Travel – an idea?

As I was reading the guidelines for submissions of travel articles to a magazine, it was mentioned that a place is not just an idea. Agree NOT.

Travel or a place is what someone makes of it and what someone wants out of it.

Someone who is looking to visit a place may be looking for exact information like recommendations on what to see and do, hotels and restaurants. That is of course what makes a guide to visiting a place.

But, many a time it is the ephemeral mention of an experience that hooks you and makes you want to visit there, maybe, one day in your life.

It could be —

The glare of the Bolivian salt flats, white to the eye as far as the eye can see.

The sun rising on the Ganges in Varanasi, bathing you in sunlight as your boat glides along with the world starting to stir around you.

The scent of lemons that are a size larger than your head as you behold the deep blue Mediterranean at each twist and turn of a narrow road.

Floating on water in the Dead Sea without moving a limb.

The giggle of children in Bhutan as they stop and stare at you, having never seen another person in those parts who they haven’t known all their lives.

Walking in a bazaar knowing full well that you can’t see all of it in one day, or many.

A cheetah licking your hand and you are calmer than you’ve ever been.

An island that is white and blue all over.

Walking on a glacier and hearing the gush of water beneath your feet.

Sharing a meal with a family with a small pocket but a large heart, who lives on a boat and shares their meager meal of fish that was freshly caught from a contaminated river then deep fried.

Conquering your fear, jumping into a waterfall and feeling the thrill of it.

Making your way to a village that is only reachable by water even in this day and age.

Staring with wonder at the freshest green of the forest surrounding you and the clearest of water under you where you can make out each rock on the river bed.

Arriving at 1am and discovering that your stay for the night is at the perfect location but with a broken bed.

Being surrounded by fish in the brightest hues of yellow, orange and red with coral beneath your bare feet.

Marveling at the engineering of centuries’ old structures that have stood the test of time.

Feeling the teeth of a shark inches away from your face as you shiver in frigid waters.

Seeing cherry blossoms in full bloom, for real.

Witnessing penguins come out of the sea at dusk.

Hiking for miles on an unkempt track where the views more than make up for the lack of human contact.

Feeling a warmth all over you, of the serendipity of finding a restaurant perched on a cliff, with a perfect view, warm hospitality and home cooked food. Way better than all the restaurants you tried from your guide book.

Believing, that a sunset may be a sunset but it is different from every corner of the earth.

So, Ms./Mr. Editor, travel may not be an idea but that’s really where it begins. And that’s really most what matters when it’s all said and done.

That lovely feeling

I have a feeling it kicks in at the airport, draws me in – maybe it’s something in the air or just being there, with my bags, going somewhere. Where everyone is there to just get on their plane or is getting off it.

The hedonistic feel of leaving it all behind, if only for a few days or weeks. Not that your real life sucks, but getting away from seeing mail that is just more bills, dishes to be washed, food to be cooked and getting up each morning to go to work is a godsend once in a while.

It is very likely that when you travel somewhere, you fall so in love with the place that you start wondering how it would be to live there. It’s like your first love, when you met for the first time. No presumptions, prejudices or expectations, just happy to be there, in the moment.

There are many factors that get us thinking on these lines.  And the reason this works is that we push behind all other logical reasoning around why living there as compared to visiting may not be such a grand idea after all.

1. The weather is divine.

Chances are that the weather is nice, since you probably chose to be there during such a time. At this time, you are not thinking about the harshest weather conditions there, the chilly winds or the sun singeing your skin.

Or, you’re expecting it. There better be a good amount of snow the weekend you plan to go skiing there.

2. It is beautiful.

It’s so beautiful, of course it is. You saw so many breathtaking pictures of the place that it practically sucked you there by sheer physical force. Probably don’t get this view from the window of your suburban home, do you?

3. Being carefree

Days on end when all you have to think about is where to eat your next meal or what else you want in that omelet at breakfast or how to fill the rest of the day. The wind blowing in your hair as you take on one coastline after another, one beach chair after another.

It is far away from the humdrum of a rented or mortgaged life. The bed is always made and the meals are always served.

4. Just me/us two

No distractions of social appointments or commitments and all the time to spare with each other and then some. Or with the friends you chose to be there with.

This is your time to read a book on the beach or sleep or take long walks, take on more museums than gelato or watch the sun go down for any amount of time. To humor yourself in any way you plan to.

