The Artists at Paris

The husband planned a meticulous trip to Europe for the nourish-n-cherish household. Trips to Europe are rarely complete without museums and so, off we went with our admiring hats on. I do not know the different periods in European art, and after several trips find that I am astounded by how much there is to learn and appreciate.

I do not know why Claude Monet spent 30 years in his garden in France painting the lily pond. I am even less capable of recognizing a Monet from a Chagall. But I am glad that Monet’s masterpiece with the lily ponds in his estate in France have a home designed specifically to appreciate the art like he intended it to be (The Orangerie Museum: Musée de l’Orangerie). How many artists get to have that particular claim to fame?


After the Louvre, the Orangerie museum was a treat. The Orangerie museum was a beautiful little museum tucked away near the most historically magnificent palace grounds in Paris. (Fun fact: apparently,  the word orangery refers to a protected ground in large palaces in Europe :   a greenhouse for growing oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits in cool climates.)


We each went our ways and did not have to worry about getting lost. It was a small, compact museum with works of a few artists, and it was all very done. Really – the way Europe reveres its artists and preserves its art history is admirable. In about 3 hours, we were done and ready to explore the rest of Paris by foot. As we walked on, we fell to discussing Art – the Renaissance, the rise of cubism, and all the rest of it. 

How some artists chose lighter subjects such as Auguste Renoir in these paintings of the girls bonding over music, or whispering a secret together.

Or the beautiful nature filled works of Sam Szafran where the human is but a tiny part of the intricate patterns of nature


As we trundled away from the Orangerie museum towards the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it was irresistible to stop and take a few pictures, very well knowing that I may never look at them again.

We ended up in due course, after our glacial progress through the streets of Paris, at the foothills of the Eiffel Tower. It was there that the many perspectives of Art we’d just learned about became apparent. The son tried taking pictures using the vertical panorama technique that I had shown him.


He showed us cubism.


We even have a picture of me pulling off the invisibility cloak after apparating to the foot of the Eiffel Tower. I wonder why these art forms do not deserve their place in museums of modern art.


How better for our artists to capture the true magic of a European vacation?

2022 Reading

It is that time of year when we

  1. cannot believe another year has gone by and
  2. simultaneously ponder on what a long year it was.

The quixotic nature of time – once again making a fool of us all.

It is also the time I look back fondly on the books that lit up my inner world, and take a moment or two to jot down all the notable titles, read other people’s lists, and make jolly to-read lists for the coming year, and so much more.

I thought I was scatter-brained, had a lot going on, and therefore, my reading took a hit. But it seemed to be the other way round. Reading, once again seemed to have worked its magic in helping me through 2022.


There were quite a few books in this genre. Only mentioning the ones that stood out in my mind for various reasons. (Not because of the content alone, but also time of year when it seemed to have been relevant, how much I managed to absorb of new ideas etc)


  • The Alice Network – Kate Quinn (this one is a fictional account of real life events of female spies who used to smuggle messages across borders at considerable peril to themselves.) The daughter told me that Audrey Hepburn’s (Of Roman Holiday fame) was  also well known for her efforts during this period when she held underground ballet concerts and so on to help people during the miserable times of the Second World War, and many times risked being caught and hoping to get off easily because of her diminutive stature and size.
  • Women of Troy – Pat Barker
  • A Blizzard of Polar Bears – Alice Henderson (A good racing thriller for airport reading) 
  • Akimbo and the Elephant – Alexander McCall Smith 
  • The Blue Book of Nebo – Manon Steffan Ros (What happens after a nuclear war – I am sure many of us have pondered what the aftermath of an apolcalypse would be like. This book that does just that.)
  • Young Mozart – William Augel (hilarious! )
  • Plus my standard dose of R K Narayan, Miss Read & P G Wodehouse  whose wise and irreverent view of the world, I find refreshing and a regular tonic to life. 

Science Fiction:

  • Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir
  • Daughter of the Deep – Rick Riordan
  • Bewilderment – Richard Powers (This is one of the best books I’ve read – highly recommended. Stays with you for a long time)

Special Children’s Books:


How can there be no magic in the list?

