Deck Chairs, Bagels, Dragons and Books

Daffodils from a dear friend.

Rearrange-the-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic means “to do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem” and it neatly sums up how I feel all the time these days. Then I read Emily Flake’s I Was In Charge Of The Deck Chairs On The Titanic, And They Absolutely Did Need Rearranging on the one and only Mc.Sweeney’s Internet Tendency and it pretty much set me right.

She reminds us how the seemingly meaningless things that we do every day matters. They matter a lot. So much so that sometimes it’s all we have. Even when the world as we know is changing, people are getting sick and economies are crumbling.

She ends the piece with these poignant lines “Your efforts matter as much as they always did, which is to say not one little tiny bit, except that they are the most precious of things — they are your heart. Take care of your heart, my friends, and I shall see you on the other side.”

I took heart in her words and I plodded on.

You must be thinking, what’s a travel writer gonna do when all travel is canceled? What’s a mom gonna do when school drop offs have been replaced by online learning and a glance-over at your kid before he signs in on that Google Meet?

No weekend plans. No sports. The list is long. But I can’t complain. There are people out there who are doing so much more. Contributing in so many ways. And not just health workers and grocery store people. That friend who offered to do her neighbor’s shopping. That person who gave that extra large tip. The delivery guy who went the extra mile. The neighbor who left a box of books by the door. Or a bag of flour. Or a tall bottle of wine.

Memorial Day Weekend, the great summer-starter came and went with little fanfare. We didn’t grill. Maybe it had something to do with the weather but we did do a bagel taste test. We kneaded the dough and baked our own bagels. Then we went nuts with the toppings. Classics like lox and cream cheese were set aside in favor of variety and fun.

After much deliberation, our eight-year-old ever-so-slightly biased judge picked the cheddar cheese and chicken sausages as the winner.

Rings of dough!
This set has the winning combo!

Top from left we have chicken sausage with sun-dried tomatoes on shredded cheddar cheese, then on the right we have honey and sea-salt over ricotta cheese, in the middle we have almond butter and strawberry jam, followed by cherry tomatoes and window-sill scallions on olive tapenade hummus. The last row has slow-roasted spicy salmon leftovers with scallions and lastly, a liberal sprinkling of TJ’s famous bagel seasoning over soft-boiled eggs.

In my opinion, the fig butter was a close contender.

Top from left there’s sliced avocado with some more of the famous seasoning, then a bagel top to show how proud I was of the shape, then there’s fig butter on the middle left, after which comes the strawberry with cream cheese, followed by cucumbers and butter, and finally, black olives on hummus.

If you are thinking, what’s the point of all this? It’s all part of rearranging those damn deck chairs. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

The lockdown (self-imposed or otherwise) has given rise to so many artists getting together to entertain kids. There’s too many of them for me to mention everyone but there’s #DrawTogether with WendyMac – a 30-minute live drawing class for kids. I ignored the kids part and drew a dragon with her. My kids have been entrusted with building a story around this fiery self-sufficient dragon.

Wendy doing her thing!
My dragon. I think she is pretty.

Again, that’s me rearranging deck chairs.

There’s Mo Willems with his Lunch Doodles and Thank You Thursdays. There’s J.K. Rowling with a new book Ickabog that’s being released chapter by chapter online! As an unabashed Harry Potter fan, I am excited about it.

Speaking of books, my mother has this amazing collection. She would often pick out books for me to read at an age when I was mostly into Enid Blytons and didn’t care for much else. When I was in first or second grade, she gave me a copy of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. On my behest, she had marked all the comedies so I could get started on those first. I had no intention of reading “sad stories” but then I got hooked and read everything. And not just once.

So imagine my utter delight when I watched this Netflix Original recommended by my aunt and found that Tales from Shakespeare, my book, has been converted into a magnificent plot device. The movie’s name is quite a mouthful. It’s called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and it’s simply lovely. It has made me go look for Anne Bronte’s work. Turns out this lesser known of the Bronte sisters was a bit of a genius in her own right.

While on the subject of dark geniuses, Fleabag on Prime and Dead to Me on Netflix warranted some binge-watching on my part. They are not everyone’s cup of tea but oh so good!

Go watch them, or draw with Mo, or make music with Yo-Yo Ma (he is playing live on Facebook often these days) or write or do whatever it is you feel like doing. Nothing matters and everything does.