5. No time-table

The clock’s not ticking to get you out of bed, the morning commute does not exist. No rush, no routine. Unless you have a full day of fun activities planned of course.

6. Novelty

There are those who don’t like things much different from what they are used to. But for most of the human race, novelty does actually rock their boat. It may be an infinitesimal happiness but it will attach itself to a crevice of your subconscious mind and come back to you at random moments to make you smile.

Sometimes, it’s the food you try. The squid ink pasta that you never tried back home or the dish that you can’t even pronounce the name of but absolutely love or the tacos off the street that you are so scared to see the outcome of but will give in to.

At other times, it’s the new experiences. Snorkeling in clear blue waters, hand gliding over a city, diving with sharks, rubbing a koala bear or boarding over desert dunes. All the times that add up to “remember that time when we..?”

On our travels we also meet new people and discover more about the place, sometimes even forge friendships with them.

Maybe we are just clinging on for a little bit more, and really, why not?

And matches are made in heaven

This discourse is not to justify the notion of arranged marriages. I have gone from being flabbergastingly against the concept to feeling more ambivalent about it in recent times. So, I want to examine the rubik’s cube of this centuries old concept that still exists in India to see what the society, parents and families were thinking about.

1) The dating scene

To know why and how arranged marriages came about, one must understand India and its landscape culturally a little more than from the heights of the Taj Mahal.

Until recent years, kids in India did not date. It was frowned upon, the girl was especially seen as a sleaze and the very act of dating and spending time together was seen as something wrong. 

I was travelling in Europe 15 years ago when I told an American woman that there were no malls where we lived, she said ‘Really? Where do kids hang out?’ I could argue that malls are not the only place that kids should hang out, but there were also no parks to boot or another place where kids could actually just hang.

Cell phones were not common until about 10 years ago, not every kid had their own and texting was not second nature to kids.

So, hindered by such factors, I don’t know..how else would you meet someone!

2) Marriageable age

The society in India has this theory and expectation – that everything should be done by a certain age in your life.

Which translates for men to find a job and with some leeway get married. For the ladies, you need to be ‘settled down’ and on your way to making babies. I would say, at about the age of 23 is when parents start going into panic mode for their little girl to tie the knot. And god forbid, if you haven’t had kids by the ripe old age of 30. Then, you have problems. It’s just assumed.

Practically in a way, there is some sense to it. A woman’s biological clock is ticking and the more they delay the process of conceiving a child, the more issues they and the baby could experience as time goes on.

On the other hand, one is not mature to even know themselves at 23. You may not know what you want from life, much less what you want from a life partner. And settling for someone because the clock’s ticking is not what is going to keep a marriage afloat for the next 50 odd years.

If you have met someone early on in life, then it’s great that you are able to travel together and spend some quality time together before kids arrive on the scene. But again, you just can’t do it because the time is right with a person who’s not right for you.

3) Social strata

Apart from the class system there are also different social strata that are based on your lineage and how much money your father makes. Arranged marriage is society’s way of ensuring that the daughter will we ‘well looked after’ and her way of life will closely mirror her life before she got married. That all her financial needs will be met and money will not be a glaring issue in their marriage.

On the son’s side, it hopes to ensure that their wife was brought up in similar social circles and has the same mannerisms as are expected of women in his family.

Of course, the husband or family having money does not ensure that she will have the financial freedom to spend it and that will not have to justify each purchase. But, one hopes that with enough money in the family, this will not happen.

4) Culture

Being as culturally diverse as India is, every state speaks a different language, eats different food and sometimes even prays to a different god.

Arranged marriage is their way of ensuring that along with adjusting to a new home and family, the woman will additionally not have to go through the effort of learning and changing the very basic that makes up the fabric of her system.

In modern times where joint families are not as commonplace, two people from diverse backgrounds can come together and make it work if they both make their way toward each other and not cling to all they have known their entire lives up until now and try to create an amalgamated family and future together.

5) Looks

This one has a few facets.

With not much else to go by, the first impressions are definitely based on looks. Many a photo is passed upon because the girl or guy doesn’t meet the criteria of good looks. Some factors here are just impressed upon people’s minds, the girl has to be ‘fair’, short enough to be shorter than the guy but tall enough to be about 2-3 inches within his height, thin and just generally beautiful. No matter that she is never going to see the face of a runway and strut her stuff down it, but she will most definitely be showed off to friends, family and foes – that you can be assured of.

