raven: black and white street sign: "Hobbs Lane" (quatermass - hobbs end)
I have been away from home for two weeks. As I had only lived in this house for two weeks and four days before that, I'm feeling a bit discombobulated. Hello, internet.

I spent my first week of holiday at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye, on a short course in beginners' Gaelic. It was - I don't know. Perfect. Beautiful, transformative, all the other inadequate words. Interstitial, perhaps. I have no idea. It was - I went there, and I learned a lot, and the clear space inside my mind is quieter and larger for it. I am supposed to be writing about it under my real name elsewhere, but - haven't. Not yet. Perhaps soon.

I was on Skye for a week, Sunday to Friday, and on a clear, still, beautiful day midway through I went with a new friend to get her ticket for the ferry to the mainland. We'll sell it to you for now, Cal Mac said, but 'ware warning - there probably won't be a Friday sailing. On Thursday night I was at a ceilidh - there was an Orcadian strip-the-willow; they made me sing - and stumbled to bed in a ruffly dress and pink-wine-haze while the weather hit with an oceanic violence. I left the island entirely due to the kindness of strangers and ended up in Glasgow feeling like it was me who had been washed out to sea and returned with smoother edges. I had a booked train south on the Saturday on the west coast line, and it was one of those mornings where everything seems crisp and perfect. I had a table seat and wrote a few hundred words over a cup of coffee while the landscape flashed past.

At Oxenholme I failed to prevent a disaster ("Shall I just step on the train on a moment?" said someone, as I was clambering off. "Just to see you settled in!") and then [personal profile] happydork had texted to say there had been a slight navigation failure, so I sat on the platform for a while drinking more coffee and smiling at strangers, and then the next week after that was just the same kind of contented. I was in the Lake District because last summer I had a bright idea (how about I ask eleven of my closest friends to share a cottage with me in the Lake District for a week?) and wiser minds than mine had brought it to fruition. When I originally looked into it, I found a farmhouse we could rent that seemed big enough, and nice, and in a reasonably pretty part of the Lakes, and suggested it to my friends; it wasn't me who figured out that it was, in fact, the house in Swallows and Amazons, and is still in the ownership of the Altounyan family. I'm still not quite sure how that happened. And then when I actually saw it, it turned out to be an eighteenth-century farmhouse with ancient beams and slate floors, a claw-foot bathtub and a kitchen you could cartwheel in, and a view over the river tumbling through the valley. Over the week I helped cook, did some fetching and carrying, went on shortish walks around the surrounding lakes and fells, and wrote a fair bit at that giant kitchen table, accompanied by people with whom one can be quiet, and the smell of baking bread. I went on a steam train and played Poohsticks on a bridge over the River Leven, and met an owl. Writing is hard, currently; I had a couple of writing-related disappointments, but it's all right, I think. I am still trying.

Back in London, anxiety )
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
Hello, internet. I am in Kyle of Lochalsh. This is the most remote point on the British rail network - three trains a day come in from Inverness, and three return, and that is all. Air BnB supplied a disused signalbox by the trackside, converted into a tiny little living space; from the window I can see through to the curve of the station, beyond which nothing follows. Kyle of Lochalsh was the port for the ferry to Skye, before they built the Skye bridge; now it's a nowhere place, somewhere on the way to somewhere. Though the local cafes make a lot of calling it rathad nan eilean, the road to the isles, which I suppose it is because everywhere's on the way to somewhere, there is something rather enormous and strange about seeing the railway end, the buffers, and then the land slipping away into the water. This is it. Nowhere else to go.

So far, I have woken briefly at the train passing through; bought a prawn roll from a seafood stall ("Can you wait a minute? We've just had the delivery and we're peeling as fast as we can!"); eavesdropped on three boys discussing in Bengali the merits of the mixed-seafood option; drunk coffee in the rain on the platform, waiting for A. to appear off a train, watching the clouds gathering over the Cuillin. And then the train came and for five minutes Kyle of Lochalsh station was the centre of the universe, and then slowly the people disappeared, and the gulls were screeching above the harbour, and apart from that everything was quiet.

I am going to visit Sabhal Mor Ostaig while I'm here. (I was scared to email them. They turned out to be completely charming people. "Madainn mhath Iona", they write, as though that were quite a normal thing.) Other than that, I am going to write, and watch six trains a day come past the window - three from Inverness, and three returning.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
Friends! hello. I feel like I don't talk much about things as they go past, these days, and I ought to. My new year's resolution this year was to enjoy more about my charmed life as it happens to me, rather than always driving towards something new. So I am in the habit now of making lists of things that make me happy each day - and if that all sounds rather nineties-self-help-book, the one rule of the game is that it has to be something that did make me happy, and not something that ought to have done. So the lists are all things like "new flavour of Kellogg's breakfast biscuit" and "I got a desk at work today" and "my boss said my grounds of defence were beautiful" and "there was an extra egg in my soup" and "my new dress has a cute dipped hem" and "Jack and Phryne flirted in tonight's Miss Fisher" and "A. told me I was pretty".

(I don't actually think small things are enough for happiness. I think you need deep water for contentment. But I'm no good at surface ripples and that's what this is.)

