Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Scenes from a Marriage: Going to the Tate

Long post. At your own risk.

“Why are you here?”

Saturday morning. The sun is actually around though who knows for how long. Bill’s reading one of his logic books. Moi just got off the phone with partner in Barcelona.

“You are just depressed because your mad Spanish partner called and you have to work”

“First of all, he is Italian, not Spanish. Second, he is not mad. He is just funny. And no, I don’t have to work. He called because he had some questions on some analysis we had done. All cleared.”

“Oh ok”


“I don’t know, ok? I am also trying to figure this out”

“Yeah? Like how?”

“It is not ideal. But maybe we should get used to it only”

“You think so?”

“You have a better idea?”

“Well, we can always pretend”

“We can pretend that the other person does not exist?”

“Something like that”

“How exactly do I pretend that you are not here when you are here talking to me?”

“So you don’t want me to talk to you?”

“That’s not what I said”


“See, I don’t like it too much too. It is more than a little claustrophobic. I mean, we had it all, didn’t we? Our own lives, mutually exclusive friends, lovely weekends together, everything one could ask for. How did we end up this way?”

“You tell me”


“It is all very strange. Like last Thursday when L called you about Edinburgh”

“I know. It was damn strange. I mean, she was like hey, do you guys want to come up for Easter. And she barely knows you right? But just because we are together, she feels like she has to invite you also”

“Yeah man. At least we told her only you are going. Good. And remember when MR was here a couple of weeks ago. What were you doing with us then?”

“I see what you mean but MR is not a good data point. I always tag along with MR as you are guaranteed good food”

“That’s there, I guess”

“I think though for people to treat us as two separate beings, we have to make it a point to remind them that. It is sort of expected that if you are some sort of a couple, you do everything together. Which we don’t and we happen to have real lives without each other, so we have to make sure people know that”

“True enough. But its not just that right? Its not other people. The fact is we do live under the same roof”

“Yes, we do but think of it like you have a roomie.”

“You forget that I have lived alone for the past four years”

“Yeah, I see that. But even for me, its quite bad”

“I don’t understand what your clothes are doing in my closet for instance”

“I know. I come home at night and for some reason, you are around. And then I realize its not just for the weekend”

“It is terrible. What are we to do?”

“I don’t know. We should probably make trips alone, I guess”

“You know what? Lets try this. Today, we won’t go together to the museum as we planned. We go solo”

“That would be nice. Maybe we should just go to different Tates”

“No because both of us have seen Tate Britain and we want to go to Modern”

“Well okay, I will do some work and then leave. You go now only”

“Good idea”

An hour later, I found myself chatting up with a nice, Jamaican guy by St Marylebone church (a few blocks from home), and hogging delicious rum cakes by the dozen (that he was selling) when I see Bill heading in my direction.


“What are you doing here? You were going to the Tate”

“So were you”

“I decided to walk some and then take the tube”

“So did I”

“You want some rum cake?”

“Of course”

High on rum, we said bye to Jamaican cake-seller, promised that we will back next week to get the ginger relish that he told us was amazing, and walked together down Harley Street towards Oxford Circus. (We might or might not have rang some of the Patient Bells that we saw on the way.) By the time we reached Oxford Street, the alcohol started wearing off.

“Zara! I need to shop”

“Oh no”

“Oh yes. Anyway we weren’t supposed to be together”

“Right. Ok then.”

“You taking the tube now?”

“I think I will. You don’t stay here forever ok? The museum will close otherwise”

“No, it won’t. Tate is open till 10 PM on Saturdays”

“Really? Cool”

“Yeah, bye”

What’s with this place anyway? Every store gets repeated after a block. I had just spent an hour shopping at Zara, Next, H&M and Clarks and here they are all over again! I mean, yeah Oxford Street and Regent Street are two separate streets but they are right next to each other and they even intersect. This whole comedy of putting stores right next to each other seems suspiciously like something the Americans would do to minimize the level of physical activity needed to get to a store but hello, this is the civilized world. The buses do not stop at every block here; like other self-respecting countries, they stop once every kilometre. Or is it that the city is so darned small that there is nowhere else they can have all these stores? Maybe I should just walk to Tate. I am already in Piccadilly Circus, I just have to cross the river somewhere. Wait, what about lunch? Its 3 PM! Hmm, I will go to Chinatown and get a tube from Leicester Sq or something. Which way is that now? There are only nine different directions that you can go from this intersection. No wonder they call it a Circus. Btw, is it just me, or does everyone else also keep looking for members of the Drones Club when in the vicinity of Piccadilly? Anyway, I will go this way and see where it goes. Noel Coward. Theater district. Should be heading in the right direction only. And what’s that? Pather Panchali? Curzon’s the name of the place. Maybe some sort of film festival going on? No, looks like they randomly screen old movies. Also screening Babel. No point. Wait, this is Chinatown, there’s the arch. Now, where can I have some good dim sum? Easy. Just look for real Chinese people inside restaurants. No, no, no, yes, there are many Chinese people in here. But it looks so garish. Dragon red everywhere. It’s so like one of those X of India places. It has lots of Chinese junta though, I will go in only.