The guy’s looks are sometimes compromised upon if he has a lot of money. Sometimes, parents actually recognize that their prince or princess is not all that and go for someone with similar looks too.

If a girl is beautiful, a guy will compromise on money/education or the other umpteen factors to bring her home.

You only have to read one of the many matrimonial advertisements in newspapers or online today to get a laugh out of people’s requirements of looks!

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Arranged marriage thought about the fundamentals of marriage and tried to take care of those. But, that’s all these are – fundamentals. And this is where the system can be seen as flawed, especially given today’s lifestyle and generation.

It may be seen as a way for protective parents to ensure that their child has a great married life ahead but when based on a mere set of shallow factors, it is really not perpetrating the elements that a marriage is made up of in reality.

Arranged marriage can be a way to introduce two young people if they so wish, but parents and families need to realize that the pressure that ensues thereafter to sign the dotted line is not going to do anyone any good in the long run.

There are strong undercurrents in each marriage that cannot be signed through a pre-nup, that have to be lived through and worked upon to make things work. And that is something no one can do other than the two people that make up the marriage.

Fall 2013 Trends

Labor Day is now upon us which means the end of summer is near (sigh!). We can no longer put off talking about fall fashion, we’re already thinking about how to layer up our summer clothes and stores are stocked up to their necks in fall wear.

So, what are you going to wear? What trends should you look out for?
Plaid? That’s so last year (except if you live in A&F).

The top trends to watch out for this fall are —

1) Color:

Color is not going anywhere any time soon. The more the merrier — and who wants to be drab and dull all through the bleak winter months anyway. I say, bring it on!

Color Wheel
Vero Moda hi low dress, $60 / Alice + Olivia sleeveless shirt / Wallis blue jacket / Love 21 skinny jeans / Madewell shorts / Floral skater skirt

2) Leather:

Leather is creeping into clothing in bits and pieces adding polish. It’s no longer just about leather leggings. There are strips, pieces and sleeves in tops and dresses that make them edgier.

Leather
 

Lacy dress / Leather sleeve top / Bardot peplum top, $36 / Topshop jumpsuit / Zara skirt

3) Camo:

Everyone has camo pieces for this fall (JCrew, Asos, Forever21 to name a few). This is not the Ducky Dynasty variety, it’s styled from the ubiquitous utility jacket to stilettos, dresses and bags.

Camo
Tripp lace bustier / Camouflage jacket, $57 / J.Crew vest / Madewell super skinny jeans / Forever 21 hi lo chiffon skirt / Steve Madden sneaker wedge shoes / River Island strap high heel sandals, $93 / J.Crew woolen scarve / 2b military style cap / Full Tilt camo sunglasses

Weekend Dressy

Your never ending conundrum this summer: can I wear shorts and be comfortable or wear a skirt and be dressy, is finally over.

No, not skorts. We don’t do skorts. I’m still coming to terms with skorts and they’re not my best friend yet.

Enter flowy shorts that give you the best of both worlds. Casual chic and still so lounge-y.

Weekend Dressy

The basic that’s hiding in your wardrobe..

There is a color, beyond black, grey and white. A color that goes with just about anything in your wardrobe. A color that you haven’t noticed all this while..

And, it is none other than Blue!

I kid you not, this color will match most anything that you currently own. So go on, mix it, match it and contrast it to create new outfits from clothes that you already own.

blue

Alice + Olivia sleeveless shirt / Madewell / Wallis going out shirt / Boohoo pussy bow blouse / Blue top / Oasis sleeve less shirt, $43 / Topshop crop shirt / River Island blue jacket, $69 / Diane Von Furstenberg / Pink Tartan skirt / Karl Lagerfeld / J.Crew long skirt / Hot pants / Warehouse long skirt, $23 / Skinny jeans, $21 / Pull&Bear printed trousers, $15

The Vanity of Venice

Venice – a city that beguiles and draws you into its long arms until you never want to leave.

One feels like they are in a delusion, stuck in a time warp, in a place where there are no streets, no cars. Only sidewalks along canals, like a theater set where even the street lamps and window frames are pretty.