Walks, Boredom and Finding Magic in the Mundane

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I am going to do the unthinkable and begin my post with a quote. Friedrich Nietzsche once said “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” While I don’t know about that, what I am certain about is that he wasn’t talking about neighborhood strolls with a couple of kids who have been cooped up at home for more than a month now.

I know we are immensely lucky to be able to hunker down when there are people out there risking their lives on a daily basis. My two year old doesn’t know that. Neither does the neighbor’s dog. So our walks often consist of each of us making sure that our dogs and kids maintain the appropriate distance of six feet while simultaneously squealing at each other.

My eight year old is perpetually bored. I tried telling him that boredom inspires greatness and how Neil Gaiman has advised wannabe writers to “get bored” and then I showed him this passage from Nicholas Carr’s blog

“We don’t like being bored because boredom is the absence of engaging stimulus, but boredom is valuable because it requires us to fill that absence out of our own resources, which is process of discovery, of doors opening. The pain of boredom is a spur to action, but because it’s pain we’re happy to avoid it. Gadgetry means never having to feel that pain, or that spur. The web expands to fill all boredom. That’s dangerous for everyone, but particularly so for kids, who, without boredom’s spur, may never discover what in themselves or in their surroundings is most deeply engaging to them.”

He nodded in agreement and went back to playing Minecraft. So as is the norm, we had to persuade him to accompany us for the afore-mentioned walk. Then we convinced him to wear a jacket, Spring being that in-between New England season where winter jackets are a tad too much but there’s still a hint of chilliness in a sudden gust of wind.

We have contemplated leaving him behind, but he is only eight years old and he needs the fresh air and exercise. I know what you are thinking, yes, dogs are easier. They like walks. So do toddlers. They are usually excited about the littlest of things like shoes and walks, but of course, they are also just as easily frustrated when things don’t go their way. Like when you try holding their hand during a particularly steep downhill stretch of the road that they would rather just tumble down?

So, to make the walk more bearable and somewhat less dangerous, we did a scavenger hunt inspired by an Instagram post from Earthplace.

Scavenger Hunt 2020.

We looked out for bugs, found rocks and twigs, compared colors of leaves, looked up at the cloud-filled sky and picked up acorns. We paid attention. And when you pay attention, the mundane becomes magic.

Paying attention.

Some people have this gift, they can easily find beauty in the everyday. Much like Jason Polan, who was working on drawing every person in New York (he drew over 30,000 people) and whose book Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art is an American treasure. He walked around with his pen and paper, drew what he saw, and by doing so he made the unremarkable remarkable.

We, on the other hand, took photos of what we saw. It kept the kids busy for a while. But still, there was no room for “truly great thoughts” as envisioned by Nietzsche. Most of our thoughts revolved around all the hand-washing and disinfecting that would follow this short expedition.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Intrepid Museum
USS Intrepid. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we took a trip to New York City for a day of history and adventure aboard the historic aircraft carrier, USS Intrepid. It was Kids’ Week and the queue was long but it was worth it. Apart from having one of the most varied aircraft collections on the East Coast, it has interactive exhibits, flight simulators, submarines and a space shuttle pavilion. Many of the exhibits are tailored towards kids, even without all the story-telling, music and crafts that accompanied Kids’ Week. All five of the U.S. armed forces (The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard) are represented through these displays.

Here’s a little about the Intrepid itself lifted straight from their website. “Launched in 1943, the former aircraft carrier USS Intrepid fought in World War II, surviving five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike. The ship later served in the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Intrepid also served as a NASA recovery vessel in the 1960s. It was decommissioned in 1974, and today is berthed on the Hudson River as the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.”

Intrepid Musuem
North American FJ-3 Fury. Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

Above is a picture of the North American FJ-3 Fury. The original type was introduced to active service in 1955. The museum’s collection represents some of the finest in military aviation but I didn’t get to take photos of all of them. Neither have I documented the experiences aboard the record-breaking Concorde and its sophisticated flight deck. If you are wondering which record it broke, well, it crossed the Atlantic in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds on February 7, 1996.

Intrepid Museum
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Shown above is one of the four propellers that moved the Intrepid and together they could reach maximum speeds approaching 32 knots. Today’s aircraft carriers travel at about the same speed. The Intrepid was scheduled to be towed away from Pier 86 for repair work in the November of 2006. But her propellers were stuck in the mud at the bottom of the Hudson River and she did not budge from her spot. A month later, a team of tugboats managed to pull her free, and after removing all four propellers, she was dry-docked in 2007.

