Philhellenism – the love of Greek culture

After the freezing days of Paris, as we were bundling ourselves up in layers (yet again) , I said somewhat severely to the husband. “I think I’ve had enough of European vacations. After a few museums, a half a dozen cathedrals, and a few hundred pieces of art, I am done.”

The husband smiled one of his crafty smiles and agreed, for he knew that I will be the one craving a European vacation first. He just had to sit by, observe, and make bets with the children on the timing.

So, it was that we boarded our flight to Athens. Athens, the weather app promised us ,would be warmer, but still cold. It was expected to be between 40F & 65F (a difference of almost 15 degrees).

It was like every mile added not just warmth, but a different tinge to the culture. We had no idea on what to expect in Greece. It was our first time. A destination chosen by popular vote since the children are great fans of greek myths and have devoured all the books by Rick Riordan multiple times over. The husband had even booked a mythological tour to surprise them. But apart from this, our idea of Greece was based on A Big Fat Greek Wedding, Greek Myths by DeLaurailes, Gerald Durrell’s Corfu trilogy: My Family and Other Animals, Farther Afield by Miss Read, and all the different tidbits we knew about Greek philosophers, and mathematicians through the ages. 

As you can see, we had no idea, which was marvelous, for we were thoroughly unprepared for what happened next. We fell in love! In love with the city of Athens, the country of Greece, and the Greeks themselves.

After the professional intellectualism of Paris, Athens was like walking into a theme park – here you can have philosophy, art, literature and all the little marvels of the mind, but only if you agree to lighten up, have fun, and stay curious. The gentle humor and warmth with which the Greeks speak to each other and to the tourists is to be seen to be believed. They are a fun-loving, smart, and kind people. It is no wonder that this small country tucked away in the Mediterranean Sea gave us so much of the foundations of Western philosophy and culture. If Democracy had not been chanced upon here, I doubt it would’ve survived or chanced upon at all. As it is, it has so many assaults on it, it is fragile enough that we protect it. Greece is like the Disneyland of Europe. It reminds you of life as it should be: ambitious and lofty in our goals, but reminding us at every turn with their jolly, vivacious myths, of our humanity, our sense of community, and the importance of humility. 

I hung out of the window in the chill morning peering at the Acropolis. Those buildings were from the 5th century BC. Athens (the Greek call their beloved city, Athina after the goddess Athena) has been continuously populated over the past 6000 years. This showed up in little things such as drainage systems, rebuilding efforts and such (we found to our surprise that toilet paper cannot be flushed in Greece, and water bidets are not installed everywhere either).

It is hard to not get up in the morning and think that you are but a butterfly in the passage of time. On the mythological tour, Denai (our mythological tour guide) was informative and thoroughly impressed with the son’s knowledge of the Greek myths. I strutted along ( a proud parent) and learning so much of the mythologies that helped shape our way of the world, that I must say the cold forgot to bother me.

Who cannot be awed by the story of the Temple of Zeus being destroyed multiple times in history and the latest one by lightning? If that was not a sign from Zeus – the god of lightning himself, the Greeks did not know what was.

Or that wonderful story about how the city of Athens got its name. Apparently, it was such a popular place that even the Gods fought for the place. So Zeus tired of this bickering asked Poseidon & Athena to decide via a popular vote. Each had to give a gift to the populace and the people could decide.

  1. Poseidon – the god of the oceans, gave them water, signifying naval power and thus prosperity as a port city. This gift appealed to the men of the land.
  • Athena – the goddess of wisdom and strategy, gave them the olive tree, signifying the change from hunter-gatherer mode to prosperity from the land. The women liked all the different uses from the olive tree (olives, light from the lamps lit using olive oil, the wood etc).

The citizens chose Athena’s gifts – for  according to myth, women outnumbered men at the time of the vote and Athena won. This made Poseidon angry and to mollify him, the temple of Poseidon overlooks the city of Athens, while Athena’s temple overlooks the oceans. It was also why women were not allowed to vote from then on (again a myth, since it was never obvious that women had the vote in Greece. According to wikipedia – women gained the vote in Greece as late as 1952. But it was a crafty way to deny women their voting rights and have a story around it.