Please share your reads with me. Would love to get started on my reading list for 2023.

Temple of the Mind?

We’d been on a short trip to catch some European magic. We started off in Paris. In order for us to experience a proper European winter, the 1st day in Paris started off with a brisk walk to the Louvre at 8 in the morning when the temperature was still 24F. As we stood there, waiting for the rest of the tour group to join us on the marvelous walking tour through the Louvre, I felt a sudden stab of pity for all those who had lived before our times. 100 BC, 500 AD, 1500 AD, 1700 AD. None of these poor folks had indoor heaters that hummed and thrummed the way the museum indoors sounded welcoming. They didn’t have access to 32°Heat products that were brilliantly designed thermal wear designs – nor were they commonly available after mass production. With three layers of clothing, if it was still this cold, how on this marvelous Earth a mere 100 hundred years ago had people endured this time of the year? The thousands who died in the cold winters in the trenches, on the war fronts, in concentration camps. I shuddered and this time not from the cold. 

As I stood there, thinking of the little history I did know, I wondered why we never learnt from them. Why did we not recoil from war, sense divisive forces and squash them? Maybe this humanity’s path – bring ourselves to the brink of annihilation with our madness multiple times over and then miraculously survive till the one time when we don’t. Who knew? Wars and enmity don’t seem to end. 

Mercifully, our rag-tag tour group assembled after about 1/2 an hour that felt like 2. We walked into the Louvre like frozen zombies hoping to thaw out with the artworks inside. How did that sculptor bring himself to work on the marble statue of Venus dated 120 BC through these cold winters?

We started off at the famous prism inside where those who read or watched the Da Vinci code. It was beautiful and really, who thought of putting up bean-bags on that pole of the prism? It started the tour of with touch of a whimsy before the academic aspects of the museum unleashed itself.


If I were to describe the Louvre and the Vatican in one stroke of a brush, it would be: Too many artworks to properly appreciate each one.

Though, our tour guide, Maria, tried her best. There were 38,000 pieces of art in there. The Vatican (70,000 of which 20,000 are on display). With all the hundreds of artists at the time, why did only a few achieve lasting fame? Maria explained many things about art that we ought to have known, but didn’t. Things such as  the angle of the light, the imaginative aspects of landscape, the differences in perspective, the kind of face that seemed to have appealed to Leonardo Da Vinci


Did that famous, but thoroughly over-rated face of Mona Lisa have a glint of Leonardo Da Vinci’s favorite student? (shown below?)


I keep clicking pictures of the pieces that appealed to me as she gave us salient features. I remember standing in the museum and thinking that I must not let art escape me in the daily humdrum of life. Corporate life, especially, had no time baked in to appreciate the finer aspects of life such as literature, art & music the way schools do. So, how do we make an appreciation of art a daily ritual, so there is always a little of the artistic in us? Oh! So many lofty thoughts. If Leonardo Da Vinci were witness to my thoughts that morning, he might’ve taken me on as a student, grandly overlooking my lack of talent, just for the touching sincerity.

But a mere 48 hours later as I write this, I am distressed to say that I cannot remember why I took half of the pictures I did. 

There was something about a picture of the maternal (Maria said Leonardo Da Vinci did not have a mother or someone who set a maternal example in his life, and thus the picture was doubly important). And something appealed to me. But what? 

This one appealed to me as a writer. The early journalist who felt he had to say his truth and was murdered for it.


Or the coronation of Napoleon. Here was promise that megalomaniacs existed, continue to exist, and will continue to wreak havoc. In the absence of social media, this was Napolean’s attempt at portraying the coronation to the masses like he wanted – the truth be damned. Hundreds journeyed to the Louvre to get a glimpse of Napoleon and his bride, at the coronation. Apparently, Napolean’s mother did not accept his choice of bride and refused to attend the ceremonies as a result (there is a nice piece of continuity through the ages), but she is there in the painting. The Pope was invited and snubbed, but he looks happy behind the king. Maria pointed out many such discrepancies which I am afraid have evaporated since. Those art aficionados who do know the details have obviously written them out in detail in hundreds of books, blogs and YouTube videos for souls like myself.