“Yes, just me. Table for, wait. I have a table already”

“What are you doing here? Are you following me?”

“She follows me in and then asks me if I am following her. Who is following whom?”

“You were taking the tube from Oxford Circus to Southwark to go the Tate. How did you get to Chinatown?”

“You only said the Tate doesn’t close till 10. So I decided to walk. And you won’t believe this – I was generally walking and I saw this movie theatre screening guess what?”

“Yeah, yeah. We non-Bongs can read too, you know”

“Really? I would never have known. So anyway, I thought since it’s a long time since I have seen the movie I will go in and watch the movie. It just ended and I came here to have some dim sum”

“And how come you chose this particular restaurant?”

“I followed the Chinese. They do have awesome dim sum. Here, check this out”

High on dim sum, we walked together to Trafalgar Square. We figured out plan - Bill would walk along the embankment and cross one of the bridges while I would head to Charing Cross and take a tube from there. We said goodbye and I walked to Charing Cross where I saw directions to Waterloo station. Waterloo station is on the other side of the river. So there is some sort of a walkway? Under the river? Have to try this out. So I followed directions and a couple of minutes later, found myself on a bridge! Very cool looking footbridge next to a couple of rail bridges, it looked cable-stayed – the decks were suspended from fans of steel rods and were supported from below by six or seven pylons. The decks were also somehow connected to (also supported by?) the pillars of the railway bridge – all very innovative. The fans of steel rods reminded me of that huge cable-stayed bridged in that pretentious city by the river - Bidyashagar shethu as Bill would call it. Hang on, where is the man when you need him? We need to figure out this whole bridge mechanism. It looks pretty cool. Oh btw, why are there so many people here? Skyline? Yeah, right. London has a skyline. Please let us not get into that again. Any place with water and lights look nice when the sun goes down. So? Anyway, time to hurry. Its nearly 5 PM. Oh, I can walk on the bank here – its pretty neat. They seem to have some decent restaurants and stuff. And what is that I see? People selling discount books? Oh shoot, they are packing up.

Travelling the World! Six-in-one illustrated Theroux! The Great Railway Bazzar, The Old Patagonian Express, The Kingdom by the Sea, Sunrise with Seamonsters, Riding the Iron Rooster and Down the Yangtze. And illustrated! So yes, I own three of them but I can always sell them on eBay or something. Should buy only. Right then, in total C-movie style:

“You know what? I saw it first”

“Really? Then you can pay for it. Here”

“What? You don’t want it?”

“That’s not what I said”

“By rights, you aren’t even supposed to be here. You were taking the tube from Charing Cross”

“So I decided to walk. Is that a crime nowadays?”

“No. Did you see the bridge?”

“Yeah, I walked on it only”

“I was figuring out how it was held in place. Pretty innovative na?”

“Yeah, man. Guess what it reminded me of!”

“Of course!”

“You know what is the problem with us?”

“That we actually are the same person?”

“Something like that. How more boring can we get!”

“Oh well! If we are boring, we are. Nothing we can do about that. But here's the problem - We love spending time with each other doing random things like these. Its all the regular stuff which gets to us”

“So you mean there is no point in all this? We should somehow get back to our “away on weekdays” thing?”

“I think so. Can’t you get a travelling job or something?”

“What? You want me to travel every week? How about getting a real job for a change? You know, one that pays money for instance”

“That isn’t going to solve the problem na. And anyway, we are at the Tate. We should go in”

“I guess so”

To tell the truth though, I did think (pretentious Bill probably won’t admit it but I am pretty sure that’s what he thought too) that it would be all too much culture vulture for me and I would get out in an hour or so. Three hours later, we were done with just the third floor. We literally had to be dragged out when they closed at 10. As Bill said, it was really scary. When words like surrealism, cubism and abstract expressionism actually starts making sense, it is really time to revaluate err..things. And oh, if you got till here, thanks for your patience and here are some favorites:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sunrise surprise

Was it yesterday that I said that it doesn't snow here? So this was what I woke up to this morning. I mean, yeah, not what we back in Chicago would call snow but snow nevertheless.