So I was on holiday! Several days in New York - we got an Air BnB in Williamsburg, which was super hipster but kind of delightful with it; we bought a lot of books at the Strand, hung out with [personal profile] macadamanaity, went to bars, sat in parks, and really didn't very much of note. It was what I wanted. And after that we went to a wedding! Some of you met my cousin N. at my wedding; well, she's married now, after a four-day extravaganza in Indianapolis the week of the Indy 500. I'm not sure what I thought of it. It was very impressive and there were a lot of people, and she seemed very happy, and I suppose that's the part that matters, so. I liked her fiancé very much. He's a nice guy from the south, where wedding traditions are very different. One of my favourites of the southern traditions is the one where the groom gets up early the day before the wedding, gets his umbrella, stick and dhoti, and declares to all that he's going to Kashi (otherwise Varanasi) to be a holy man. Oh no! shout the bride's brothers, chasing him down the street holding pictures of their sister. Don't you dare. Come back and get married.

Okay fine, he says, after they have extolled her virtues to the skies. And everyone comes back and has a decent lunch and lives happily ever after. Unless you have no brothers and have to enlist my male cousins (and my partner) to play the role, and also that your fiancé is very charming - so the boys go to get him back from Kashi, and come back declaring they, too, have seen the light, and wish to renounce all material things and walk barefoot to Varanasi with nothing but what they're standing up in. (Luckily, a family friend has a seventeen-year-old son who was quite the most sensible person in the wedding party. He single-handedly persuaded them all to once again take up the shackles of this life.)

It was a lovely wedding, actually. Lots of ceremonies and a lot of outfits, more than my tolerance for femme, but it had many sweet grace notes in between all of those things. I liked all the hanging out with my cousins, late nights and jet-lagged early mornings. And the outfits are much more bearable in retrospect. Here is a picture of me on the steps of the Indiana Statehouse:

it's quite pink )

We were due to return on the Sunday, 31 May, and accordingly decamped with an entourage to the airport. After the wedding, just getting to talk to people without rushing about and worrying about outfits and ceremonies was lovely, and I was really sorry, leaving behind my cousins and uncles and aunts and parents at the airport Starbucks. As we went through security, I turned to Shim and said, "That was fun, I wish we'd stayed another day."

Four hours' delay on the domestic. "Oh, well," said the gate agent, "you're going to miss all the transatlantic flights tonight, but we can put you in a hotel for tonight in Newark..."

"No," I said, very firmly, and we picked our bags off the carousel, went downstairs to arrivals, and met my dad doing the next of the day's runs to the airport. And it's funny how these things work, but that extra, halfway-there day, is going to stay with me as one of my favourite things that's happened to me. We went back to the house, where there were still enough guests for a moderately-sized party. We were around to see the bride and groom off on their honeymoon. We ate dosa and sambar in the cool light of the evening. In the morning we went via Dulles - where we were stuck for ten hours, four of which were spent in a plane on the tarmac with malfunctioning air conditioning - and in the end arrived home 28 hours later than planned, but you know, I don't mind? My boss answered my frantic not-coming-to-work email with, try and enjoy yourself, also I got stuck in Nigeria one time for five days, don't worry.

And I didn't. Being on the ground for that extra day was settling. I am trying to stay settled.
raven: TOS McCoy and Kirk frowning, text: "Well that's just maddeningly unhelpful" (st - MADDENINGLY UNHELPFUL)
I had a week off work, mostly under duress, and it turns out that holidays actually return you to your life rested and able to cope with things! Who even knew. Anyway, it was a lovely time in the north of Scotland - first to a family wedding, which was sweet and charming and full of small children, and I danced the Orcadian strip the willow to the dulcet tones of a calypso steel drum ceilidh band, I don't even know, it was awesome - and onwards and upwards into the Highlands. We drove along some incredibly beautiful and terrifying mountain roads (in my nightmares, I shall see the climb from the Well of the Lecht, and the speedometer dropping), including the highest classified road in the UK, which crosses the Cairngorms in a single track and is silent like flying, and spent several days staying in a teeny tiny cottage, super-cute, with lots of hot water, halfway up a mountain eight miles from the nearest village. You could step outside and hear birds calling and cattle lowing from across the glen, and when it got dark enough, there was the Milky Way. (I love that you can't - or at least, I can't, though my eyesight is pretty sharp - see the Milky Way straight on; it's there in your peripheral vision, like it's being gentle as it reminds you of your utter insignificance in the face of all things.)

So that was all very lovely. I finished the novel, finally. Well, I haven't finished it, but it's definitely into the editing stage. (Maybe four days with no internet or phone were what I needed all along.) And now I'm back, and September is coming, which I always think of as a time for change and promise even though I'm well out of academia - and that said, I will have to start job-hunting this month - and the weather is hanging pleasantly on the surface of autumn.

I wrote about 25k in August, not counting the novel, and I don't think I've posted any of it here, so rather than make a lot of story posts, here it all is.

For the Star Trek Friendshipfest:

Welcome, Wanderer (9201 words) by Raven
Fandom: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Data & Jean-Luc Picard, Data & Geordi LaForge
Characters: Data, Jean-Luc Picard, Geordi La Forge, Deanna Troi, Ro Laren, Sonya Gomez
Additional Tags: Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream - Freeform, Darmok, Mixed Media, Fairgrounds, Ferris Wheels, Languages and Linguistics, There really is a perfectly sensible explanation for all of this

"You're the ranking officer here. Would you care to explain this?"

It's a really long story.

Oh, sinners, let's go down (4752 words) by RavenFandom: Star Trek: The Original Series
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Leonard McCoy & Spock
Characters: Leonard McCoy, Spock, James T. Kirk

"What you gonna do, Mr. Spock? You gonna save my soul?"