And those statues of Venus – already promising womankind with all sorts of torment thanks to the impossible standards of beauty (the tall vertebrae, the perfect ratios between head, legs and girth, that seldom seem to bless breathing and living souls as we live out our lives on Earth.) Did the lovers of the sculptors of Venus feel the pressure, or were simply not bothered about the grandiose perfectionism as they had to tend to the business of living?

Venus de Milo on display at the Louvre

So many inspirational, marvelous wisps floated in at the Louvre. Maybe that is the vibe of museums: the wisps of imagination and insight from the millions of people over hundreds of years all hanging together illuminating the souls who dare to dip their toes into these journeys of the mind.

Our own temple of the minds.

Magique Français

There is a charm to traveling at this time of the year. We had decided on an Europe trip with 3 countries thrown in to the mix. Which is to say that the rest of the nourish-n-cherish household of spoilt folks enjoyed a trip planned meticulously by the husband. Left with all the rest of the work, I stood in front of my bookshelf dilly-dallying on the reading material. Finally, I chose Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, which was an excellent read. 

The whole way to the Airbnb from the Paris airport, the radio was on and the hosts chattered on in French. Considering that I was the only passenger in the car who had ‘learnt’ French, I must say I was aghast that I remembered almost nothing of the beautiful language (except for tidbits such as – one mustn’t pronounce the last consonant, unless the next word starts with a vowel, or the river is feminine while the museum is masculine) I have always been little lost with languages that attribute a gender to everything. 

Is a croissant masculine or feminine? I don’t know. 

Both Le Croissant and La croissant sound right to me, but DuoLingo assures me that croissants are masculine and therefore Le Croissant is correct. Sigh.

I must say languages and brains are curious things. I was sincere, if not successful, in my attempts to learn French in 11th and 12th grade. I would’ve thought that some things would surface through the foggy decades as I heard the spoken language, or saw the words written in the menu cards in the little French cafes. But nothing happened. I recognized ‘avec’, ‘le’, ‘la’, ‘and words that had a passing semblance to the English language and could thus be fathomed. As I stumbled my way through the language  I realized that I had never really spoken French, though I seemed confident enough to butcher the pronunciations. For instance, I confidently addressed the Louvre as the ‘Loo-v-rrrr’. 

Apparently, I had it all wrong. 

Humbled by this revelation of my poor French, one day on the metro, I was trying my best to listen to the announcements and map the name of the stations to the pronunciation. I can understand my not getting a name like Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau or Maisons-Alfort – Les Juilliottes, but I didn’t get Grands Boulevard. That hurt. Now see, I pronounce it is Grand-ss Boo-lay-vard (so no letter is offended or feels less important). But the French pronounce it as Gron Boolevaar. With the overhead crackling that is a requirement for most metro systems,  I heard it as ‘groan bole’, and was looking around at people before the husband said it was time for us to get out and hustled us out.  I leaped out before the doors closed behind me and was rattled till the sortie (exit).

The French trip you up in more ways than one. I trust it is their way of having fun with us poor sods who haven’t a clue about the language. For instance, there were so many names that sounded like food, it was astonishing. Who wouldn’t like to get out at Madeleine station? I found myself drooling a bit about the buttery m-s and missed Grands Boulevard. 

I remember the husband telling me for an entire hour that we had to go to Rue Ravioli. I thought to myself and smiled that I had never seen this many streets named after food in any other country. I mean how often have we seen a Hamburger boulevard, or a Tomato-Bisque Road? Even in countries that enjoy their foods so much like India, I had never seen a Roti Street or Dosa Boulevard.  As I was feeling cleverer and cleverer with the inspired line of thought, I found that the husband was truly hungry was all. It was Rue-de-Ravoli, not Rue-de-Ravioli (the cheese filled pasta).

Nevertheless, the names had a marvelous ring to them. 


Bonne Nouvelle

Strasbourg – Saint-Denis (a big hyphen followed by a small hyphen)

I found myself nodding vigorously and agreeing vociferously (making the French doubt my capabilities even more) as I read Bill Bryson’s Neither here nor there: Travels in Europe.