In the parliament square, the temple of Athena stood alongside that of Hephaestus, signifying that intellectual work was just as important as physical work. This was the place the philosophers gathered alongside the farmers to decide, debate and vote on the important matters of the day. Both types of people had to be in harmony for a prosperous society.

Thus it went in Greece. Wherever you went, there was a little story, involving the mighty gods, and their follies, all narrated by the populace with gentle humor.

And yet. While the myths are everywhere, there is a surprising and thoroughly lovable lack of reverence to these gods. They are gods – sure. But they have flaws – big ones. Much bigger than our own flaws since they are so much more popular and powerful.

I think it has to do with the complete dissociation of religion from the mythology. Indian mythology is just as broad, diverse and intricate – but since it is intertwined with Hinduism, good luck trying to be flippant about any aspect of it no matter how justified.

“Next time we come to Europe, we must stay longer in Greece, so we can go to the countryside and visit the little villages that dot Greece, maybe visit the island of Crete and Corfu.”, I said at the end of the glorious day in which we had eaten far too much delicious food, enjoyed far too many myths, and been far too enamored by the music and language of the greeks.

“Twenty-four hours!”, said the husband exchanging knowing winks with the children. They all guffawed.

“Amma – you said – No more Europe! Africa calls, and Australia sings and all that, 24 hours ago!”

What was there to say?  That’s how people fall in love with a country. It is no wonder they have a word for it. Philhellenism – a love of Greek culture!

🐓 🦆 🦢 Akua Manu 🐓 🦆🦢

Almost as soon as one lands win the quaint island of Kauai, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing. As one fellow traveler put it, the roosters of Hawaii are like squirrels everywhere else. They are everywhere, and probably contribute to the seeding and flowering of the habitats near them in myriad ways. 

They ducked and weaved through the airport traffic, just as surely as they waddled into the fragrant plumeria flowers flitting down from the trees above.

The roosters there sure have a comical element to them. Moana’s Hei-Hei could have been a real life characterization of any of these birds.

heart-moana.gif
Hei-Hei of Moana Fame

The children sat inside the car cackling and laughing as I ran out into the parking lot ahead of me to shoo the birds away as the languid car trundled into its spot in the parking lots. Sound effects included: baaackk—buck-buck-buck….shoo-shoo-duck-duck-goose, nene-nene-nene with an inspiring arm flailing and running after the birds. 

“Just one video of this ma! “ said the teenage daughter and niece to many enthusiastic nods from their little brother. I joined them in the laughter but refused to star in a video like this. One has one limits – even if it is to entertain our fellow human beings.

“I love birds too much and these birds seem to be so – I don’t know, bird-brained! Huh! Is that where the term comes from? Makes sense. These birds seem to think the roads belong to them and they sit there – pecking at whatever it is on the roads!” I said.

Just as engaging as the roosters are the red breasted cardinals, the nene (geese), cattle egrets, starlings, mockingbirds, plovers, sandpipers near the beaches , and the marvelously inspiring long-tailed tropicbirds. 

Standing atop the viewpoints of the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, the long tailed tropic birds gained our attention and admiration. Gracefully traversing the yawning canyon below them in swift smooth flights, these birds seem to fly in and out of rainbows 🌈 . If that isn’t magical I don’t know what is. 

It is no wonder that Hawaiian folktales are so rich with their imagery of birds and ocean animals.  

Every morning, as the sunlight crept in through the clouds, and ushered in another surreal day in the magical islands, The Hawaiian state birds, Nene as the geese there are called, did  their bit and squawked their way into our consciousness as well. 

Some nights I would wander outside to stand under the stars when I’d notice groups of nene sleeping under the stars. ✨ Seeing them under the stars like that made me slightly envious I must admit.

Whether it was the beautiful darting and elusive ‘i’iwi (hummingbird -like creatures that are endangered) or the common roosters, starlings, egrets, cardinals, and nene, the birds (Manu) of Kauai have a divinity (a certain Akua) about them that make you want to soar in spirits with them. 

