmmm...I guess, I should start stalking more people :).

5. I had the best hot chocolate of my life in London, which I can still taste. Ahhh...

6. I had the best chocolate in France. I loved the French chocolate so much that I even forgot to have my favourite, British Kit Kat. Previously, my tradition had been to bring oodles of Kit Kat and Dairy Milk from London. But this time I forgot all about the chocolate, until a friend in Toronto asked, if I had brought any Kit Kat for her.

7. Had the best crepes in Paris at Le Sevigne. It is a small restaurant in the Parisian suburb Marais, where we were staying.

8. Met American expatriates. I had read about cultured Americans, who learn French and then move to Paris to pursue art. Meeting them made me feel cultured in association. Man, I am sounding really full of myself.

9. Towards the end of the trip my sister and I ran out of conversation topics, so we relied on our eavesdropping skills to keep ourselves entertained.

10. I became more aware of our own Canadian culture and mannerism.

11. I have realized the importance of travelling. It increases a person's breadth of knowledge, not only about the world, but also about themselves. I would like to travel more of Europe, and leave South America, Asia and Africa for when I meet the guy. I have these grand plans for me and my husband to visit a new country every year, where we not only get to experience a new culture, but also have an opportunity to do our bit to help the global community.

12. My friend and I have made plans to visit a new Canadian province every year. Europe may have all the history and impressive architecture, but Canada is beautiful.

13. I have realized, the more we travel, the more we get to learn about ourselves and our own country.

14. There is a bridge in Paris, which is nicknamed "Love Bridge". I told my mom about it, and her reaction was: "Did you pray that God would bring you a nice boy?"

15. There are no words to describe how...hmph...different (?) French men are.

16. I miss my holidays, and the lack of responsibility and accountability you feel when you are away from home.

17. In a year's time after the economic crisis has settled a bit, at least that's what Paul Krugman predicted, I am planning on applying for a job in Oxford, England.

I think this is all. Hopefully, the trip is out of my system now :).

Okay, one more thing. This trip has taught me that you can't predict life. Earlier last year, I was first planning a trip to Israel, and then to Nepal. Neither of these trips worked out, and I unexpectedly ended up going to Europe...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Remember this song?

Okay, before I start writing, I just want to warn you, this entry is a case of me thinking out loud, so I apologize in advance if it sounds self-involved.

I recently started to talk to someone I was close to in high school. Yes, sadly the high school drama still follows us, regardless of our age. Or so it seems. I was pretty social in high school, but by university I limited my circle of friends to a few people. Partially because I felt that I didn't have the time to meet everyone I once spoke to. And also because I felt I was changing, or they had changed.

Over the years I have become more selective about my friends. Quality takes precedence over quantity. I just didn't bother staying in touch with people who did not have my core-views/values. One of my favourite lines from the series 'Six Feet Under' is when Brenda and Nate discuss that as we age our circle of friends keeps shrinking, when technically it should be the other way around. Technically with age, we meet more people. We have school friends. University friends. Work friends, and so on. But, our lives get busy. Our responsibilities increase. The limited time we have we would rather spend with someone who we actually really like.

At least that is the case with me. I don't do anything half-way. I either like someone or I don't. I would either be your friend, and annoy you with my lameness, or I would just not bother with false pretences. So, when after university graduation a bunch of people started organizing high school reunions, I did not bother going. I felt that the people I wanted to stay in touch with are already on my MSN. I already have the friends I want and actually like, so why go digging through old fossils to form new friendships.

For this reason I also avoided facebook. But eventually I gave into the pressure and became an active facebook user. This meant old friends were added. I recently talked to one of those old friends on the phone. The first time we spoke on the phone it felt that time had not passed and we still had the old connection. We filled each other in about our lives and what had happened since high school. Then when we talked the second time. I was shocked how much we had changed. Or I had changed. With that realization came another.

Do we ever leave high school behind? Is high school something that would haunt us for the rest of our lives?

