Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Are you on a billboard?

Times Square, Manhattan, NY

Amongst the bunch of hoardings at Times Square, the one that stands out is that of 'Forever 21', the American clothing brand. It's gimmicky, eye-catching and works on the power of vanity and voyeurism. While a camera streams live frames of the audience in front of the store, a virtual model appears on the screen to take polaroid snapshots of the crowd, but not before touching up her own make-up. She selects some people from the crowd, kisses them and either turns them into frogs or puts them into her Forever 21 bag.  Its silly how the crowd goes berserk. You'll see children and adults alike standing around, waiting for the model to pick them (on screen!). They'll be waving out frantically, trying to spot themselves and if/when they do, they'll go even more berserk. I don't know how many actually end up buying from them, but they're surely mighty pleased with the store! I am part of this picture too. Try and spot me :) 

PS. (The creator of the billboard says its software identifies and maps people on the street—especially those carrying the store’s shopping bags—then builds composites in near real-time, which it uses to build simulations for the display.) 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sexy Soul Oldies!

Broadway, Manhattan, NY 

All everyone seems to be talking about in New York, and I suspect in the rest of the US too, is the weather. Unfortunately, not in a good way. So temperatures have reached 108 degree F on some days in the last week and the National Weather Service has issued notice of a heatwave

I seem to be the only one not complaining. I mean, c'mon, if you've spent half your summers in Nagpur, where   108 would be considered normal, and at 90, people would positively be celebrating; and the other half of your life in Bombay - the city which defines global standards of humidity, you can barely think of heat as an reason to be depressed. 

So on Saturday when I stepped out of my apartment, I was pleasantly surprised to find a crowd gathered around a stall at the summer fair on Broadway. I'll pause here to tell you a bit about the fair. Do you remember Friday canteen in school? (or maybe we were the only ones who had it!) where a bunch of people come together, put up a stall, sell their wares, and everyone basically has a lot of fun? Well, that's what summer fair at Broadway is all about - a weekly fair that happens every Saturday, on...err...Broadway, which to me means that I don't need to walk more than 5 steps out of our apartment building to soak in the summer joy! There's good food (strawberry and nutella crepe! slurrp!), lots of discount shopping, games and music! On the last one, is what this post is actually about (okay so I took a while to get here). Back to the crowd I walked into.

What you see in the picture is what was in front of us. Just that. An eclectically dressed man, behind a desk with music cds, most of which I haven't ever heard of, and an amusing shop display that identified his wares as "Sexy Soul Oldies"

Nothing so interesting about that you say. I agree. Except that this Sexy Soul Oldie got a bunch of heat-frustrated, sweat-dripping, drained-looking people rocking like I've never seen before, other than at live concerts! And the only method he employed was to have fun himself. Put on some foot-tapping music, classics I believe, and danced away like there was no tomorrow. Naturally, everyone around got gathering, tapping, singing, snapping their fingers, etc. A little old lady even did a jig prompting 'sexy soul oldie' to get to her and do a duet. That's when the crowd really let go. I kid you not, there were like 30 people, right there, in the middle of the street, all ages, although mostly older ones (assuming they came from the same generation as the music), jigging, twisting, foot-tapping, clapping. It was a sight! I wish I had a better video than the one I do now. I've uploaded one to FB anyway for those still curious. It was taken right at the beginning when he started so the enthusiasm still hadn't built up as much as it did later. But for now, I'll let this picture do the talking! Here's one for All the Sexy Soul Oldies out there! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Just Another Day

"Just Another Day"
Central Park, New York, NY 
Calm on the surface, a ripple so slow
Underneath lies turbulence, its struggle unknown
Life's like that, we don't often know
Far on the ocean, rocking life's boat

We look for calm waters, in which to stay on
The horizon looks blue, innocent of a storm
Alone in course, there will be no friend
To steer your ship, to hold your hand

To find your way, you must disclose
Open the chambers, your heart has closed
Define your course, and claim your joy
For even in the waters, there's happiness to come by

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sugar Rush

Spot Desser Bar, Manhattan, New York
There was a time when I used to call myself a 'dessert fan'. That was untill I discovered that 'dessert' does not equal 'chocolate'. Sigh! 