One morning I caught the daughter sounding very much like me and chastising her little brother who was watching Marvel on the television. “You come to Kauai and watch these super-hero fellows again – no! Nuh-uh! Out!”

“But there is nothing now – just eating breakfast and watching TV!” came the wounded reply from the budding naturalist. But his sister was firm and switched off the television.

The fellow came into the kitchen, and I shushed him, for out on the verandah was a small, and elegantly regal-looking red-breasted cardinal. We watched the bird in awe for several minutes before our spell was broken, and we sighed contentedly and went about the day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Hawaii

If naturalists go to heaven (about which there is considerable ecclesiastical doubt), I hope that I will be furnished with a troop of kakapo to amuse me in the evening instead of television.

Gerald Durell

The Enchanted Turtles

We are back from a beautiful few days in Kauai, Hawaii.

There is something about the light and sights of an island paradise that always amaze me. Even the darkness seems to be scented by a different tint of light (could it be that the surrounding oceans make for darker skies and the magical stars spread their light more?)

As Gerald Durrell says about the island of Corfu in his writing:

“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen. Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.” 

Gerald Durrell, The Corfu Trilogy

One morning, two days into our vacation in the Garden Island, Kauai, we decided to have a slower morning. We had been rushing and ticking sights off our list ever since we arrived. So, that morning, we lolled and strolled nearby. A tourist magnet like Hawaii doesn’t have too many hidden gems, but walking through the streets has gems enough. We strolled to a nearby lagoon or bay with some rough hidden spots. We sat on the rocks watching the waters slosh into the rocks below. There is something surprising every time we stop and still our senses. 

10 minutes into sitting on the rocks and watching the waters below was enough. We spotted 3 large turtles almost all at once. The children and I squealed at the turtles 🐢 swimming and sloshing in the rough waters below. To see a large sea turtle in the ocean is a gift few get, and even fewer appreciate. As for us, we were thrilled. 

The delight and serendipity of a sight like lit the world around us. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see the magnificence of the sea turtles coming up, looking around and ducking back in with the waves. 

That afternoon, a helpful lady at the resort told us about a hike in a mahogany forest, and off we went. Through the forest, with the sun light filtering though the green canopy overhead, there was a diversion marked ‘Enchanted Forest’. How could one resist a path marked thus? Off we tread into the enchanted forest then, and enchanted it was. There were clumps of touch-me-nots every few feet, and the quiet of the forest only interspersed with the chittering of the exotic Hawaiian birds was magical.

That evening, as I closed my eyes for the night, the turtles came unbidden to wish me good night – sloshing and rolling in the tumultuous waters of the bay. I clutched the firm  bed, made probably of mahogany wood, and couldn’t help feeling a sense of gratitude for the enchanted turtles and forests that bless our days on Earth.

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

Dancing Hippos of Loango

The summer solstice was unusually hot this time of the year. 

I was just back from the pool. The children looked at me approvingly as I hummed through the early evening light making dosas for dinner. “Amma is like one of those partying surfing hippos of Loango isn’t it?” said the children, and I beamed.

“Those hippos are so cool – riding the coastline, swimming so well – I want to be able to swim like them. I mean, I sputter and bumble in the pool. Imagine if I could swim like the happy hippos of Loango?” I sang and danced a little hippo jig. 

The children exchanged glances and burst out laughing. “You know? Some moms would be offended if they are called the surfing hippos of Loango. “ 

“Well, I am honored.” said I truthfully. “Fascinating creatures hippos. Do y’all remember the hippo handbag I had? Drew admiring glances a few times that one.”

“Yeah – also pitiful ones ma. That one was falling apart – we know, actually the whole world knew, you liked the hippo handbag.” Said the older eye-roll and the younger eye roll in unison.

I laughed. “By the way, did you also know that Taweret – the greek goddess of childbirth was a hippo?” Said the mythology experts in the house, and I glanced up from my dosas with wonder and curiosity. 

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taweret

Taweret , a goddess depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus standing upright.

Mankind has for ages gleaned its inspirations from the animal world. All the more reason for us to protect the diversity of life and the planet that nurtures them all. 