With the people we grow up with, there is this shared history. They get the essence of our being, because they have seen us transforming. We have seen them through the first silly crushes, teenage angst, university application freak-outs, and so on. But with the new people we meet, they see us as adults. We meet them because we have shared-interests and values.

My high school formal song.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Have a Dream

I have not written anything about the Gaza strike. Partially because I have read excellent blog entries about the crisis, and felt I did not really have anything to add to what you guys have already mentioned. My friend who attended one of the many protests they had all around the world, took a picture of Jews protesting against the killing of a ~1000 innocent people, to show that it is not a religious issue but a human rights issue. Nicholas Kristof, my hero, also wrote an article about the problem last Thursday.

The question that everyone keeps asking is, what makes this issue so much more polarizing and engaging than say the genocide in Danfur, raping of women in Congo, and high maternal mortality in Africa?

I don't know about your Facebook, but some of my friends have dedicated their statuses (statusi?), so they can get the latest update about the number of causalities in Gaza. My Facebook inbox also got ambushed with constant updates.

Last night, I had a dream about Facebook and the Gaza conflict. Hey, before you judge my randomness, you should know I have already sort of hinted at my subconscious going off on multiple tangents in this post here. I had a dream that Israel has ended its air strike in Gaza, and I find this important, and much awaited news through my friend's facebook status.

The Time Magazine published an article about Facebook's role in the Gaza conflict. It is almost like the people at Time have an access to my sub-conscious. (I am being lame, I know). I personally have no opinion about the overtness of Facebook activism. After all, a cynic may look at my blog picture (Save Darfur), and question its effectiveness. And rightfully so, because I am not doing anything physically to save Darfur.

The Time article talks about censorship of our thoughts, because apparently people from the opposite sides of the argument have been sending e-death threats over Facebook. Facebook does not have a strict censorship, like say YouTube. YouTube, to promote its accessibility and use all around the world, does work in association with other countries' censorship laws. For instance, in Turkey, YouTube agreed to take down a few videos, which were criticizing Kamal Ataturk, the country's secular founder.

This phenomenon is interesting because we are the first generation who is experiencing the internet and its activism.

Paging Orwellian Thought Police, right about now?!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


So, what do you do when you are missing your holidays? You ambush your friends with French songs you discovered when you were away.

In England, our mornings consisted of watching Enid Blyton cartoons (I grew up reading her books), and the news. But, in France, we almost always had their music channel on.

So here are the French songs I listened to every morning.

Toi + Moi by Gregoire: Doesn't the singer look like Justin Timberlake? Oooh-lala (I wonder, when this expression would get old). My friend, who works in Quebec, said that this song is very big in the French-speaking world, and they play it on the French radio here.

Toi et Moi by Tryo: I think, the video is very beautiful. And, the song sounds very sweet.

FM Air by Zazie: There are dressed up Indian people in the video. And, you can also see the blue Parisian street signs.

Peut-etre une Angine by ANAIS: Sounds cute!

Appelle Mon Numero by Mylene Farmer: This song drove my ageist sister insane. She believed, the singer is too old for this video. I don't care, they have maple leaves in the video. Go Canada!

Place de Wazemees by Bruno Maman: Sounds very beautiful and romantic. No idea what it's about.

It seemed that in England they were all about Leona Lewis. I don't care what people say, I find her very annoying.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

LDN 5: Cheers, Mate!


The train ride to Paris from London was comfortable. There was a German family, parents and a young boy, sitting across the aisle. The father read to his family. At first, I was enthralled by his reading voice, and thought the gesture was very sweet. But, after a while he just gave me a headache.

Piccadilly Circus & Oxford Street

Walking from Piccadilly to Oxford in the morning brought on a new found appreciation for London. After spending 6 days in Paris, London seemed very home-like. There are some parts of London that look exactly like Toronto.

Science Museum

The two major attractions for me were the Energy Hall and the Exploring Space. They actually had a room dedicated to the field of Epidemiology. After a year of explaining to people what is it that I do, I was glad to have something dedicated for my peeps. There was also a mention of insulin being discovered in Canada, but the ignorant Brits forgot to mention the university responsible for its discovery. BAH!