Bill Bryson on French:

I took 3 years of French in school, but learned next to nothing. The problem was that the textbooks were so amazingly useless. 

They never told you any of the things you would need to know in France. They were always tediously occupied with classroom activities : hanging up coats, cleaning the blackboard, opening the window, setting out the day’s lessons. Even in seventh grade I could see that this sort of thing would be of limited utility in the years ahead. How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say: “It is winter. Soon it was will be spring. “

In my experience, people know this already.

Bill Bryson

But language has a way of morphing and conjoining, and by the end of the day, the daughter was speaking in lilting French accents, and I was very impressed with her, and unimpressed with myself for I understood next to nothing. Then, she chuckled and told me that she was just spinning her Spanish in French accents. I tell you! The nourish-n-cherish household really knows how to capture the magique francais.

2022 Phrase of the Year: Let’s See!

I was watching a movie the other day, and the word ‘bigotry’ came up. I went for almost 4 decades without ever hearing that word, and then all of a sudden, the word was everywhere. In news articles, movie dialogues, forwarded WhatsApp messages. I had read history books, had read many books about World War II, and was always reasonably interested in new words. Yet – here it was. When I found out the meaning, I felt a bit silly for not knowing the word. Suddenly, I could label many thinking patterns (and people) as bigoted, where previously I’d gone without labeling them. (Was that a good thing, a bad thing or not a thing at all?)

Then a few days later, I heard that the word of the year in 2022 was ‘Gaslighting‘. Another term that I had never heard of growing up, and yet, here it was – annoyingly present and able to pinpoint a particular trait.


That got me thinking about the words I’d probably used the most this year, and it was not a word that came to mind, but a phrase.

A phrase that I’d used over and over again in my professional capacity, or while describing the uncertainties of our world: “Let’s see!”

I remember the old pater using a Tamil word, Paappom (paarpom) – meaning “Let’s see! “ – shortened from பார்க்கலாம்

Paappom annoyed us. It usually meant we did not get a ‘Yes’, and every child knows that not getting a ‘Yes’ immediately meant that reason could swoop in, and could sway our ask toward ’No’, which was unacceptable of course. I mean, why would you want to think about taking us out for an ice-cream? That only meant the rains could come, someone could catch a cold, or the interest to go to the ice-cream store could wane.
Paappom indeed.

Paappom was also an ambiguity. A pendulum that could swing between this-and-that and you never knew where it could stop at decision-time.
Paappom could bring about positive outcomes but that required waiting and delayed gratification.

So, paappom was a true mystifier.

Yet, this year, I found myself using Paappom’s English equivalent, “Let’s see!”, so often, I felt like a bit of a pendulum myself.

It meant, I wasn’t sure of the next step: should I take a next step, should I wait? What if something changed, that I had not anticipated? If ever there was a year encompassing all these qualities, it was this one. So, I paappom-ed. A lot.

As life goes on, I find myself ‘paappom’-ing more and more often, with my touching faith in luck and providence that time will sort things out (especially unpleasant situations – but I can assure you that seldom happens.)

Anyway, 2022 being a ‘Let’s see!” Year means that we do have to see what 2023 looks like.

A colleague once told me that their family thinks of words to live by in the upcoming year during Christmas holidays. If they chose, “Excellent!”, they answered everyone who asked them how they were with ‘Excellent’ for the next year. Isn’t that an excellent idea?

I asked the children for possible words the year I heard this, and promptly abandoned the exercise, for the words that came up were horrendous, cringe-worthy and frankly ridiculous. (The nourish-n-cherish household, I tell you!)

Anyway, what words would you like to choose for 2023?

As it was, so it shall be!

It was the day after the storm. The white and blue of the skies above belied the battering of the previous two days. The torrents of rain lashing down, and the dark clouds seemed like a dream.