Ever since we saw the first episode on National Parks narrated by Barack Obama, we all fell in love with the surfing hippos of Loango, the flying sifakas of Madagascar, the camouflaging coolness of the sleepy sloths that have the potential to cure cancer and so much more.

Watching programs featuring the wild in the National Geographic or the National Parks series make me glad that I am alive in today’s day and age. The camera angles, the kind of cinematography, the explosion of knowledge and sharing, the entertainment options and standards, technology everything is instrumental in a wildlife show. Where previously, we had to rely on the mental imagery through words such as Gerald Durrell’s, now we have the ability to see the guanacos act of survival in the Patagonian landscapes right along side the sluggish sea lions on the Californian coast. If that isn’t lucky, I don’t what is.

I have tried capturing a butterfly with my phone several times, and I must confess this simple act is all it takes for me to gain a sense of awe with the captures of these wildlife photographers and documentary producers. 

Donkey Days

It isn’t everyday that one gets to meet the inspiration behind a star. 

Not just any star, but an internationally loved one, with no scandals or gossip magazines thrusting their weight of circulation and readership behind them. Where do such stars exist? you ask thinking of all the gossip columns, and the entire magazine staff making their monthly rent (and amenities) writing and analyzing their lives.

Well, such a star could only be a much admired animated character, and therefore the joy is doubly special.

It was a hot day, and the earth was baking lightly when I announced my intention to go walking with my friends in Palo Alto. The smog from forest fires nearby was almost unbearable: birds drooped and took refuge in the trees, plants smacked their lips and dug deeper for some water.  

“You’re nuts you know that? Who goes for a walk on a day like this?” , said the daughter.

I beamed in return, and said it mattered not one whit that it felt like a summer stroll on Venus, for I had very cool friends to walk with!

The daughter, being the daughter, giggled and patted my hair patronizingly.

The son, being the son, rattled off some statistics basically letting me know that Venus is far worse. But you, dear reader, I am sure you get the gist without knowing the exact megatons of carbon dioxide in Venus’ atmosphere. (For those of you still curious, please watch this video from Kurzgesagt : Terraforming Venus) This is a popular topic with the son and I have another post to write on a walk in which we discussed these seemingly impossible things. 

I meander like a drying up river losing its senses along the way on a hot summer day. Where was I? Yes – meeting a celebrity. Anyway, there we were in Palo Alto – my c.friends and I, walking down a wooded path trying to shake off the oppressive heat, and being marvelously uplifted by the conversation. 

At journey’s end, we stood there humbled by the stars of the day. Our friend had taken us to Barron Park, where the local family had maintained donkeys, and they had become a local attraction.

One of the donkeys in front of our eyes was the inspiration behind the donkey in Shrek – that gullible, loquacious, annoying donkey. These donkeys, Perry and Buddy, though were remarkably quiet, enjoying their pasture, and gazing serenely about their surroundings. 

Perry – The inspiration behind Shrek’s Donkey

Standing there and looking on these sturdy marvelous gentle animals made me think of all the loving donkeys in literature. The ones who appeared in Panchatantra stories, the fables of Aesop, Sally who is Gerald Durrell’s pet donkey, the beautiful days of life with sultan the donkey, and of course the loving term I use to sometimes refer to the children, “Kazhudhai”(meaning baby donkey in Tamil).

I headed back home with glee, and called out lovingly to the children, “Hey kutti kazhudhais. Guess who I saw today?” And out blurted the whole tale of the darling donkeys in Barron Park, and the daughter amidst her giggles said, “Oh! I thought when you called me kazhudhai, it was an insult, but it is a loving insult huh?”

I laughed. “Well, yes, I called out to Buddy and Perry, and they gave me the exact reaction that you give me. “

“What is that?”

“Acting as though they did not hear and kept on grazing happily in their little pasture.”

Her laugh would have made Donkey in Shrek proud.