Intrepid Museum
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Now you know why kids love this place.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Open air exhibits gave kids more place to run around.

Intrepid Museum
Photo by Pinaki Chakraborty. All rights reserved ©

Catch me if you can!

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I enjoyed Kids’ Week a little more than I should have, especially while listening to Fortunately, a fabulous book by Remy Charlip.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

This 6’x 6′ LEGO mosaic is composed of over 50,000 bricks in 20 different colors and as you step away from it you can see the pattern of Enterprise atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft emerge. Conceptualized by Master Builder Ed Diment, hundreds of people built this mosaic collectively from July 26-28, 2013.

Intrepid Museum
Intrepid’s Port Side Aircraft Elevator. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Intrepid was an early adapter when it came to having a full-size elevator on the edge of its decks. “Measuring roughly 60 feet by 34 feet, the elevator could move an aircraft that weighed up to 30,000 pounds from the hangar deck to the flight deck in just 10 seconds!” This amazing feature allowed Intrepid’s crew to quickly access the aircraft and get ready for missions. It was also used for recreational purposes.

The elevator became operational again in 2008, but it’s much slower now, so we had ample time to take in the Manhattan skyline and a learn a bit of history. By the way, Radio City Music Hall uses a similar technology to raise and lower the stage.

New York City
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

It was one of those winter afternoons, when a blue-gray New York sky stole the thunder from the exhibits for a rather long-ish spell.

Now it’s Spring and the dreaded virus has spread farther than we could have ever imagined. We are staying home. To all the nurses and doctors, delivery people, grocery store workers, and other essential job holders, we are beyond grateful.

Super Bowl 2020 – Smaht Pahk

Try saying Remote Smart Parking Assist. It’s a mouthful, isn’t it? So Hyundai decided to make it short and memorable. They also threw in a regional accent, and not satisfied with just throwing it in, they made the accent the star. Thus was born “smaht pahk.”

It helped that they got Bostonians Chris Evans, John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch and David Ortiz to entertain us for a whole 60 secs while simultaneously plugging the new feature. You can pahk it and even unpahk it, all with the help of a clickah!

Minute-long Super Bowl commercials often keep the product a secret for a good 45 seconds. Not this ad. They went for it right from the beginning and it worked.

It’s wicked smaht, that’s what it is.

New Year’s Resolutions – Why Bother?

As a child, I used to make resolutions diligently but as I have grown older I have stopped making them. It’s the daily changes and habits that matter and those can be modified right this instant. Choose a healthier lunch, skip the chips, drink water – that sort of thing. You don’t have to wait for First of January to start something that’s good for you.

Also, sometimes it’s okay to sleep in, it’s fine to grab that greasy burger with the extra fries, and the sugary drink. As Brian Bilston puts it, our “glorious failures” and “sublime imperfections” are what makes us human. Makes us feel alive. And I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

Although many aspects of Bilston remains shrouded in mystery, I know he is British so when he says fags he means cigarettes. I thought I should throw in a disclaimer in case any of you were wondering.

While resolutions don’t work I do like goal-setting. That helps me keep in mind all the things I plan to do this new year. More travel, for one.

And more play. I think I have forgotten how to.

The End of a Decade or Just Another Tuesday?

Connecticut
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The only resolution I have for 2020 is to be outside more, ’cause as the Danes have been telling us for hundreds of years “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” or something to this effect.

Walking clears the cobwebs in my mind. As my sneaker-clad feet sink into dead wet leaves and the sky above looks the same blue it always does, I wonder if we make too much of a trip around the sun. Who is to say? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So here we are, ushering in a brand new year and while on plans and resolutions, I want to steal Brene Brown’s 2020 plan: Stay awkward, brave + kind.

Yes to all three and Happy New Year!

A Solo Trip

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Last month I traveled half-way across the world to see my Dad. It was a solo week-long trip and had none of the highs associated with travel. I know that 22 hour-long flights are painful no matter how fun the destination or how great the company…but this trip stood out as one of the most trying ones yet. Mostly for personal reasons.

My Dad was not doing well. As I type this, he is slowly getting back on his feet. And I am back home struggling with all the numerous holiday activities that seem to take up all our time and energy in these last few weeks of the year. Come cold January and colder February, we are left with nothing to celebrate. The lights come down, the decorations disappear and back to work we go.