Now, towards the end of every meal, if Im asked, do you want dessert, my response more often than not is to shake my head horizontally (unless I know for certain, there's chocolate somewhere!) But what do you do when you land up at a an all-dessert bar, that is the talk-of-your-town, and that doesn't have *any* all-chocolate dessert? Guess, you find out over one disappointing meal that nothing, and I mean nothing, comes close to chocolate!

So there we were, at this Spot Dessert Bar, after a heavy dinner of Thai cuisine.  

Maybe the expectations were set too high - by the accompanying friends, the pictures of the desserts on the walls of the eatery or the reviews I'd heard/read. But I was left sorely dissappointed. Small bite-sized portions of fruit and a few chocolate shavings on a plate don't do anything to satiate my appetite for 'dessert' for sure. 
No complaints with Spot though. They did what they claim to do best - combine innovative Asian sweets with classic American dessert to creat one-of-a-kind desserts. Sample this - Soft Cheesecake (Pic in the center) which is essentially cheesecake cream topped with passion fruit foam and  served with walnut crumble, blueberry compote, and grapefruit; Coconut macaroon with nutella almond cookie (top right), ovaltine icecream with a topping of caramelized popcorn, orange jelly squares and what-not (bottom left), green tea ice cream (bottom right), coconut foam with blackberry (top left) and again some stuff I couldn't decipher even though the lady who served us mentioned it.

Full marks to the presentation and to the ambience too.

Just that...I miss my chocolate cake! 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Naked Cowboy - Neither naked, nor cowboy!

Times Square, Manhattan, NY

I spotted the Naked Cowboy and the Naked Cowgirl!! Okay, now I don't mean to make them sound like the endangered species of some exotic-looking animals, but you can give it to me for behaving a bit touristy when I am at the 'tourist capital of the world'

Each time I passed by Times Sq, I looked out for either (mainly the cowboy :D) but as luck would have it, always missed them. The other day while walking back, I heard someone play the guitar and on appraoching the sound, saw this tall and imposing albeit undressed personality stringing along.

For the uninitiated, the Naked Cowboy, is a street artist who performs at Times Square. Dressed minimally - cowboy hat, boots and only briefs, his guitar his placed strategically to make him appear fully naked. The Naked Cowgirl is similiar, only, she wears a bikini.

The original cowboy - Robert Burck, trademarked the 'Naked Cowboy' charachter and after a number of lawsuits, now operates it like a franchise. I didn't see Burck himself but one of the other cowboys and the cowgirl, possibly Burck's girlfreiend, Cindy Fox.

While everyone posed with them and clicked pictures, a though struck my mind - the naked cowboy is neither naked nor a cowboy! I wondered then, why does he do, what he does? There's only but one answer - what we were viewing as a source of entertainment, was just another man's profession!

The Naked Cowboy, for all the fun and glamour attached to his character, is actually just performing a regular job! A job that he needs to attend, even on days when all one wants to do is tuck in and sleep (i've heard stories of the naked cowboy walking around in snow-laden streets); a job that needs him to earn money and answer to a boss (franchises pay $500 to Burck every month), a job that demands that he put in hard work and effort (shows on their sculpted bodies); a job that requires him to put up with the good and the bad, and a job that stresses you out if your audience is not appreciative. A fact - simple but overlooked! I plead guilty!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dance Like Noone is Watching

Columbus Circle, New York, NY
The one thing about New York city that I have come to love is the freedom of expression it gives to its artists. Where else in the world would you get to see classical ballet being performed amidst chaos on the street?

The picture above is that of a ballet couple - rehearsing in Columbus circle - one of the busiest junctions in the city, right up on Broadway. They appeared just like that, out of nowhere, the girl in all her splendor (she had real lights on her), the man a lot more casually dressed; and danced around the circle to an imaginary tune or perhaps to one playing only in their ears.

The few minutes I saw them perform was magical. While the New York traffic whizzed past, traffic lights changed colors, the people around gaped in awe, the happy couple continued to dance, blissfully unaware of the world around them. This one is for them and ballet! 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

When in Rome...

