Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Una Fetta di Fantasia

A Slice of Fantasy. *That's* how my trip to Italy was. Covering 4 cities and 1 country (The Vatican) in 5 days, and having a blast every minute of those days, is nothing short of a fantasy. Of course, given my manic obsessive self, I'm surprised how it even got covered so well so fast. Therefore, I begin this post with a huge hug to the four girls I shared this fantasy with. Had I traveled alone, I may have still landed up stranded at midnight in Florence, lived in a campsite in Venice, overdosed on Sangria in Milan and navigated through the streets of Rome.....but it wouldn't have been half as fun as it was doing ALL of this with you guys. :) So I-M, Potate and Fiery-Nair (yes, that's your new blog-name. I got tired of calling you Ash like a wannabe Aishwarya Rai groupie), I hope reading this post brings back lots of great memories.

We packed off, switched three trains and traveled through Switzerland to reach our first destination - Milano. Other than the fact that I absolutely *loved* the facade of Milano Centrale, the main station (It has nothing to do with the fact that they have a huge poster of half-naked Nadal advertising Armani jeans -nosirree.), the station represented the city itself - Glamorous and Gigantic. Whether it was exploring the city by tram or walking through the famous Galleria Vittorio (which houses all the famous Italian fashion brands), Milan took the prize for being a perfect blend of Modernity and History. It was like flipping a page of Roman Civilization and landing at FTV. But the food -ah! From Pizzas that could give tablecloths an inferiority complex (for the sheer size....not the texture or any other bizarre reason you may have thought of as you read the line), to fruity Granitas and Sangria. The eye-candy (Ahem, henceforth referred to as Pakodas) were aplenty. And the lilt in the accent of every Milanese (is that a dog-breed or am I allowed to use it for people of Milan?) was so endearing, we ended up speaking to each other like wannabe Italian Mafia with huge mustaches and cigars. (Read: Tom Hanks' dialogue in You've Got Mail, where he goes 'Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Wednesday')

From Milan, we went to Venice. Expecting singing Gondola-men and beautiful little rivulets which can lead you to undisclosed pieces of heaven, I went to Venice with an overload of Romantic movies in my mind. I discovered soon enough that The Gondola-men don't sing. Not even if you glare down at them from a bridge(The honeymooning couple sitting in that Gondola did glare back, though.) We found ourselves a little place in the tourist hustle and bustle, and threw our feet in the Adriatic Sea with a view of the Venetian Skyline (or a bit of it, at least). Watching the many many channels of water meandering through a city that practically floats, I was lost to its charms. So I didn't find Venice as romantic as my Mills-and-Boon infested imagination had expected it to be. But it wasn't disillusioning either. It's one city I'd love to go back, just to explore all those little canals, leading to what they would call their home, but I'd call a floating fantasy.

Venice led us on further to Florence. The city I will most probably end up when I'm old and need to write those books I keep talking about. I *loved* Florence from the very beginning. The yellowed buildings (which would have reminded a less romantic me of Jaundice) made me think of sunshine and old pages from a history book. Watching the silvery Arno river wind its path through the heart of the city, I decided that I'd go back and find myself a house and live happily ever after here.

From Florence, we went to Rome. Now the only plan I had in Rome was to steal coins from the Fontana dell'Amore (because, of course, *that's* how one finds true love. If you're cynical about it, go watch When in Rome.). Instead of finding the fountain (which turned out to be fictitious, by the way. Sigh.), I found a city that is so quaint, it's like going into a parallel time-frame. The cobblestone streets, the marble beauty of Pantheon, La Piazza Espagna and Fontana di Trevi and little cafes that dot the entire city made me wonder how people can even live normal lives in this city. If it were me, I'd be constantly wandering around town, discovering a new marvel each day. (Yes, because having lived in one of the most historically beautiful capitals in the world, New Delhi, I haven't had the time to even go to Lodhi Gardens, and here I hatch plans to Wander in Rome.)

Rome prodded us towards the Vatican, which, true to the cinematography of Angels and Demons (which I saw *after* my trip to Italy), is magnificent. Of course, winking at the Swiss Guard was not exactly the kind of behaviour the papal decree would expect.....but ah, that *was* fun!

This brought us back to Milan, which led us homeward through Switzerland again. The journey held with it, a potluck of memories from every city that's unforgettable. Sitting for hours in a fountain outside a castle (Castello) in Milan and watching life whoosh by. Searching an entire city for Hot Chocolate, but finding it in a campsite outside Venice and relishing every sip. Missing the last bus in Florence and walking along the empty, sleeping streets. Holding maps and trying to find the shortest path to any destination in Rome, but getting lost and discovering better places instead. Meeting strangers in trains, weaving stories of strangers not met in trains. Watching the beautiful lakes of Switzerland melting perfectly into the Alps. This trip truly was - Una Fetta di Fantasia.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Phabulous Phoren

So I'm now Phoren-Returned. After having spent a refreshingly long summer 'abroad', I feel the need to proclaim to the world that I too, have a slightly blurry, but very dark stamp on my passport from the Immigrations office at IGI airport, New Delhi. Of course, my first Phoren experience was when I went to Singapore at the age of fourteen, but that didn't quite count because:
a) We flew Air India (which had more Indians in it than I would find in Sarojini Nagar).
b) We stayed in Little India (which, again, reminded me of Gandhi bazaar in Bangalore for some bizarre reason).
and c) We ate primarily in Indian restaurants. (It was at least better than going to McDonald's and asking them to give us burgers without the meat patties....which we did a fair number of times before resorting to Indian food.)