[Content note is a spoiler, so it's at the bottom of the story post]

For [community profile] trope_bingo:

Research Ethics (793 words) by RavenFandom: The Big Bang Theory (TV)
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Leonard Hofstadter/Penny
Characters: Penny (Big Bang Theory), Leonard Hofstadter, Sheldon Cooper, Bernadette Rostenkowski, Amy Farrah Fowler
Additional Tags: Community: trope_bingo

Five things Penny doesn't understand about Leonard until she's met his mother.

[Please be aware of the content note on this one - it's at the top of the story post.]

where you gonna sleep tonight (3487 words) by Raven
Fandom: The Big Bang Theory (TV)
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Leonard Hofstadter/Penny, Sheldon Cooper/Leonard Hofstadter
Characters: Leonard Hofstadter, Penny (Big Bang Theory), Sheldon Cooper, Bernadette Rostenkowski, Rajesh Koothrappali, Amy Farrah Fowler, Howard Wolowitz
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe, Alternate Universe - Apocalypse, Community: trope_bingo

Sheldon doesn't snap at him for his lack of precision, which is how he knows the end of the world is coming.

Home (1065 words) by Raven
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Oversight - Charlie Fletcher
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Sara Falk, Lucy Harker, Hodge, Wayland, Jack Sharp, Charlie Pye, Cook
Additional Tags: Community: trope_bingo

They found Mr Sharp on his knees with his eyes blank and unseeing, and drained of all colour.

That's all, and quite enough too.

raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
Notes on a week in Delhi and Mumbai:

-So this time I flew into Mumbai from London, to visit friends for a couple of days, and it's lovely. Unlike Delhi, it has reasonable weather all year round rather than two months out of twelve, and although it has its problems, it doesn't have Delhi's perennial issues with water. (Lately, in Delhi, you just want to cry watching water go down the drain; it's like throwing away gold dust.) Anyway, so I went to the beach and ate street pav bhaji and saw the Gateway of India (which you can't go in, any more; there was the beautiful open lit empty space inside, occupied only by a police dog having a snooze) and had tea at the Taj and generally was quite, quite useless. It was great. My mental health hasn't been the best, lately, but I think a dose of warmth and sun is never bad. Delhi, once I got there, is in the smoothing-off period, the pre-Diwali time where the shops and businesses are beginning to turn off the air conditioning. It lingered around a pleasant, dry thirty degrees, which was nice.

-Since I was last in India about eighteen months ago, my parents have sold their old house in Delhi, which was by New Delhi Railway Station, and given that it was my father's ancestral house and he did to a greater and lesser extent grow up in it, and also, it was where I spent the little time I did with my paternal grandfather, a deeply formidable gentleman who was kinder and gentler to me than he had ever been to anyone, given all of those things, god, I hated that house. When my father was young it was a nice house in a residential district, running on the rhythms of the railway station (one of the things I did like about it was the brief moment, halfway between wakefulness and sleep, every morning at five am: this is the night mail / crossing the border, in this case, the Kalka Mail), but now it's surrounded by developments, hotels and construction work, and to make things just that little bit worse, the water pressure in the area has long since fallen to basically nothing. We spent four months there the summer I was four, and it was forty-eight degrees in Delhi with no air conditioning or running water, and those days, you had to ring up Emirates to confirm your flights the day before travelling. (Did you know that? I've never met anyone who knew that. We were bumped to standby. I missed my first two months of school. I was put off my ancient and magnificent homeland for not-quite life.)

-(A related note, also: I occasionally see non-South-Asians refer to us as "desi", which is just, beyond not on, from my perspective. "Desh" means, homeland; "desi" means someone from that homeland. To presume to give that word, because it is a gift, is rank imperialism.)

-The new place, oddly enough, is very close to my mother's family. It's in CR Park, the Bengali colony which my maternal grandfather, my Dadu, was instrumental in creating in the seventies, and it's beautiful – it's a second-floor flat with two actual bedrooms (which, in south Delhi, is positively palatial) and trees in leaf brushing up against the windows. I adore it – partly for itself, because it's quiet and clean and comfortable, and as part of my family's continual quest towards non-Western modernity, it's outfitted with Indian-style bathrooms and kitchen, all cool, smooth granite and rattan and ridiculous drapes from Fabindia, and Ikea's finest in the kitchen drawers – and partly because, well. Last night I couldn't sleep, and it was maybe three or four in the morning and I got up, went to the kitchen and got myself an apple and rasmalai from the fridge, and cut the apple and put the rasmalai in the bowl, and sat for half an hour with my laptop, and ate them, then washed up the bowl, spoon and knife and put them in the rack to dry. I think maybe you have to be me to understand the significance of that. But I have my keys to the place. It's my home, too.

CR Park, too, is a good place to live. It was created as a gated community before the phrase acquired the connotations it has now – that is to say, the emphasis is on the second word. It's large and getting larger all the time – we are a short walk from the CR Park police station, CR Park Market No. 4 and the CR Park Kali Mandir Society – but all with that dusty-tree, homely feeling. Annoyingly, it's equidistant between two metro stations, Nehru Place and Kailash Colony, and thus not really walking distance from either, but just as I was complaining about that someone reminded me about the Phase III Metro work, which will build a third radial station closer than either of the others, so really, I'm very happy. I kind of want to take Shim there for a week one winter without telling any of my relatives I'm in town, and just hang out and explore.