I loved the donkeys of literature, the endearing “donkeys” in my life, and the gentle, sturdy, hardworking, peaceful animals that inspired the world starting from the days of Aesop, through the mangers of Nazareth, to Shrek’s donkey

Snail Tales

When R K Narayan said, writing is like a yoga, I suppose he didn’t quite envision the exact pose in which inspiration would strike. For me, it seems to be in the Shavasana(sleeping or corpse) pose. Take Saturday night for instance. I had mooned about the hills early in the am. Happy  cows, and cheeky turkeys hobnobbed with nervous cows and pesky humans to great delight in the misty dews of the morning. 

A morning out in nature is usually balm enough to get the old inspiration going. I spent the whole day with wisps of little sentences floating in and out of the brain. Sentences that would make amazing epiphanies, little witticisms that I yearn for when trying bite-size nuggets of wisdom, they all paid a visit.

Throughout the day, inspiration seemed to come along just when I was slicing the onions, or grumbling about the crumbs with the old vacuum cleaner in hand. I had no access to put some of these words to paper. Then, early evening came, and I sat down to write, when the beautiful full moon rose – hanging like a large golden orb over the Earth. Poets swooned, artists swelled, and writers bloomed. I rushed in, opened my laptop, and had one of the dullest writing sessions possible. 

I teased and pleaded – trying to gather the wisps into a cotton ball of candy, but nothing happened. I wrote the dullest set of sentences conceivable and decided to not fight the muse anymore, and headed to bed. 

I opened , Over Seventy, by P G Wodehouse, (his autobiography) and there was a section written by P G Wodehouse on how he would hesitate to use snails as subjects.

“As a writer I have always rather kept off snails, feeling that they lacked sustained dramatic interest,. With a snail, nothing much ever happens, and of course, there is no sex angle. An informant I can rely says they are ‘sexless or at least ambivalent… Obviously, the snail-meets-snail, snail-loses-snail, snail-gets-snail formula will not help you and this discourages writers from the start.”

Over Seventy – P G Wodehouse – Essay on Bridges, Snails and Meteorites

Well, what do you think this innocuous paragraph did? It started the brain off on a most interesting snail trail. I harked back to the book, Birds, Beasts & Relatives, by Gerald Durrell, where he dedicates a good portion of his musings on myrtle forests to snails, and what an interesting love subject it proved to be.

He writes with such obvious rapture on the mating ritual of snails, that I wonder why entire sonnets aren’t dedicated to this marvelous endeavor. He had the good fortune of finding the slow blisters stirred into action after a freak thunderstorm got them going. 

Sure enough, on a myrtle branch there were two fat, honey- and amber-coloured snails gliding smoothly towards each other, their horns waving provocatively.

… This freak storm had obviously awakened them and made them feel gay and romantic. 

So, there they were, side by side attached to each other by the two little white cords. And there they sat like two curious sailing ships roped together. This was amazing enough, but stranger things were to follow. The cords gradually appeared to get shorter and shorter and drew the two snails together. They stayed rapturously side by side for some fifteen minutes and then, without so much as a nod or a thank you, they glided away in opposite directions, neither one displaying any signs of darts or ropes, or indeed any sign of enthusiasm at having culminated their love affair successfully.”

Birds, Beasts, and Relatives – By Gerald Durrell – Essay on Myrtle Forests

I closed the book, and an image from the early evening, with the skies pink in the setting sun arose. I had just watered the plants. The children and I had squealed at the moisture at the end of the hot day, and stood there enjoying the little rainbows created by the water sprays, when I spotted a snail clinging to the succulents, and making a slow but hard climb towards the lavender patch. The children gathered around to see the beautiful creature too. Was the snail’s sentience relishing the sunset skies too?

Sluggish thoughts indeed, but rather the best for a drift into sleep. Where old P.G.Wodehouse was stumped with the snail-as-dramatic-love-interest angle, old Gerald Durrell had spun a yarn with the very angle. I yawned one of those jaw-breaking ones, and resolved to write about snails instead. So, here we are.

Back from the Brink

Matt Sewell’s, book, Forgotten Beasts: Amazing creatures that once roamed the Earth is a highly captivating book of animals that once roamed the Earth. Beautifully illustrated, this book is a marvel. Every time, I marvel at how life managed to thrive, sustain, and regenerate in all its fantastic forms. As I thumbed through the pages, admiring the defense mechanisms of each animal, the unique ways in which they thrived and survived, an obvious question flickered through the brain : how many of our current organisms are having the same sort of trouble?