PS: Did I mention that all the squares on route to work were so breathtakingly beautiful that it took me nearly 45 minutes to get here?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Postcard from London

Take One

It doesn’t rain much. Not as much as they said it would. When it does, it is a slow drizzle, just until you open your umbrella. It doesn’t snow at all, so I do not have to deal with ice and slush. Not to mention, digging my car out of the snow. The winter jackets haven’t arrived yet but I won’t need them here. It gets chilly and windy sometimes, but it doesn’t bite like you do. I walk a lot more nowadays. I lost some of that weight I put on right after I left you. The food here tastes much better, more like real food. There are markets everywhere that sell garden fresh vegetables – no more jumbo-sized GM tomatoes which taste like water. The parks are large and beautiful; and the grass is so green in January that it reminds me of Southern California winters. People pass by my window at work on their way to Hyde Park which is right across the street, lunch bags in hand. I have taken to early morning strolls in beautiful, beautiful Regents Park which is just a stone’s throw away from the flat. Last Saturday I went beyond the park and up to Primrose Hill – up the grass stretch, an endless neon-green carpet with the sun shining brightly and then you turn back at the top of the hill and you see the city stretched out in front of you, no unnecessary tall buildings hiding your view, the dome of St Paul’s somewhere in the middle and all the way back, the uber-cool buildings of Canary Wharf. What more can one ask for? Life is so very lovely.

Take Two

The rain is terrible. The streets are wet and slick all the time that I feel like I am going to slip on every step. The winter is no winter at all. Who wants a winter if it isn’t white? They actually fake snow out of soap bubbles for their winter festivals. Can you believe that? The weather gets very moody - when you step out of home, the raincoat is fine but a few minutes later you are running back to get your jacket, scarves and gloves. It is impossible to own a car in this place and I have to walk everywhere. Even to grocery stores, yes. People here lunch at grocery stores for some odd reason. Well, it isn’t so odd really, just that grocery stores are the cheapest option. Anything else is so totally unaffordable. At work, there is no natural light whatsoever that it is so depressing. The sun comes out once in a blue moon and disappears almost as soon as you discover that it is out. Really, you do not want to be here. The parks are humungous but its not like you know, they have a real lake or anything by it. Every time I take a walk, I am looking for my frozen lake at the end of it and come back disappointed. The grass is green in January that it is so unreal, it looks so made-up. All make-believe, like LA. And you should hear this – so last Saturday, I went up to this park called Primrose Hill from where you are supposed to get all skyline views. Skyline views! What a joke! First of all, the city does not have a skyline; someone ought to tell them that three tall buildings do not a skyline make. And two, the only cool tall buildings in the city, guess who designed them? Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. So there. Ah well, I just miss you. Terribly.

Hmm..which one you think I should send now?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Scenes from a Marriage: The Move-In

Nearly six months ago, on one of those beautiful summer days in my beloved city by the lake, I remember driving like a maniac on Lake Shore Drive sometime in the evening, trying to get to Midway. Bill was on one of his usual flights from Pittsburgh and I had promised to pick him up as he was lugging two suitcases that he claimed was nearly filled with books that I had left behind over the years. And of course, those were the days when I actually had a car. I managed to get to the airport in record time but there was no sign of Bill. I circled around a few times; I had checked status at home – the flight should have been in 20 minutes ago. I call a couple of people who tell me that the flight status comes up as “unavailable”. More circling around, more calling people, more cursing Bill’s stupid phone. I am pretty sure by now that the flight must have crashed while landing and open windows to hear sirens. No sirens either. I turn on NPR, no news of crash there. After about half an hour, Bill calls. I ask him about hell. Hell, he says is very much like Indianapolis. They were going to land in Midway when the weather turned bad and they were asked to circle for half an hour. But the pilot said that the plane did not have enough fuel to circle around, so he went on and landed at Indy! True story. So anyway, a few hours later (32 minutes for fueling at Indy, 27 minutes from there into Midway, 94 minutes to find checked baggage, 12 minutes from Midway to home), we were finally back in Lincoln Park. Now this part, I remember very clearly. Bill said that since the suitcases were full of my books, I had to help him carry them up the stairs and then go park my car. The innocent person that I am, I believed him and helped him lug 50 kg suitcases up the stairs. Once upstairs, I excitedly opened suitcases to see what books he had gotten.

1. Towards Truth through Proof: A study of Mathematical Logic by Peter Andrews
2. Proofs and Types by Jean-Yves Girard
3. The Intel Architecture Reference Manual

The suitcases were full of such nonsense. I refused to talk to Bill for the next couple of says, something that he was very happy about as I couldn’t order him about if I wasn’t talking. What’s the point of all this now? What of recent happenings? Yes, yes, I am coming to that. This is only to provide you with some context.