-Speaking of which. I can't put my finger on it, and it's kind of frightening, but this kind of middle-class Delhi life has become a lot easier for me to navigate, just recently. I've been married five weeks and those five weeks have done more for my social capital than my previous decade of adult life. And it doesn't matter that Shim wasn't with me, or even that Shim isn't desi; somehow, something has changed. It's deeply insulting, of course, but that's maybe epiphenomenal? I picked up a book in the airport called Lady, you're not a man, which I liked mostly because it's basically a slim Indian feminist tract masquerading as a self-help book, and rule one is, never apologise for being a woman. This is the sort of self-help advice I can get behind. Anyway, so it is insulting, and maybe it is psychologically destructive to be a woman in a society that demands such apology (I applied to get the natural gas pipeline connected; the gas company wanted to know my husband's name before I could apply), but I don't know, I think the best way out is to carry on living the life I do. After all, India is an idea – a grand, ancient idea, for sure, but a thousand dialects and cultures, old states, new states, rural and urban and mixed, 1.1 billion people, one in six of all the people that there are, all pushed together like they fit, like it's possible for them to be one noisy nation, under no god. If there's no room for me in India, then what the hell's the point of it. (One of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me, ever, was said by my second-year institutional politics tutor, herself a desi: "She is the argumentative Indian.")

(Rule number whatever in the book is addressed to single women, living in a society that believes they need to be married before they're complete: remember all the other women who support you, cheer you, admire you, are you.. It keeps telling you there's nothing wrong with you and you don't need help, it's the worst self-help book ever.)

wedding stuff )

Anyway. It can't be helped. I am back now for seven weeks (wouldn't it be nice if I got a job in those seven weeks, gosh), peeling off the jet-lag, and listening to Jiya Re on repeat this morning, if anyone needs something cheerful to help them out of bed, and going on.
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
I am almost obscenely fond of Seat61.com. I have just spent a happy hour planning fantasy routes and itineraries along the route of the Silk Road. Some day, some day, etc.

So. This is 2012. For the first time since 1990, I slept through New Year entirely. I meant to stay up and I meant to stay up, but jet-lag hit me hard around 10pm. Terribly pathetic, of course. For the last week of 2011, I took Shim with me to India, and that, at least, was a good end to a very mixed year. In one week, we went (sometimes very briefly) to Delhi, Solan, Shimla, Chail, Chandigarh and Agra, and not disappearing from places between places, as you do on an aircraft: all the way the landscape between, stopping for coffee and chaat in dhabas, watching the mountains and the plains roll on past the windows, and the wheels raising the dust.

We went to Solan first. It's a small city in Himachal Pradesh, and it took us a day to travel there from Delhi, on a smooth flight into Chandigarh and then a boneshaking drive upwards.

My family's house in Solan is called "Chinar", which Google tells me is known in English merely as Planatus orientalis, and it's on stilts on the side of the mountain heading down towards the valley. As a result the roof is on a level with the Kalka-Shimla railway line. It's a narrow-gauge railway, tiny, built a hundred years ago by the British to move to the summer capital from the plains to the mountains, 100km with more than eight hundred bridges, 103 tiny, numbered tunnels, climbing into the Himalaya metre by metre of perilous altitude until it reaches Shimla with the clouds beneath. I love everything about it.

Solan station [all pictures are Shim's] )

(Also, Railways! I guess most people who know me get to know after a while that I love trains (and planes, but not automobiles) with an irredeemable romantic love. Upon enquiry, my father sagely informed me that there is a gene on the 23rd chromosome that code for a love of railways of all kinds. This, he admits, is entirely a lie, but my father has never lived anywhere where you couldn't hear the sound of trains; my grandfather ran his household on railway time; my great-grandfather was the station master of New Delhi Railway Station.

And, me, I love trains: I love the vibration they make inside your bones, I love the lights streaming past in the dark, I love waking up for a moment in the middle of the night as the train passes through above. The world's as it ought to be when the train comes through on time. And then, take a train in India and you can go anywhere. You can take the train from Thruvanathapuram to Jammu. What a train is, is freedom.)

this is the night train )

From Solan, we drove up to Shimla, which I have described before in these metaphorical pages, and to Kali ka Tibba (it only means 'Kali's hilltop'), which is a hilltop temple at Chail, and you reach it through a meteoric rise in altitude that involves driving inches from a hundred-foot drop around bends. It's dizzying, and on the day we were there, a little transcendent: the sky was polar blue and the sun felt close. The family's temple of choice in Delhi is the Hanuman Mandir, where we go on Tuesdays where possible; it's large, chaotic, noisy and a little frightening, and monkeys steal your shoes. I am having trouble with religion, lately; I end up feeling like all those people who say, politically and spiritually I'm a lesbian, I'm just in a relationship with a man! (I do that too, sometimes.) Well, I am politically and by inclination an atheist - I'm just... not one.

That I'm not an atheist is a fact, not a fact like my height and eye colour but like how I'm a writer, and a thoughtful person, and in love with a particular person. But there's that and there's being a person whose faith carries her; who carries something of value around with her because of how the world is. It's easier in those high places, it was easier in that hilltop temple with the toothpaste-clean air, the polished marble, the single tree so wrapped with red and golden thread that you couldn't see the bark. It's a thoroughly modern temple - it runs on solar power. And you remove your shoes and go barefoot, as you do in every temple everywhere, but the marble was freezing and salutary under your feet. I'm working on what kind of belief I have and want to have, but that was a wonderful, invigorating, close-to-the-sky place.