Saravana Bhavan, New York, NY

On a trip to Bangalore in 2010, I happened to tell my host that I wanted to try out some 'local cuisine'. Obviously, my knowledge of the southern states local cuisines was not evovled (to say the least) as I soon found out. Expecting to dig into hot idlis and a mysore masala cheese dosa (seriously, its a dosa commonly available in Bombay!), I was shocked to discover that they served only an Andhra Thali - you know, the kind that serves rice on a banana leaf with the rasam and the gun powder and all the other quintessential Andhra sides?

Now I'm not the biggest fan of rice and rasam, so I requested the waiter (tambi) to provide me with other options. He meekly pointed out to a section on the menu which said 'Punjabi' and had a few items listed under it. Yes, I was as dis-believed (if that's a word) at the knowledge that an Andhra-specialty restaurant serves paneer tikka but not idli! Anyhow, after some sniggering from the waiter and some from my otherwise kind host, I ordered a paneer butter masala and a naan. My second moment of disbleief happened soon enough when I was told that they do not have plates: "Onleee baenana leaf medam'. That was the beginning of it. It got progressively worse.

The paneer arrived looking like somebody had dunked those white Natraj erasers into a bowl of a watered down version of bad tomato ketchup. Of course it was a sight to behold when I tried to contain the gravy from falling off the leaf. Then I had to fight with the waiter to bring me a spoon (yeah Mr. waiter, its completely believable that a top-end restaurant like yours does not have a single spoon!). As if this wasn't enough, I had every single patron, some 20 pairs of eyes looking at me in loathe, almost silently communicating for me to get lost for good.

So there, that was my great North Indian adventure at a South Indian eatery. So I should have known better than to willingly put myself  in a similar situation again, this time on the other end of the world!

A month after we got to the US, sensing that I might be just a tad bit missing home, the husband decided to take me to his favorite Indian restaurant (or one of them) in Manhattan - Saravana Bhavan.

Fortunately for me, SB, although South Indian in origin, neither served food on banana leaves nor restricted its offerings to South Indian fare. In fact, they had quite a few diverse options on their menu and much to my delight, I didn't look like the only person ordering a non-specialty. After some debating with the husband and with my own conscience (which begged me to stick to idli/dosa), I finally got myself a Chole Bhature; This time the Gods were with me! My dish arrived looking scrumptious, tasted delicious and left the waiter ambitious (err, whatever!) after the happy tip we gave him for the happy meal that we had.

Now how difficult is that?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Everything You Can Imagine is Real

"Everything You Can Imagine is Real" ~ Pablo Picasso
Midtown Manhattan, New York

1.A guided tour in progress 2.Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe

I haven't been too much of a 'modern art' person. Too abstract for my taste. That is, till I visited MoMa.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) houses art work - drawings, painting, architecture design, sculpture, photography - as diverse as Picasso to Van Gogh to Cy Twombly.
Considered by many to have the best collection of modern art in the world -1,50,000 individual art works - apart from 22,000 films and 4 million film stills, the building itself is a pretty impressive structure, sprawled over 6 floors in Midtown Manhattan.

What worked for me was the ease of maneuvering through the galleries, the availability of free guided and pre-recorded audio tours, free wi-fi, open spaces and a lot more.

As a friend accompanying me pointed out, "New York museums are not intimidating or elitist like others in some countries. They're as much for the viewing of the 'aam junta' as they are for the art connoisseur.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Its raining :)

Central Park, Manhattan, NY
It's raining. What's more to say? Like a wise fellow once said, 
"The best thing one can do when its raining is to let it rain"
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Everybody loves Ramen

"Everybody loves Ramen"
Totto Ramen, New York
A little-hole-in-the-wall eatery, 4 items on the menu (1 for the vegetarians like me), some side options, entertaining chefs, and Japan's favorite comfort food has won the spoilt-for-choice New Yorkers over.

I had, so far, only known ramen in its instant variety form. Therefore my only expectation of Totto Ramen was that of a steaming bowl of noodles, done to perfection.