As much as I love a rainy day adventure, the day after the rainy day has an appeal of its own. The world seems sparkling and clean, the air still has a lingering moisture in the air somehow making it smell fresher and sweeter. The glistening droplets on the flowers and treetops make for interesting interludes if they happen to drip on your upturned face, and the birds, oh the birds! They make up for everything. Their trilling is fuller, and richer – maybe they are relishing the sweet fresh Earth too.

This particular morning, I looked up at the blue skies with perfectly designed and placed fluffy clouds. There was even a Mickey Mouse shaped one to remind me to smile and think of the happiest place on earth (right then, it was there watching that cloud and taking in all the world around me).

My heart skipped along joyously when I was stopped my tracks by a California blue jay chipping away at the last remaining fruit in a fruit tree. 

I know this statement seems unremarkable. But when philosophers tell you savor every moment, I think they mean moments like this one. There was nothing special or remarkable about it. But it had that ethereal ability to capture the past, present and the future in one shining bubble.

All the leaves had fallen with the last storm, the bird was dry and trying to get at its food. This one poignant image sticks with me – of all the hundreds of photographs taken, this moment was one I did not capture. Yet, it seemed to hold the storm, life after the storm and hints of life during the storm in it.

As it was, so it shall be.

What does one say for moments such as this one? I don’t know. Maybe the reason I enjoyed the moment so much was because I had that childlike wonder of shoshin in me when I stepped out that morning, or maybe it was because the warmth of the sun after a cold, wet few days was striking. Regardless, there we are sloshing through life, and when we stop to admire a blue jay on a bright morning, it seems like all will be well.

The Wonder of Sonder

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

 Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

I found myself reveling in this quote as I traveled recently to the opposite side of the globe.  I had been to Jaipur, India. It was a part of India that we normally do not visit on our little family trips, and was thus a novel, beautiful experience for me. Truly, Incredible India has many surprises up its sleeve. UNESCO sites dotted the place, the vibrant active city co-mingling easily amidst centuries of history was more heartwarming than ever. 

We had visited the Amer Fort near Jaipur and our guide’s narrative views on the socio-economic views of those who had lived in the fort were well worth mulling over.

It was while we were discussing the flow of information that I got to musing on the nature of truth. There was a version of events presented to us over time. There was a version of these events that people lived through. The victors and the vanquished of all those battles, I am sure there were spies, untruths, noise, and chatter back in the days of royalty as well. Human beings have always been a complicated species, and the abilities to sort through what is right, what is factual and what needs benefit-of-doubt and so on have been questions that have wracked generations. More so, in ours, thanks to the speed and efficiency of information spread. 

To have a conversation about Twitter in the palace of the Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Jai Singh, was both amusing and exotic.

While, ancient ruins do have an appeal of its own, a thriving populace right alongside all of these historical sights makes for an even more interesting narrative in our heads. Just imagine the number of people who’d walked past this very strip of land: kings, queens, princesses, princes, soldiers, charioteers, jutka-pullers, robe-makers, royal jewelers, sculptors, artists, musicians, dancers, ministers, priests, philosophers, poets, maids, chefs, dhobis, plumbers, architects, animal trainers, army generals, court jesters, astrologers, astronomers, physicians, scientists, software engineers, surgeons, guides, shopkeepers, memorabilia makers and sellers, mobile phone operators, tuk-tuk drivers, bus drivers, journalists, advertisers, local influencers, and social media influencers.

How many more new professions would get to traipse along these very sands as they try to take in the long and incredibly short history of homosapiens? It is all highly fascinating when we stop to think of these things amidst all the noise and chaos that surrounds us. That is what I did that day:  imagined one of those fast-forward sequences with all the different folks who make up our society as they navigated life in this city over the past 295 years. 

Not unlike one of those sudden disorienting sensations that the persons we see going past us are just the same as we are: All people with bursts and spurts of emotions surging, thoughts swirling, ambitions burning, life calling, livelihood beckoning, creativity surging, peace loving, adventure liking, love yearning souls straddling the demands of life on the sands of time. 

There is a word for that.

Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

So, there you have it. I had a moment of sonder on the other side of the globe that really we are one, and the wonder of that unifying feeling was one of the many many revelations of travel.