South Kensington

As I have mentioned before, South Kensington is my favourite London neighbourhood. I am impressed with the architecture.

Since it was our last night here, my sister and I decided to walk from Kensington to Victoria Station. From there we took the underground to Leicester Square. We walked around the city feeling sad that our vacation has come to an end. This was my first trip as an adult, where I was responsible for all the logistics. London has this hold over us, no matter how many times we visit this city, something about it feels like home.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Paris 6: We'll Always Have Paris

Today was our last day in Paris.

The morning started with us hand washing our clothes. See, technology has never been my friend. (Says the girl who has the urgency to blog about her trip, almost every day). But somehow half of the apartment's power outlets went out.

Since the Picasso Museum was just two minutes away from the apartment we were renting, we left it for our last day. It is definitely one of the best museums they have here. After today, and having visited Musee d'Orsay yesterday, I feel that Louvre is a bit overrated. Yes, Palais du Louvre's architecture is magnificent. But, the crowds, and the constant pushing and shoving really spoiled the experience. Moreover, sometimes with art you need to take your time, and let it all sink in. But, then again, you can't come to Paris, and not go to Louvre.

If I am ever in Paris again I don't think I would re-visit the Louvre. Unless the guy I am with absolutely insists. On the other hand, I guess, it would be romantic to see Cupid and Psyche's sculptures with the guy.

Yes, I clearly think Paris is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Once you learn to look beyond the urinated-littered-dog-poop-laden streets. I guess, what makes Paris romantic is its immortality. The city has not only survived the French Revolution, but also the two world wars. If I remember my history correctly, during the WW2 the plan was to bomb Paris, including its historical bridges and palaces; and the French were sending off troops to the Belgian border in their taxi cabs.

I think, another city that is right up there in the romantic-city scale is St. Petersburg. Since, the city is on a high altitude, in July, the night sky remains mystically white. So if taking a night stroll along the Baltic Sea, on the historic bridges is not romantic then I don't know what is. Speaking of which, people should definitely take a trip together before they get married. Seriously, nothing tells you how compatible the two of you are, like being stuck together in a new city. There ought to be a way where one can take a PG-13 (Halal) trip.

Look Paris has evaded me of my steel-rockiness.

I also blame Picasso's "The Kiss" (1925). It is a very romantic painting. They have a really impressive collection of Picasso's work in the Musee National Picasso. I find Picasso one of the most thought-provoking artists. I look at his work and wonder what was going through his mind, when he made these paintings. After visiting the museum I realized how truly diverse his work is. In most of his paintings, he hasn't given much attention to the women's form, or faces. So it makes me wonder what is that he saw in them. And, in some cases the only physical attribute he gives any attention to is their eyes.

In his painting, "Women at Their Toilette" (1938) he made use of multiple mediums. He copy-pasted wallpapers, and also used oil paints. In this painting he has shown several women using a hotel powder room, taking care of their business. He copy-pasted maps of the continents to show our connectedness and universality. This painting reminded me of what is going on in Gaza. The Israeli government has evacuated the foreigners from the enclaved Gaza strip. But most of these foreigners are married to to Palestinian locals. I really commend France, for being the only country that came out and explicitly condemned the killings of innocent people. I mean, it doesn't matter who is doing the killing, or who is being killed. The fight is not about religion. The important and most disturbing fact is that innocent people are dying there. Last year, when Russia attacked Georgia, the world and political leaders sternly condemned the raid. Where are these government voices right now?

I really liked the museum. It was not crowded, and Picasso's work was organized chronologically. They also have Picasso's sculptures, and a couple of Henri Matisse's paintings, from Picasso's personal collection.