Starting with prehistoric animals, the book slowly walks through the animals through the ages, and finally arrives at the timeline in which human-beings appeared. 

The next book was the obvious pair to Matt Sewell’s book of extinct animals. It is: 100 animals to see before they die – By Nick Garbutt & Mike Unwin. 

Reading these two, along with Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell, made for an interesting time in the old head. Gerald Durrell is a naturalist and his obvious enchantment with the fauna he finds around him, led to create the Durrell Foundation for Conservation of Animals.

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (The Corfu Trilogy Book 2) by [Gerald Durrell]

 

So, it was a surprise indeed to be able to watch the excellent documentary, Back to the Brink at the Boston Science Museum. 

We charged and weaved through traffic to make it to Back from the Brink. The documentary was playing in the Boston Science Museum for which the son & I were going. This was going to be our special afternoon, and we had made any number of snafus with the tickets, the cab to get there etc. But we were there at the right time, and the pair of us took a few deep breaths. 

How often we find ourselves mired myopically into our own lives? It is at moments like these, that books, museums, and documentaries do their bit I suppose. We sat there, as the camera zoomed and picked us along for the ride. We were there to watch the exhilarating recovery of 3 animals who had made it off the endangered list. 

As I sat there watching nature’s survival unfold before us on the high ceilinged dome, I remember thinking of Gerald Durrell’s book, Mockery Bird, and the sense of awe when I learned that Charles Darwin predicted a particular kind of species- a long proboscis, he said, should be there, given that there were flowers with a long tubular structure. A decade later, they did find the hawkmoth capable of pollinating the star orchids. How thrilling is must be, to be able to figure out things like that?

In Back from the Brink, the documentary walks us through 3 different scenarios in which man-made decisions led to the near extinction of certain species, and how man-made efforts also brought them back from the brink of extinction. 

  • The first one was about the foxes in Catalina Island, off the coast of California
  • The second one was on golden monkeys in China
  • The third were the red crabs in an island near Australia 

Each species has a different story arc – the foxes in Catalina Island were the result of DDT spray affecting the eggs laid by the bald eagles near the island. This led to a mass dying / migration of bald eagles. Once the bald eagles were no longer there, the golden eagles swooped in, and for them, these tiny foxes were prey. How the team of naturalists figured this piece out, and how they went about trapping foxes, bald eagles, and golden eagles, and then nurtured and relocated them till they could thrive again, is a marvelous journey.

The golden monkeys were a simple case of stopping poaching, but a hard fight indeed to get the poachers to act as guardians in these snowy terrains. 

The red crabs had an army to fight and thrive against. The yellow crazy ants who accidentally came off the ships years ago, had ran amuck, and the crabs were being inched out of their own homes. This one, had a unique solution too. The naturalists introduced another species(knowing fully well out how much havoc such an act could cause). After much deliberation, they did so. The yellow ant population came down, and the crabs could thrive again. 

The Boston Science Museum is a marvelous place for the curious and the uninterested alike. 

Is This Bohemian Chic?

We have been gallivanting across Boston and New York the past few days. 

I remember reading a children’s book a long time ago about the country mouse who came to visit his cousin who lived in the town. Not surprisingly, I commiserated with the little country mouse who was dazzled and sprazzled by the city. 

I felt the same way when I first visited Bombay, now known as Mumbai, as a little girl. From the hills of Nilgiris, where bus drivers stopped so we could safely straggle across while learning to ride the bicycle, and train drivers stopped for the mother running to the station, to Bombay, where no one, it seemed, stopped for anyone or anything else, was a long journey – 2 days and 2 nights by train to be precise. I clutched my father’s hand, the whole time in Bombay, and never let go, especially on the electric trains. Maybe, some of those calluses on his old hand, are from that trip. 

I have the same feeling in New York. The city sprawls in all directions. The people, the subway, the sights, the movements feel too fast for a country mouse. There is so much to do – the energy exhilarating and enervating at the same time. 