The Gingko’s Wisdom

The gingko trees have all spoken to each other, and the lovely trees have shaken off their golden robes all at once. I passed the stark trees on my daily walk and stopped suddenly. I remember stopping to admire the fresh green gingko leaves as the year started out. 

One year. 

One paradoxical year.

One tumultuous year.

One <Please-fill-in-the-blanks> year.

Yet, the gingko trees went on as before. They grew leaves, they displayed them in their glorious green, and their resplendent golden yellows, till they went back to being stark stumps again. 

Another year. 

Another year of the unexpected?

Another year of surprises?

Another <Please-fill-in-the-blanks> year.

As I pulled the husband along on a cold, rainy walk, I told him that the same time last year when we stopped to consider the bare branches of the gingko tree, we had no idea what the year would bring. The same way that we don’t know what the year ahead would bring. I shuddered a little (I’d like to think it was the freezing winds of the storm). The young gingko nearby withstood the winds without a tremor.

“Well…”, I said, donning my philosophical face. “Whatever the new year brings, there is comfort in the fact that there is a constancy in nature. The gingko tree’s seasons.”

“Pesu (talk!)!” Said the husband and laughed looking at my sincere face. I joined him. It is so easy to say these things.  Why is it then so hard to practice?

Maybe we need the tree’s lessons to be more than philosophical. A little more neurological: Belonging with Trees.

Read also: The night of the Gingko : By Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker magazine.

Royalty – No Thanks! RoyalTea Please!

I had the opportunity of visiting Jaipur and while there, a friend was kind enough to take me to the Ajmer Fort. It was a beautiful day for the fort and after the initial haggling and nuisance of guide badgering, we managed to find a guide who could explain things in English to us. 

The visit was a welcome one. For all of us are mired in our daily lives, our problems looming large over the horizon, sometimes enveloping us. However, a short sojourn into the lives of those who lived a couple of centuries ago is revelatory. A spot of time travel is all it takes: Our problems do not go away but something shifts in our perspective to handle them. 

Standing there, atop a hillside and looking down at the Queen’s palaces, the guide told us about the political rivalry between the queens themselves. The king, he was telling us about, had 12 queens. Each queen had her own staff (each had at least 38 maids according to the maids quarters), and obviously had diplomatic relations with her fellow queens. A delicate balance of power, respect, and information exchange ought to have existed in these very spaces. The queens were leaders in their domains: their aristocratic birth and training only able to account for their fate till they got to become queens of the raja. After that, they had to keep up their image, fight their own battles, live with the fact that they could lose their sons & husbands to war anytime, and figure out a method of survival or not if they found themselves at the mercy of the invading army. 

I suddenly felt overwhelmed at the problems of their day. I am sure they received the best guidance available to them at the time, but nevertheless, they lived hard, admirable lives. To ensure that one received the right amount of attention from their king was part of the puzzle. How could you be just enticing enough for the king, and continue to be liked by the other queens? Budgets, staff management, administrative duties, leadership training for the young princes’ and princess’s . 

As we stood there taking in the stories of the guide, I felt a shift in perspective with respect to my own career. It is life after all. Every one had trials and tribulations to carry on. I understood vaguely what people meant when they said that each life is an illusion (not that we suffer any less because people tell us this).

As our guide marched on through the palace quarters, he told us about various aspects of royal life. The scented waters, the mechanisms used to keep cool in a desert, the entertainment choices, the staff who protected them and finally the baths where they could relax and rejuvenate. As I peered into the bath-tub of centuries ago, I could imagine them being waited on by their female attendants, and getting dressed with 42 different pieces of jewellery, before they could present themselves in public. 

That evening, when I stepped into the shower for a quick rinse off, I felt a wave of gratitude. The water was hot, and the plumbing perfect. The clothing I had ensured I made it for dinner downstairs in the hotel in 10 minutes. What’s more? There were no diplomatic connotations to the color of the jeans I wore.

I felt an enormous sense of how far we’d come! Royalty may have been all well, but I think we have it better. My Royal Tea awaited downstairs and I bounded downstairs with no queenly dignity.

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