Kali ka tibba )

We came down from the mountains on the fourth day, drove to Chandigarh and took a bus on to Delhi. All of that was much less painful than I thought it would be. In Chandigarh we had lunch at the Indian Workers' Coffee Cooperative, which offers lunch for such strangely precise prices as Rs. 30.20. In Delhi the family's house is shut up at the moment, so we were staying in an apartment at Green Park Market, and from there we went to Agra to show Shim the Taj Mahal (which was beautiful, but very surreal - my family and I could be Indians and got Rs. 20 tickets, but pretending Shim wasn't a foreigner was more difficult; his ticket ended up an eyewatering Rs. 750). The Taj itself is, well, it's beautiful, and what more can you say about it, but I'm not very fond of Agra itself, which is hotter, dirtier, and dustier than Delhi, which is hardly a cool, clean, comfortable place in itself. I did like the camels, though. All camels have ridiculously long, flirtatious eyelashes and immensely disdainful expressions. Sadly, we did not get a picture of them.

the Taj Mahal )

And then, one day in Delhi - one day to see Rashtrapati Bhawan and India Gate. Having Shim along was delightful, but particularly because my aunt went to see the Taj Mahal for the first time, my mother went to see the president's residence and Parliament House for the first time. Both lived for years in Delhi. We went to Connaught Place and wandered, and got the Metro back to Green Park, and I was completely and utterly delighted by it. The Delhi Metro is new - well, ten years old, now, but new - and smooth and marvellous. (My mother was talking mournfully about how much more fun college would have been for her, if the metro had existed then.)

The metro is symptomatic, but, generally, Delhi is a different city from the one I first knew. Of course it's been twenty years, but it's larger, louder, noisier, chaotic, as you would expect, and I'm not sure the march towards development is permeating down to all levels. In fact, I know it isn't. But we came back on December 30th, drove to the airport through the fog, and this time, again, more than last time, more than the time before, I didn't want to go, I didn't want to go, don't make me go, I don't want to go home, I want to stay home. And I don't know what to do about it. I don't. My family reported that after we left, they went back from the airport to a four-hour power cut and we left at just the right moment. But given the lack of power, given the chaos, given the dirt and dust and stray dogs, given the mountains, given the temples, given the city and the railways, I wanted so much to stay.

I read a lot of Chetan Bhagat novels this week, and the dedication in his latest is: To my country, who called me home. Bhagat is like that only: words have power in simplicity. I don't know what to do about it.


Aug. 12th, 2011 02:47 pm
raven: (stock - rock 'n' roll)
So, I went to Israel! And it was lovely. Last year, while I was doing my nth batch of law school finals, Shim went to Gdansk for a Wikipedia conference. (In his defence, he had said, I don't want to go on a trip when you're revising, will you be okay? And I said, don't be ridiculous darling, go to Gdansk and have a lovely time.)

By the time he got back, though, I was sufficiently flipped to declare then and there if he must needs go to a Wikipedia conference again, then I was damn well coming with him. And then they decided to hold it in Haifa in the north of Israel, and I was sold. Israel is one of those places I have always wanted to go to because of my longstanding quest to travel around looking for non-Western visions of modernity. Y'see, I have a theory that one of the major obstacles standing in the way of development in India is a lack of a clear sense of what modernity is, if not Western. I mean, how can we be Indian and grown-up and modern and developed and still be Indian, and not a kind of Anglo-American? I dunno. But I went to Hong Kong, and saw how they do it, and this was why I wanted to go to Israel.

And thus, we went. It took a taxi, a very long bus journey, five hours on a plane, an intercity train, an underground funicular and a bit of getting lost, and leaving the house at threee in the morning, but we got to Haifa, and I proceeded to fall in love with the whole country instantly and decide I wanted to stay there forever. In Haifa, we were staying on the top of Mount Carmel, in a hotel surrounded by trees and flowers and an army of what would be feral cats if they were not perpetually dazed by the sun, and it was a delight. It was just the right side of warm - thirty degrees; you need suncream and lots of water but it's not unbearable to go out in - and Wikimedia Israel believe in feeding people a lot. I ate a lot of salad and pita and hummus and was very happy.

I'm not going to write much about the conference - it was interesting and I'm glad I went to it, but is not my fandom - but it did finish on a beach party, which was totally marvellous. Shim and I wandered down the beach beforehand, and it was perfectly warm and brilliant in all senses of the word, you know, with an actual blue sky and bright blue water, and the sun set into the sea and there was dancing and an open bar and glowsticks and acrobats and paper garlands and it was just perfect.

fannish people )

(I learned how to say "shalom" and about four other words while I was in Israel, and that was the limit of my language acquisition. That said, I said shalom to a waitress in Tel Aviv and she brought me a Hebrew menu, which I was charmed by; in Europe, in Swizerland and France, no one who speaks English addresses me in French or German or whatever, because obviously brown people don't speak those languages (I found this infuriating in France, because I am no native speaker but I can order a damn coffee). But in Israel, I was constantly read as Israeli. It was nice. Language is funny, anyhow; English isn't my native language, but it's the only one I'm native fluent in, and I speak enough Hindi and French to feel a resonant familiarity with Indo-European languages - it was very startling to be surrounded by a language I genuinely couldn't understand a word of.)

That evening, we returned to Haifa and I also met [livejournal.com profile] nogah and [personal profile] tieleen - hi, guys! - and had a lovely time wandering the boardwalk and peering out over the view of the city and harbour laid out below. It was lovely. I also spent some time making fun of the Mayor of Haifa, who was very excited that there was a conference going on in Haifa, and on the first night of the conference delivered a half-hour preroration on nothing in particular, clearly having had an encounter with the open bar. He also bears a startling resemblance to William Shatner. What a wonderful country.