I also saw a family of three young daughters. Their parents had brought them to the museum to draw. And, they were drawing Picasso's paintings. I thought it was very impressive that the parents were trying to encourage their kids to draw, and nourish their artistic skills. I remember when I was in grade school, during the summer holidays every year, my sister and I would go to our local art supplies store and buy water paints and pastels, and draw trees and other random objects. I hid behind abstract, since my technique was not as good as say my sister. Her paintings are as good, if not better than, the ones I saw at Tate Modern.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Paris 5: I'll Give You the Moon

The plan today was to walk from the Latin Quarter of Paris to Champs-Elysees.

Notre Dame

Our first stop. It is by far the most beautiful cathedral I have ever visited. The cathedral is built in the Gothic style, and it is famous for its stained glass windows and gargoyles. I especially enjoyed walking around the cathedral and admiring its architecture from the outside. It was a beautiful sunny day. The cathedral is hidden behind trees, which add to its beauty and historical elusiveness.


A Gothic royal palace, which looks a lot like the Sleeping Beauty castle they have in Disney World. During the French Revolution the palace was used as a prison. Marie Antoinette was also imprisoned here. But the museum inside the palace didn't seem worth visiting, only contained photographs from that period.

Boulevard Saint-Michel

This part of Paris has a very beautiful Gothic library. It also has one of the best shops in Paris, which are not crowded with tourists. In my opinion, comparatively, the French do have better fashion sense. I have become a fan of the way the girls wear makeup here. Instead of myriad layers of eyeshadow, they are all about the eyeliner, which looks very pretty. And, the French men dress very nicely too (Oooh-lala). Now, that I have wasted your time with a little Fashion 101, let me tell you about this beautiful jewellery store I discovered here, called Anoki. They have the most unique earrings and necklaces I have seen. I am not into ostentatious jewellery. However, I like delicate one of a kind vintage accessories. And this store just had that.

Musee d'Orsay

In my opinion, is one of the best museums they have in Paris. The museum has an excellent collection of Impressionist art by Edgar Degas, Manet, Monet, Pisarro, Sisley and Renoir. And most importantly, there were paintings by Vincet Van Gogh. I have a poster of three of Van Gogh's paintings in my room, so being only a few inches away from the originals was a very fulfilling experience. This, including London's Tate Modern, is another museum I would definitely return to if I am in Europe again.

Tour Eiffel

We saved Eiffel for our last night in Paris. Eiffel is such a simple and yet intricate structure. Simple in the sense, unlike the rest of Imperial French architecture where buildings are adorned with Greek mythological sculptures, this symbol of modern Paris is composed of one solid element. In it's simplicity there is beauty. In spite of the cold, the view from the top was breathtaking.

Arc de Triomphe

It is a monument honouring those who lost their lives in the Napoleon war. To be honest, this structure is not that different from say Marble Arch, in London. But it was one of those places I guess you have to visit when you are in Paris; so we obliged.


The street looked beautiful at night, with the glittering lights, and the crowd. This is probably the one time in Paris, I didn't mind the crowd so much. In spite of it being 10(ish)PM, most of the shops were open. Including the dazzling Disney Store, and a few auto showrooms.

In London, I was impressed with the Audis I saw parked in the streets of Westminster. Reminded me of the Audi they had in Iron Man. But in France, most of the cars are compact, and hence more fuel efficient. I didn't get a chance to see any gas stations in Paris, but the gas prices in London were very high. This is because the European governments put a much higher tax burden on oil than the US and Canadian governments. Plus, considering the impressive parallel parking stunts they pull here, I would prefer a small gas efficient car over a luxurious vehicle any day. In this economy who has the money to buy an expensive car! But I have to admit they are not bad to look at.

Concorde Metro Station

There is a monument outside the station that marks the place where Marie Antoinette was publicly humiliated and hung. There is also a fountain here that pays homage to the innocent lives lost during the French Revolution.

At this point before entering the station to go to our apartment, I, embarrassingly enough, turned around to take the Eiffel in for one last time, and look at the beautiful Parisian moon, for one last time. God knows, when I would be back here again...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Paris 4: The City of Light

Since today all the museums and most of the shops were closed, the plan was to visit buildings and parks.