I said as much to the children, and they gave me pitying looks. “What you need is some Bohemian Chic!”, said the daughter diagnosing me with a severe expression on her face.

I had no idea what that meant, but told her we would do our best to find Bohemian Chic.

We had great fun running in one direction, only to find the little GPS dot turning slowly away from where we were supposed to go, and then charged back again. “Is this Bohemian Chic?” I asked.

One time, we stood looking diffident and muddled when a pair of flamboyantly dressed gentlemen stopped and asked us directions to get to some square. We told them we were new to the city too, and agreed that it was best to ask someone else. A good twenty minutes later, we had boarded the train in the wrong direction, gotten down at the next station and came back riding the train in the correct direction, and found the gentlemen boarding the train too. I swear they tipped their bohemian hats and winked!

I splashed into bed after 2 hectic days in New York City, and felt spent. I had no idea how much we had walked. We had spent so many hours and days in the city, soaking in sights and the sounds of traffic, that I yearned to see the moon rise over the hills, the ducks squawk and geese fly. I had no idea how much these things refreshed me. 

Subconsciously, I think, I had selected for my reading during this time of city-living, the book:

Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell.

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (The Corfu Trilogy Book 2) by [Gerald Durrell]

A sequel to My Family & Other Animals, it is the second set of autobiographical tales by naturalist Gerald Durrell set in the beautiful sun-lit island of Corfu near Greece. After the hurried, panting days of New York, I bathed in the refreshing days of Corfu and the young author’s adventures ranging from rearing sea-horses and hedgehogs, to bear-dancing, and donkey-riding. It was all that was necessary. 

“Coming from the calm, slow, sunlit days of Corfu, our arrival in London, late in the evening, was a shattering experience. So many people were at the station that we did not know, all hurrying grey-faced and worried.”

Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts & Relatives

I remember feeling a similar kind of gratitude to Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard on a similar long urban trip to the crowded cities of South Asia.

Today, we decided to walk around Brooklyn and not much more. The day was sweltering: the children wanted a bookstore-day, and we ducked into a couple of them with gratitude. After a cool few hours, we staggered out with books, and very pleased expressions on our faces. 

Do you have any books by Gerald Durrell? I asked the lady at the counter, and she looked it up, and said, “I have My Family & Other Animals!”. I have the book, have bought it several times to gift it to others, but I still felt a strange sense of calm at this. 

Is this Bohemian Chic? If so, I like it!

The New Nest

The chirping of the birds in the morning is a welcome sound. I hadn’t really stopped to think about it much till the pandemic year came about. The sudden quieting of the traffic, the necessary stalling of our maddening rush all contributed to this I suppose.

I found myself taking my little cups of refreshing coffee and tea out into the backyard whenever I could so I could enjoy the sips while getting in a spot of fresh air, and a look at the trees. The birds chirping has been a nice gift. I suppose they always chirped.

As we re-evaluated our nest of many years, we found another charming gift. The birds chirp quite noisily in our new nest. These days, sub consciously, I look forward to taking my cup of tea or coffee out into the backyard and admiring the little welcome sights of life around me. The swooping blue jays, the amazingly quick humming birds, the butterflies, little swallows, black birds, and wrens all make for a marvelous orchestra of sorts.

Every time I open the doors in the morning, there is a fluttering sound. I was amused till I found that a dear little swallow has made its nest in our rafters by the front door. The poor creature seems agitated every time the door opens. I wish I could’ve told the little one to build the nest on the other side of the rafters so that she may have a little privacy and not be worried every time the door opened. But she did not check with me before painstakingly building her best nest for her little ones. Little birds don’t need property managers approving their spots before building their homes.

I feel a strange sense of kinship with this little bird. She must’ve been looking for a suitable spot for her little nest around the same time we were. And we both seem to have found the same spot to identify as home. If that isn’t special, what is?