Jerusalem )

Afterwards we went back to Haifa and had a very nice dinner somewhere, and headed back to Tel Aviv in the morning, to a brilliant B 'n' B somewhere near the water. It's a rambling out-of-the-way place called Kehilat Aden, run by a lovely couple who are self-confessedly on a quest to run the best gay-run establishment in Tel Aviv, and as far as I'm concerned they've succeeded. Everything is ramshackle but sparkling clean, full of colours and flowers and guarded by a chocolate Lab puppy, who loves everyone with a deep and pure love. Shim and I spent that last evening having a drink with [personal profile] roga and then sleepily on a garden swing, surrounded by flowers and quiet night-time summer noises, using the free wireless, learning there were riots at home. We left the following day, got through security at Ben Gurion with a lot less trouble than expected - the authorities wanted to know why I had been to the UAE so many times, which startled me, because I've never been through immigration there - but we took off on time and arrived on time and survived Heathrow and the three-hour coach home.

It is nice to be back - the flat now looks almost habitable, which is good, as [personal profile] gavagai is coming to visit today - but I had a real glimpse into something different this week, and I didn't really want to come back.


Jan. 6th, 2011 03:32 pm
raven: red tulips in a vase on a balcony, against a background of a city (stock - tulips)
I am chatting idly with the South African Siren; she's telling me about the weather, and how she plans to be in NYC next week, and sends her love to Shim. She is sitting on a deckchair on a patio in Cape Town, in a swimming costume (it's forty degrees, and summer); and I am on the Edinburgh-London train at four in the afternoon, speeding past snow-covered hills lit pink with sunset from below. Remember what the future was going to be like? All shiny and full of promise? I think this is it.

I think you all may have noticed that I have been the world's champion in rubbish at answering emails, texts, phone calls, LJ comments, and have mostly been drifting in and out of radio contact. I do love you all, and am interested in your lives, promise. I think I didn't quite appreciate exactly what I did to my body during my last few weeks in Ithaca, though; at any rate, I am now sleeping till lunchtime, and feeling sleepy again at eight; eating three meals a day like it's going out of fashion; and, as I said, drifting. It's taken me a week to get through half a novel when I wasn't doing much of anything else (Perdido Street Station; I sort of liked it, and sort of didn't), and Shim and I have wandered around Edinburgh enjoying the (relative) warmth and done scarcely much. It's been nice, really nice, and to be honest I am expecting it to continue for a while yet.

Anyway. That is why I am hard to pin down at the moment. I am still here, just... a little translucent, perhaps. I love this journey; I love the beauty of it, and I love how I always take it during times of change. We talked a lot, while I was up here, and there have been good things.


Dec. 19th, 2010 01:07 pm
raven: quadrangle of Christ Church, Oxford, under snow (stock - oxford)
I'm home. Oh, I'm home, I'm home, I'm home. In a weird, eerie twist, there is enough snow here for my parents to have been trapped in the hospital overnight, and to have spent four hours on the road to come and get me from the airport; and no snow at all in Ithaca or NYC! It's colder here than it's been in decades and feels rather a lot like Ithaca in that respect. It's more beautiful, though; mostly untouched, and storybook pretty.

I stayed up all night; I got a bus at six down to New York City, I had delicious brunch with [personal profile] macadamanaity, who cheered me up thoroughly; and then I got a bus out to JFK, and all that time a kindly god was smiling on me; Manchester was the only large British airport not closed for snow, and my plane landed half an hour early on a swept runway. I tracked the landscape through a clear sky during the descent and saw Anglesey, North Wales, Wirral, and Formby under a great coat of white. It really is eerie.

But... I am home safe. I made it. I really did. I made it to the exam, incompetence notwithstanding, and packed up everything in my apartment, and I made it. And I wrote 2300 words of [livejournal.com profile] yuletide on the plane! So now.... sleep.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
Hullo, hullo. I am so tired that once I've finished posting this I'm going to take a bath and then I'm going to go to bed. At 9pm. On a Saturday night. I am the coolest person you know, admit it. But I just got back from New York! And it was amazing, and totally worth how rotten I feel now, because, omg, so amazing.

The five-hour bus-ride down was not quite so amazing - I got up at the crack of dawn and realised I had the wrong ticket, which was incredibly soothing to discover ten minutes before the bus left, yes - but I got there in the end and washed up at Port Authority feeling like a line from a Pogues song, you know, hand in hand on Broadway like the first men on the moon. I am such a tourist. I try not to look up at the buildings in case I get pickpocketed or whatever, but I want to. I wandered uptown and met [livejournal.com profile] the_acrobat and [livejournal.com profile] macadamanaity, and it was a lovely warm afternoon, so we wandered. We wandered past people dressed as Elmo and the Cookie Monster - and took pictures with them, because again, so cool - and past lots of people dressed as footballers handing out chocolate. And eventually we wandered to a small Italian place, sat on the terrace amidst hanging baskets and drank wine and talked about Paul Gross and William Shatner. And climatic culture shock, and Doctor Who, and quite a few other things. Look, there was wine. This is a pertinent fact.

And then [livejournal.com profile] gamesiplay arrived, and we drank quite a bit more wine - these things are not related - and when everything was starting to get dark and well-mellowed, set off to the theatre.

Angels in America, part II )

Afterwards we wandered into the night and into a cocktail bar, which was rosy-red and surprisingly comfortable - and may I say, yet again, how nice it is not to have to go to the bar for drinks! - and Leigh had her very first martini, and Sara and I drank the strongest-ever gin & tonics, and then we kind of sort of retreated into a vague drunken haze for the rest of the evening. (Meredith had been, by this point, awake for twenty-four hours. I was seriously impressed that she was still standing up.) This after realising with great and epic profundity that we've known each other nearly nine years, what is that about, and now I am sober and thinking about it, have done OMG in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Oxford, Berlin and now New York again. (This one's the Visit of ZOMG. No points for guessing why.)