What I got was spicy vegetarian ramen, in a soy based broth, with all kinds of peppers, veggies, mushroom shavings, tofu, avocados and a fantastically pickled egg as a side. Goodness! Explains the serpentine queues outside, at any given point in time.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bird of Prey

Bird of Prey
Central Park West, New York, NY

Spotted this beautiful eagle while strolling in Central Park yesterday evening. It looked like it was pecking (if I can use that word for an eagle) at the branch beneath it. But on getting closer, I realized it was actually eating a pigeon, in all probability, one that it had killed. I should have perhaps been eww-ed or something, but I wasn't. Okay, so I feel bad for the poor bird (the hunted), but it was quite a sight actually. With every bite (or peck or whatever it is that eagles do), a few pigeon feathers floated around. I got a second, more zoomed in picture. 

A much smaller blue colored bird was sitting on a branch nearby watching the eagle devour its prey and making high-pitched sounds. After 10 minutes of watching and shrieking, the little bird started attacking the eagle, yes, I am serious, attacking! It went right at the eagle, bumping into its large feathers, as if it was trying to throw it off its position. The eagle, visibly irritated but didn't move an inch from its place and resumed eating, letting the lil birdie fly away in disappointment. Im still wondering why the bird was attacking someone atleast 10 times its size - to demand a share of the prey or was the pigeon someone the blue bird knew and was trying to save, even if a tad too late? 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lickin' the Heat

"Lickin' the Heat"
Taj Mahal, Agra, India

I love squirrels. I've always felt they're very communicative if you give them the right sort of attention and patience. Do I sound like a retard? Well, maybe but my penchant for photographing squirrels only got a boost when I saw a few hundred of them down at central park the other day. 

Sadly, I didn't get any good pictures. Squirrels in New York seem to have imbibed the spirit of the city they reside, nimble, always in a hurry.

But I got reminded of this old picture...taken on a road trip to Agra, right outside the Taj Mahal. Evidently, the heat got too much to bear for this little thing. 

I might have taken several squirrel pictures over the years, but this one, remains a favorite. I hope you see why! :) 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Opulence, I Has It

"Opulence, I Has It"
Princeton, New Jersey
I spent the weekend at the home of my aunt and uncle, down in New Jersey. That's when I had my first taste of true American affluence. Living in a largely 'Indian' neighbourhood, they're surrounded by mansion-like houses, much like their own. 

Jersey, one of the wealthiest states in America with  the largest percentage of millionaire residents in the country, is also home to a large populace of Indian diaspora. The wealth generated by these Indians in the US is evident in the fine touches of grandeur that reeks from each of their homes and in the luxury sedans that line up their driveways. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Manhattan, New York, NY
1.Beginning of the sunset 2.The waiting crowd, tripods set-up, bikers waiting to ride towards the west 3.NYPD car shooing away cheering crowd 4.Mahattanhenge at its peak 5.Chrysler building in the backdrop 6.The phenomenon coming to an end 

Sunsets have always been special. Today's, was unforgettable. Manhattanhenge, also known as the Manhattan Solstice is a biennial phenomenon in which the sunset aligns itself precisely with Manhattans street grid structure to create a breathtaKing view along the east-west streets. It derives its name from England's Stonehenge.

This year, it was supposed to take place on July 12 and 13, at 8:25 pm. After spending a disappointing 45 minutes on 57th street, 5th avenue, yesterday, we decided to go as far east as possible. On reaching 42nd and 2nd Av, we were pleasantly surprised to find a waiting (and enthusiastic) crowd. I'll let the pictures do the talking for the view we saw. Finally the NYPD made its way to clear the ballistic crowd and make way for the oncoming street traffic both ways, which was held up for some 25 minutes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

City of Blinding Lights

"City of Blinding Lights" 
Manhattan, New York, NY
The first thing that I noticed when I moved to New York city were its streets. The traffic, the incessant honking, the rushing pedestrians; everybody seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. So much like Bombay, the place where I grew up.
Perhaps, that is one reason I don't miss Bombay too much. Just like a country man yearns for fresh air, all I need to do is to open my apartment windows for my daily intake of vehicular sight, noise and pollution. 
Sigh, the joys of city life!