My flight took me from New York to Dubai and then to my hometown of Kolkata. It was on the Dubai-Kolkata leg of the journey that I took the above pics. It seemed to me like we were flying into the sunrise, it’s glow getting richer and deeper by the second.

As I was literally flying above the clouds, my mood could not be more sombre. But my trip was good. I spent time with my Dad and Mom. I saw my brother after five long years. Met his rescue pup, Brownie.

Since I can’t sleep on planes and also to keep my anxiety at bay, I watched a lot of movies, and only two stood out as note-worthy. One was Where’d You Go, Bernadette and the other was The Philosophy of Phil, both of them funny and dark in equal parts. Kind of like life itself. We have to give in to laughter and find little moments of joy even at times we don’t want to.

It’s the only way.

Paying Attention

Hard at work!

“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
— Henry Miller

I was going to leave this post with a picture and the above quote when my 8 year old, who now reads this blog, suggested I write more. So here’s more on paying attention and why I think it’s akin to love.

If you have seen Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird you will know what I am talking about. In the movie, a nun tells the protagonist, a high school student who likes to go by the name, Lady Bird, that it’s pretty clear she loves Sacramento.

Lady Bird is taken aback, because in her mind she can’t wait to leave it all behind her to go to a college far, far away. Struggling to come up with an answer, she casually replies, “I guess I pay attention.”

That’s when the movie does its magic. The nun asks, “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?”

Yes, they are the same to a great extent. This bring me to why I love my job – travel writing. It’s simple. I get to pay attention.

When there’s a brief and a deadline hanging over my head, I pay attention to the obscure and the mundane, I try to take in the sounds and smells, and I end up having a more enjoyable experience.

As my one of my favored poets, Mary Oliver said,

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

I try. I do.

Monday Musings

On Gertrude’s Nose in New Paltz, NY on a cloudy day in the summer of 2008. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I don’t have the luxury to pore over a book these days so I rely heavily on a few websites for my daily dose of words. Here’s what has stuck with me over the past few weeks.

This nugget of wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country:

“But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.””

Fall of 2019. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

This Poem.

Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

And last but not the least, this bit from the convocation speech by George Saunders at Syracuse University. It was for the class of 2013.

“So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

Peekskill Brewery by the Hudson

Peekskill NY
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

What is it about summer that makes us seek out oceans and rivers and lakes? The answer is rather obvious I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

With that in mind, we took off for an afternoon in Peekskill, a city by the Hudson River. By and large artsy, but not without its sharp edges, this place had quite a few surprises up its sleeve.

Peekskill NY
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

A waterfront walkway with biking paths and a large playground, a sculpture here and there, steamboats, patient fishermen with not-so-patient kids, swimming ducks and flying geese would have been commonplace if it was not for the stunning Hudson Highlands looming large in the horizon, providing a backdrop like no other.

Within walking distance of the waterfront, is the Peekskill Brewery, which was our second choice for dinner that evening. Our first choice was the local Coffee House, but we were ten minutes away from its opening time.

Peekskill Brewery
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Peekskill Brewery, as the Google description says, is located “in a bi-level industrial space”, with the Tap Room below and the Restaurant at top. They have outside seating as well, with string lights, games and music. A relaxed dinner is a rarity when you are out with a picky eighteen-month-old and a seven year old, but this came quite close. We were ushered to the kid-friendly Restaurant and immediately seated along with all the necessary frills – high-chair, crayons, sippy cups and kids’ menu.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We ordered the burratta salad, beer battered fish and chips, the grain bowl, and a couple of staples off the kids’ menu. It’s not unusual for our seven year old to have to let go of the crispy chicken because of egg in the batter. He is allergic to eggs and on hearing this, most servers and chefs suggest alternate options from the menu.

Here the server told us that the chef has offered to make the crispy chicken with an egg-less batter. If you have a kid with food allergies, you will know how huge this is and how much of a difference it makes.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I am going to be hyperbolic here and go right out and say this was the best fish and chip ever!

As for the beer, my husband and I sampled the AMAZEballs (with a name like that how could we not?) and ordered some right away. An American pale ale, it lived up to its description of being exquisitely dry and balanced. Our server said it was her favorite and now it’s mine as well.

Although, before picking a favorite, I feel we should make another trip to the brewery and try a few of the other house brews. I have a good feeling about the Sitting Duck, which was described as big, rich and malty, with notes of dark fruit and rumcake.