Apart from the little bird, I have other new neighbors as well. For instance, every day a cat comes a-visiting and looks at me with seeking eyes. I did not quite understand the context – for she came every morning, evening and night. Sometimes, she approached me and stood a little distance away preening herself as if to say, “What’s taking you so long?” I was baffled – was I supposed to do something? Then, one day, I met my new human neighbors, and they enlightened me. Apparently, the previous owners had a cat that was this little beauty’s best friend. So, while we may have arranged for mortgages and property statements to be transferred, the cat was miffed. She needed her friend, and where was she?

The little dog in the mornings is another unexpected source of joy. He comes, and is so genuinely excited to greet us in the mornings, that it is a joy even though I am not much of a pet person. This little puppy was the first to welcome us into the community and thinks it is his job to get a belly rub and has me smiling at the memory all morning. 

Well, considering how much I love Gerald Durrell’s writing, I am sure he would approve of this domestic menagerie.

“I believe that all children should be surrounded by books and animals.” 
― Gerald Durrell

I wonder when the birds will hatch. Our nest is already noisy – it will be a joy to see the little nest in the rafters noisy too.

The Laughing Life

The son tumbled out of his room with yet another joke. His teachers apparently tell them a joke every now and then, and he repeats them to me if he finds them really funny, or remembers to. One of the many gifts of the Covid lifestyle are little snippets like this.

I stood there waiting and wondering what today’s j would be about.

“Why did the skeleton not go to the party?”

“I don’t know – because it had too many bones to pick?”

“Ha! Good one. But no.”

“Umm…don’t know. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?” I said a little impatience in the tone. I had to get to that next meeting.

“Because it had nobody to go with. Get it? Get it? No Body to go with?!”

I moaned and laughed at the same time. A lovely feeling of warmth spread through the being as I headed off. 

Later that day, I sat musing about humor and how marvelous a gift it is to humankind.

My Family and Other Animals is a marvelous book by Gerald Durrell. This book has the distinction of being the first book that I read belonging to the Humor genre. I remember it as though it was yesterday. Sitting in class 8-B, the sun was shining outside, there was a butterfly in the lawns outside, but our English teacher seemed to prefer the miracle of the written word to the fluttering butterflies outside. She put on her glasses and whipped the book out of her handbag in one elegant motion and said we were going to read the book.

My Family And Other Animals: See how the author makes you laugh when you read the title itself? she said. We must have looked like Canadian geese being tickled for the first time, for she proceeded to explain the humor in the title. I don’t know whether you have tried tickling a Canadian Goose. I haven’t, but I think they would react the same way. Stern looking creatures Canadian Geese.

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Anyway, I hope for my teacher’s sake that we loosened up as the reading progressed. But, now that I look back, it was one of the first books that made me look for humor in daily situations. Mark Twain – especially the little story of Tom Sawyer painting the wicket gate was another. Swami and Friends by R K Narayan was equally memorable. I remember reading somewhere that R K Narayan when asked about his inspiration for Malgudi – that eternally inviting town that beckons you every now and then, said, he just watched life pass him by and that was all there was to Malgudi.

Pickwick Papers was slow going initially, but the humor in the book was unmistakable. These are the times I am thankful for growing up in a pre-Internet, pre-on-demand television era. I might not have stuck with Pickwick Papers otherwise. 

The ultimate guide was of course P G Wodehouse. When in high school, I changed upon P G Wodehouse, I did not immediately appreciate it. It took a few readings, but oh! What a gift?! What a gift! 

The father, of course, was and remains a constant reminder to find joy in every day life. His jokes were not always appreciated by the mater, but he could take a the rough with the smooth. Life was funny, curious, interesting and not always serious if only we stopped to admire the humor in them. The husband, the daughter and the son all joined the bandwagon too. My Family and Other Animals was taking shape in the Nourish-N-Cherish household.

Where am I going with all of this?! Oh yes! The blog itself. Nourish & Cherish started as an act of whimsy 16 years ago. It is a place that I regularly choose to don the sunny side up mentality in life.  As I started to write down this little skeleton joke, I mused on the thousands of little jokes that did not make it to the blog. For of course, I am guilty of thinking about writing and reading about writing far more than writing itself. But I am glad for the ones that did make it.

In over 900 posts over the past 16 years, life has taught me time and again, that you can choose the sunny side up.

To infinity and beyond!

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