I ended up sprawled on Sara's couch watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and drinking more gin (me) rum (Sara) and gin & rum (Leigh), and also Leigh had lent me The Invention of Love, warning me that a) it would make me homesick and b) it has a CORE OF UNSPOKEN ANGUISH, and I was in the sort of mood where reading said anguish out loud seems like a very good idea. (She also noted that she and Sara are the only two people in the world to have written The Invention of Love-derived fanfiction; my response was, "Why do I know both of you?") So I lay there and read aloud, and drank gin and ginger ale, and quite honestly that's the happiest I've been since I came to this country.

It may as well be noted that the main reason there is a collective memory of this is because Leigh wrote an LJ entry about it. It ends, literary-like, and entirely uncharacteristically, with me saying "nox est perpetua", and the party presumably retreating to find their better selves in bed. I really, really wish my brain would provide an explanation for this.

Nox non est perpetua, ohmygod. I mean, the sun came out. It was morning. Sara is a good human being and poured coffee in my general direction; I teased the cat until I was awake. And then we all woke up properly at the prospect of brunch, in a cute little place somewhere near Columbia, that did eggs benedict and vast quantities of chips before lunchtime. And then I had to go, and for all the five hours back alternately napped and read The Invention of Love and - Leigh, you were right - was entirely too delighted by jokes about Jowett, and changing trains at Didcot, and wait in delicious anticipation for the CORE OF UNSPOKEN ANGUISH.

I am so tired. I had a lovely time! Long past time for bed.


Aug. 13th, 2010 02:53 pm
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
Hello, I am alive. I arrived in Ithaca last night after a hellish twenty-six hours in transit, apparently it is impossible to get a coffee at La Guardia after ten o'clock at night WHO KNEW, but I have made it here and the sun is shining and I have my apartment keys and all is, for the moment, well. I don't have internet in my apartment yet - this is the public library! I joined the library, gosh I must be staying - so I may be out of touch for a little while. I also don't have a US phone number yet, but I hope to put that right quite soon.

Anyway. Am here, am alive, miss you all, very busy, orientation begins on Tuesday! Also, apparently I have an accent!


Jun. 14th, 2010 07:48 pm
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
Ithaca, NY to my front door just off the Cowley Road: 4000 miles, three flights, two trains, and one long and bizarre detour through upstate New York, oh my. Also thirty hours in transit. Sic transit gloria mundi. My head hurts.

The problem, you see, is that Ithaca-Tompkins regional airport is an, um, regional airport, and lacks such modern conveniences as instrument-aided landings and X-ray scanners. (All bags are opened and inspected, and bottles of liquid opened, and then the suncream cap not screwed down again properly leading to suncream everywhere, TSA I'm looking at you.) And when I left, early in the morning I think yesterday, there was fog. Thick, slightly eerie, muffling fog, and I was watching while the visibility dropped to twenty metres and then ten, and then nothing at all, and then the incoming flights from Philadephia and Newark circled the runway and turned back, and then the airport was closed.

I went to the Delta desk with a feeling of encroaching despair. (US domestic airlines, hi, they all indiscriminately suck.) But for once, they didn't. I frantically explained that unlike the people around me I was not making a short hop, I was trying to make a connection through Detroit to Heathrow. The agent typed and clicked while I panicked, and then said, how about this. "We fly you out from Elmira, NY, to Detroit, then to Paris, then to Heathrow."

And before I could say anything else, "We'll get you a cab to Elmira. Oh, and I'll put you in first-class transatlantic."

I could have kissed him.

The taxi-ride through upstate New York was eerie. Elmira was the closest airport with the capability for take-off in fog, so that's where the diversion took us, and it was about an hour's drive through a landscape that soared around through the low-lying mist. In England, the landscape rolls; there it loomed. Elmira when it appeared was pretty tiny, and the aircraft even tinier - propellors! - but it got me safely to Detroit, and thence onwards towards Paris. The upgrade was fabulous. I got served dinner on a tablecloth! And then slept lying flat whilst 30,000 feet above the Atlantic. It was marvellous. I even caught myself wishing the flight were a couple of hours longer so I could really catch up on sleep. (I have just emailed Delta about their wonderful customer service, in lieu of kissing their agent.) I got home this afternoon entirely exhausted, but it really wasn't the worst experience ever. I even got to practice my very bad French in Paris.

But, but. Ithaca, you guys. Ithaca is gorgeous. (Despite the tourist board's sloganeering, I liked it so I put a U in it.) It really is. It is teeny teeny tiny - you wander around the downtown area and keep coming to the end of it by mistake - and a good half of it is made up by Cornell, which sprawls handsomely around the town with its imposing buildings and enormous swathes of greenery. Everything is so trim, so pretty, with the gorges as these sudden, beautiful gashes in the landscape. Because I am the smartest person on the planet, I picked Cornell's reunion weekend as my weekend to visit (how I found somewhere to stay is still beyond me), and the town was buzzing with people, and something of their excitement was in the air; at any rate, I thought it was auspicious to see Cornell for the first time when it was surrounded by people who loved it enough to have travelled miles to get back that weekend.

The law school, in particular, was having its fifty-year reunion, and was thus full of balloons and the class of 1960. They all added a suitably surreal touch to what was a surreal journey - I mean, I applied to Cornell, I was accepted, I've seen pictures, but still I couldn't picture myself there, in those halls that aren't so much hallowed as entirely alien, and I don't know if I can yet. But I made a step, I think; I made several steps. I opened a bank account, I signed a lease, I discussed with the registrar which courses I should take, I figured out Ithaca's rather marvellous public transport system, I climbed a lot of hills. (Am I doomed to hills? I currently live halfway up about the only hill in Oxfordshire.)