So yes, we are in London. Finally. Long posts that will follow in no particular order: (once I manage to get some broadband provider to provide me with bandwidth. Yeah, this is pilfered from (I think) the guy who lives two floors down. He so looks the sort who doesn’t secure his wireless network):

1. Russian snow in Trafalgar Square and other such stories (A MR special edition)
2. The hottest lunch joints in town – Sainsbury’s Local and Mark & Spencers
3. How to find a London flat in 48 hours (A 48 hours exclusive)
4. Chinna vengaya sambar at Harrow on the Hill (Thanks to Our Lady of the Shoes)
5. How the grass is actually greener on this side of the Atlantic. (Literally)
6. A study of behavioral differences between the geese of Lincoln Park and that of Regents Park - A Ludwig-inspired ornithological exercise

Getting back to our move to London, I had one suitcase (21 kgs) and a small (by American standards) roller-blade suitcase while Bill had two humungous suitcases that he had paid excess baggage for in addition to one piece of cabin luggage which weighed as much as my check-in suitcase. (He squarely blamed it all on United which always lets people get away with at least twice as much as they are supposed to carry) I refused to carry his suitcases up three flights of stairs and into our tiny flat when he started talking about how these suitcases really contain the books the other suitcases that he had gotten to Chicago were supposed to. You know, it was all packed a few months ago but he had mistakenly lugged the wrong suitcases to Chicago then. So I asked him to unpack and show me the books. He pointed out that we were arguing on the pavement and if only I would help him lug it up, he could show me. I wasn’t giving up so easily. I dragged it through the front door and asked him to open it there. Not pavement anymore. New excuse. They are packed so tightly that if you open them, they cannot be closed very easily. I said that if it didn’t close I would personally take all my books up and all he has to do then is to close empty suitcases. By now, he apparently had forgotten the combination. After about 20 minutes of letting everyone in the building know that the new tenants have arrived, I gave up and lugged them through three, yes, three flights of stairs.

Next twenty minutes, I divided all the storage in the flat (two chest of drawers, one excuse for a closet) and magnanimously told Bill that he could take one-third.

“One-third? Hello? I live here. I need half.”

“No, one-third is all you get. I want to see you fit stuff from your suitcases in this space”

“FYI, I pay rent too, you know”

“If we talking how much you are paying, you should get only a quarter as that’s the part of rent you pay. I am just being nice to you”

“Yeah, right”


“Anyway, its not like you need all that space. You have only one tiny suitcase as you keep reminding me”

“Right now, yes. But I do not trust you to remove your stuff from the drawers when the boxes arrive from the States. You have to make do with this, I am sorry”

And I sat down to watch the fun. Bill opens the smaller of his two suitcases.

“What’s all that?”


“One. Two. Three. Four. How many do you have?”

“Mmm..Seven, I think”

“You have seven suits?”

“That’s what I said, yes”

“I am the bloody consultant in this house and I do not own seven suits”

“Yeah, some fake consulting company you work for. Wearing jeans to work half the time”

“As opposed to you who really works in an i-bank but masquerades as a student? Where do you have all the money stashed away?”

“What nonsense are you talking?”

“Nonsense? Hello, I want to know why you need seven suits. The only time I have ever seen you wear a suit was during the wedding tamasha”

“Just because you haven’t seen me wear them doesn’t mean I don’t wear them”

“Yeah? When was the last time you wore a suit?”

“Don’t remember”

“My point”

“Come off it. I do not have any space to keep these. Give me some space”

“No. You have two choices. Keep them in the suitcase or give it away to charity. I saw some collection for cerebral palsy a few blocks away”

“You are mad”

“Whatever. You decide what you want to do with them”

He puts them back in the suitcase.

“Ah, ties! How many of those do you have?”


“Of course. What other useless things do you have in the suitcase?”

“Hello? I am not the one who has twenty two pairs of shoes around here”

“First of all, I do not have twenty two pairs of shoes. If you remember, I threw away six pairs while we were packing in Chicago. As of now, I technically own only sixteen”

“Like that changes anything”

“Besides the point. The point is I wear all my sixteen pairs of shoes. Atleast once a year. The shoes I do not use, I do NOT put them in suitcases, pay excess baggage and drag them halfway across the world and then throw them away because there isn’t any space”


“CDs? I thought you put all your CDs in boxes that you mailed to Chicago”

“These were some I forgot to pack”

“I see”

“Beethoven – Three Piano sonatas?”


“Whats this now? Bach’s Brandenburg concertos?”

“What? Can’t you read?”

“Hm..Handel, Vivaldi, Brahms. Oh wait, there’s more. Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Liszt.”

“You have a problem with my music now?”

“No, I am just counting how many CDs you have that you have never listened to.”

“What? I listen to them all the time.”

“Yeah, yeah, if you say the truth you will be disowned from your pretentious Bong community”

“Why are you dragging Bong community into this now?”

“Okay. Just pretentious you then. How come you have 32 of these? Were this on sale at a dollar each?”

“You know what? I have had enough. Can you go away somewhere while I finish unpacking?”

“No, because I pay three-quarters of the rent. And because I am having way too much fun watching you unpack. Let me go get some popcorn now. Be right back.”