So yes, Singapore? Fun Phoren destination, but never made me feel Phoren-returned.

Let's get back on the widely oscillating trajectory of the post, then, shall we? Today, I truly feel Phoren-returned. For a wide range of unfathomable reasons that I've tried really hard to convince my parents with...but hasn't entirely worked.

I am jet-lagged. Have been for the past week or so. And I suddenly feel the urge of using words from a phoren language when I'm particularly exasperated or excited. I also feel like I should turn up my nose at the pizzas in India because I've sampled the tastes from their ancestors and I have friends on my facebook profile who do not share my ethnicity, nationality or colour.

See what two years in Delhi has done to me? Freshly Post-Graduated and I'm already acting like a typical Delhite who won't think twice before proclaiming to the world about being phoren-returned and having made contacts-shontacts. But it's fun to live this vibrant life, given that my past few months are going to be the fodder for many daydreams in the coming months, until I find myself a path...which we shall delve into later.

Details? Well, I went to Germany for a three month summer program working with people having Autism Spectrum Disorders. Social Inclusion was our primary motive and in the process, I got the opportunity to observe a vast range of therapeutic techniques that is being used for people with various types of mental disabilities. Before this begins to resemble a Statement of Purpose, I'll drive home the point that it was a mind blowing experience for me. Not only did it strengthen my career ambitions to work in this field, but gave me direction and perspective that should hopefully, tide me through the next couple of months ridden with utter joblessness.

That being said, I spent a huge amount of time this summer travelling. Finally, the word 'travelling' in the 'Interests' section can hold some solid ground. The one question that most people bombarded me with on my return was (Hang on...I like how that sentence sounds! Almost as if paparazzi was waiting outside IGI airport with mikes and cameras, eagerly asking me...haha. Right. Moving on.) 'Did I like Phoren more than India?'

Honestly? I definitely liked the Phoren. Sure, the population density is far less claustrophobic, the public transport is cleaner, if not more punctual. The scenery is more post-cardish. The nights are eerily quieter. In fact, the nights are much shorter, given that the sun would only reluctantly retire at 10.30 and promptly wake up at 4.30. There was some sense of safety as well, I suppose, given that we were stranded in Florence at 1 in the morning and I didn't really feel the urge of running to the nearest Police station. And of course, there was the definite aura of being in a 'developed' country, as a lay and under-read follower of economics would put it.

But being in Phoren-land didn't deter me from playing the National Anthem on a piano in the city center. It didn't stop me from talking to complete strangers in a Cathedral in Milan, and later in a campsite in Venice just because they were Kannadigas and I felt like I should socialize. (See how I keep dropping hints about where all I went so innocuously? The posts that will follow will reek of narcissism, my friend. This is but a gentle reminder of the fact.) It didn't stop my friends and me from loudly conversing in Hindi wherever we went, knowing very well that heads would turn and ears would prick up. (Incidentally, I discovered that Indians are everywhere. In fact, we climbed over 580 steps to touch the peak of cathedral at Cologne, just to see someone having scribbled something in Tamil on the walls there. And don't get me started on the graffiti in Hindi I found on the Berlin wall.) It didn't stop me from flicking the cheese and crackers from my airline meals, because I didn't feel like eating them at that moment. It certainly didn't deter me from singing songs out loud in the rain, because it would be something I would do in India, and Phoren was no different.

When the stewardess brought my fantastic phoren journey to a halt by announcing 'We welcome you to New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport..the outside temperature is 36 degrees', I couldn't wait to be enveloped by the stifling humid air and the claustrophobic dense population and the cacophony and chaos of the city.....I came home.

Apparently, you can inject any amount of Phoren-ness into my passport, but you can never take out the Indian from me. Before I start sounding like an over-patriotic 'phoren-returned' phool and start singing Vande Mataram, I will conclude this post. This is just a teaser, an introduction to a summer that is going to be chronicled on this blog for the lack of better things to do. Also, because I like to show off a little bit.

P.S. Speaking of Vande Mataram, have you seen the 'Jaya Hey' video released by The Times group? It contains all the verses to our national anthem composed by Tagore. It's been sung by people all over the country and is total goosebumps-throat-drying-I-crying worthy. And promise, not because I have a sudden surge of patriotism in me or anything.