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As you walk along its winding canals, every turn holds a different view. With buildings more than centuries old and sights a plenty that take your breath away you don’t want to miss a single thing wandering through the annals of this grand façade.

The areas around the Rialto bridge and San Marco hold enough beauty on their own, but one must wander away and into the other sestieres to get the full gist of Venice. Stepping off at a random stop near Castello or Cannaregio will bring you to deserted squares and quiet corners near canals. It’s like claiming your very own piece of Venice and feeling her resounding beat.

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St. Mark’s Square has the cathedral and Dogee’s palace and views of the Grand Canal, but it is also teeming with tourists at all times of the day. Many of these are day trippers, stopping over for a click with the pigeons and a look through the cathedral before they move on. They see a glimpse of this magnificent city but not everything hiding under its many layers.

St Mark's Square

One’s experience of Venice is definitely incomplete when viewed from land alone. Gondolas and the Vaporetto (Venice’s water bus system) No. 1 takes you through the Grand Canal. The views on the vaporetto don’t come unencumbered compared to those from a gondola but it is a worthy option if you are not willing to shell out the big bucks or think it’s too cliched.

Most restaurants around this area cater blatantly to tourists with large sized menus printed in six common languages and almost the same offerings everywhere. I say blatantly because elsewhere in Venice restaurants also cater mostly to tourists, since Venice itself exists mainly for tourists. The cost of living in Venice is so high – with the taxes and costs of maintenance of the buildings constantly eroded by the salt sea air that most people have moved out into the mainland around Venice.

Travel guides usually advise you that looking for addresses in Venice is a pain. So if one is staying at a B&B or a smaller hotel, they should print a map beforehand with written instructions from the vaporetto stop they will be walking from.

Although I took with me many lists of recommended restaurants, we only ever attempted to look up one for lunch and chanced upon another for dinner. We were in the same sestiere as the aforementioned restaurant and attempted the feat of locating this place. We asked for directions at least 5 times and they sounded something like ‘take a right after the second bridge, then keep walking and take the third left near the big red building’. By the time you got to the third left or right you were confused again as the lane had wounded in a different direction. When we did finally make it, we were greeted with the freshest pasta at Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta to go.

When you have had your fill of wandering through Venice, take a break and head to the islands of Murano and Burano – tiny outliers of Venice. They are even more touristic as you will find their single town square and sidewalks filled with overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants but offer a slightly different landscape from Venice. Burano is the prettier of the two with row upon row of vividly colored houses. It is said that the fishermen who originally occupied this island painted their houses in bright colors to find their way back home easily. Another theory is that the government at the time dictated the color you had to paint your house.

The weather took a turn for the worse while we were in Venice, dropping to temperatures 15 degrees cooler than it usually is in the summer and became windy and rainy. We deflected this by layering up and downing cup upon cup of espresso. The rain turned the landscape even more magical as everything glistened in the aftermath and people deftly passed each other trying to avoid their umbrellas from colliding.

In conversation with a girl who was Venetian (because of course the citizens of Venice deem themselves too special to be called Italian!) stayed in Venice for three years while she studied arts and language there. Making a move to the mainland, she mentioned that she felt that life in Venice was unreal – there were no cars, people walked everywhere and one was surrounded by tourists all year round. She was getting used to her commute from Mestre but felt that she had stepped into the real world.

This preference of people born or living in Venice to being addressed as Venetians rather than Italians stems from history. Venice was a maritime power of Europe, the only such center of its kind that owned ships and an equivalent of the modern day navy. Consequently, they also controlled trade routes. It was occupied by the most affluent of merchants and a lot of wealth flowed through here, some of which can be seen till today in the opulence of the palaces along the Grand Canal.

Although this was my second time visiting Venice I was drawn in more rather than getting that bored swat of having been there, done that and seen everything worth seeing. On my first visit, I was one of those flighty day trippers happy to see the pigeons at St. Mark’s square, take a gondola ride, see a glassblowing workshop and sum it up as my vision of Venice. I was also the teenager who begged my dad to please take the gondolier back home and give him a job!

This time, wandering idly through the sidewalks was a magical experience.

As we bid adieu, like an aristocratic lady she tosses her head and surveys her splendor and leaves you wanting for more as you depart its shores wanting to linger just a little bit longer.