Hotel des Invalides

Our first stop of the day. Another building commissioned by Louis XIV for disabled war veterans. Louis XIV wanted to look after the soldiers who fought for France. It has a beautiful structure, and he also built a chapel for the veterans. The chapel was later turned into a burial place for French notables. Napoleon Bonaparte is also entombed here, and the dome is called Dome des Invalides. Yes, the French are very clever with the names. Again, I was very impressed by the architecture and the courtyard. Inside the building they also have French artillery and weapons from the 18th century and the two world wars. When we were there in the morning, it was very quiet and ironically enough I found it peaceful, walking through the facility's passages and looking at the canons and tanks, which were used to kill so many.

Jardin du Luxembourg

We took the bus for the first time, in Paris, to get to Jardin du Luxembourg. It is a the largest park in Paris built in the 17th century by Queen Medicis for the royalty's private use. The park was open to the public in the 19th century. There are sculptures of Beethoven, and the French royalty in the park. The French Senate, the Luxembourg Place, is also adjacent to the park. The replica of the Statue of Liberty, which the French sculptor Bartholdi used, in designing the one in New York, is also present here. And in spite of the freezing cold and barren trees the park looked beautiful. There is history everywhere in Paris. We saw Parisians jogging, and playing ping pong, and you can't help yourself from wondering what does it feel like to live in the midst of all this history?


After Luxembourg we decided to walk aimlessly and admire the architecture. But somehow we ended up at Pantheon, which was on our list of places to see in Paris. Pantheon is a burial ground built in the 19th century. The building has Greek columns. It was here Foucault performed his pendulum experiment to show that the earth rotates around its own axis. Much to my sister's delight, the building was closed, so we didn't have to climb the stairs to go in.


Usually when we go to a new city we try to explore it on our own, and avoid the touristy cruises, bus rides or guides. But this time around I had planned to take a cruise along the Seine River. The only other time we took a guide tour was when I went to Oxford with my siblings. My dad wanted us to learn about the history of the colleges. He hoped, it would inspire us to do great things in life :). Taking the cruise in a chilly night was a great idea, it kept us warm. It also gave us an opportunity to learn more about the city's history.

I clearly fell in love with Paris. Prior to taking this trip, I didn't really believe all the jargon you hear about Paris being the most romantic city. But, seeing Paris and going under its ancient bridges could turn even a steel-hearted person, such as yours truly, into a mush. Being with my quasi-engineer sister I have learned to appreciate the skills that are required in constructing bridges. It was amazing to see that they were able to build the bridges with such excessive artistic abilities in the 17th and 18th centuries. I guess, when the British were busy spending their resources on colonization, the French spent the money on improving Paris's architecture.

Whilst waiting in the line to board our cruise ship, I noticed how the Europeans have no sense of personal space. Throughout this trip we have been constantly getting pushed around, and got elbowed to move. During the huge line ups people stand very close to each other. Where in North America we are all about guarding our personal space; you would never see people standing too close to each other, even during the rush hour commute. When a North American gets on the subway he or she wouldn't sit next to an occupied seat, but would instead prefer to stand. We are very aware of our personal spaces and distances. I don't know if it is because Europe is a crowded continent, compared to our measly continent with only three countries, and since people like Palin (oh, how I miss her) usually forget about Mexico's existence, the third one doesn't really matter :).

But, I have to admit my sister has transformed into an European. When they push her, she reciprocates the gesture. I remember last year when we went to Pakistan alone, we were stuck at the immigration, because we were being our Canadian-cordial-selves, and were clearly lacking our Asian/Old World innateness to push and move forward in the line to get our passports stamped. My family had to wait for us outside the Karachi airport for two hours. But, I think if we ever go to Pakistan again, my sister should be okay, because this trip really taught her to use her elbow for the greater good.

P.S. I have attached a picture of one of the 100 sculptures I saw in the park. This dude's female admirer adorned his sculpture with the flowers to show her affection for him. People don't show affection like this anymore. Even the act of burning CDs to express feelings has become so last decade. BAH!