Mostly, I was surprised by the kindness of strangers. I got lost and was led to where I was going for miles out of their way by gently amused undergrads, a guy who was passing made calls on my behalf when I missed an appointment with a potential landlord, the people at the law school loaded me up with information, leaflets and gift cards to the local bagel shop. Strangers stopped me when I was clearly going in the wrong direction and put me right. About twelve different people assumed I was an admitted freshman but were still kind when I told them I wasn't. I would say, o hai, do I look seventeen to you, but I'm sort of afraid of the answer. One of the undergrads blushed and told me he liked my accent. What a wonderful place. And I'm glad I thought so, because I'm committed now: I signed a lease, and fell in love with a local restaurant (Moosewood, possibly the best vegetarian restaurant I've ever been to).

More than anything else, I was sorry to leave. I think I'm really doing this.
raven: (misc - winter)
Administratively speaking, Fair Isle is a part of the Shetland Islands - in actual fact it's a bit closer to Orkney, although it's very far from both. Barring that, then, the southernmost point of Shetland is at Sumburgh Head, the bottom of Mainland, and it took me about half an hour to drive there from Lerwick yesterday. Just as the sea was bearing into sight, I slowed to a stop in front of a set of level crossing lights - I am a pro at level crossing lights! this is what happens when you grow up in a place with a railway line on one side and the Irish Sea on the other - and thought, huh, I thought there were no railways in Shetland.

Then an aircraft landed in front of me.

I really do approve of a place, for the record, where the road crosses the runway, and there is a man in a little car whose actual job is to drive down every hour or so and close the gates and get the lights going by hand. After the plane had landed safely he waved me through with a smile and then I got to have the unsettling experience of driving over the tarmac of an airport.

Sumburgh Head is pretty spectacular. It's way out at the tip of the island and has enormous carved-out gashes in its cliffs - there's one point where the road narrows to one track, with a sheer slope on one side and a seven-foot drop into the Atlantic on the other - and is supposed to be a prime spot for seeing whales and puffins. Alas, we saw neither; the whales are for the lucky few, and the puffins return to Shetland to breed "from April to October" - and lovely birds they may be but on-the-date punctual they are not.

We also did not see otters, to my mild disappointment; Shetland otters are interesting and reportedly numerous, having adapted to a marine lifestyle when surrounded by so much seawater. But we did get the chance to acquaint ourselves with some Shetland ponies, who trotted up to a fence and presented small furry noses for patting, and looked hopefully in my handbag for fudge, and also, quite unexpectedly, we met some seals.

here are the seals )

They were very cheerful, hefting themselves across the rocks and basking as though there were not an entire town within a hundred metres of them. I suspect they are quite used to people, or at least to people clambering down rocks waving cameras in hope of getting a better look at them.

We caught the ferry back to Aberdeen last night, which feels like a million years ago, and returned to Edinburgh this morning. It was a lovely holiday. On the whole, we didn't do too much - we never made it far off Mainland, for one thing, and if we were to go again I think we ought to go to Unst and Yell, the northern islands (everything on Unst, delightfully, is "the most northerly [X] in Britain", and even Lerwick has Britain's most northerly barber, bookshop, court, and according to the Rough Guide to the Highlands and Islands, properly brewed lattes). The northernmost settlement in Britain is called Skaw, at the tip of Unst, and from there the northernmost point is a lighthouse called Muckle Flugga.

(This entire digression has been so I could use "Muckle Flugga" in a sentence. Unfortunately for all of us, it is not the northernmost point of Britain - that is a large, uninhabited and entirely unhospitable rock called Out Stack.)

But yes! Shetland is beautiful, and I do want to go back; and even in a few days there, I had disquieting thoughts about packing in the practice of law and living on the top of the world with my own fishing-boat. This is an entirely impractical dream, but I did note for the record that property prices in Lerwick are exceedingly low. As you can probably guess, I did a lot of reading about the Shetland Islands while I was there, but quite apart from the obvious beauty and charm of the place, I do find the whole idea of an isolated island community and how it's administered and governed quite fascinating. It's something to do with the notes of similarity and difference - for example, the red post-boxes in Lerwick are identical to the ones you find in Liverpool and Oxford, other than the fact the last scheduled collection is not 5.30pm, it's 11.30am "for the last scheduled delivery in the rest of the UK", which, I don't know, is to me an unexpectedly mundane manifestation of the isolation of the place - and it's something to do with small details of life that you take for granted when you don't live at the very top of the UK. On the way back, I was reading about a service offered by the ferry company - they will, at no cost, carry the bodies of babies stillborn in Aberdeen back to Shetland for burial.

Which, yes, is a particularly sad example, but maybe the poignancy of it stuck with me - the ferry company were talked into doing it by a woman from Shetland who, like all pregnant women with serious complications, was flown urgently from Shetland to mainland Scotland, and then of course her baby was buried there, 200 miles and a world away from home, as she put it. Which again interfaces with, I don't know, issues of identity and things; I was greatly struck by a little book I found in the aforementioned little goth shop, full of stories, songs, and poetry in Shetland dialect, which is provided to all primary schools in Shetland so, as the book puts it, children will feel comfortable and confident speaking it in schools. I was, I think, not unreasonably delighted by this, having been someone who found linguistic conformity both inevitable and highly stressful in primary school.

I was going to go on and talk about the interesting aspects of the law in a place like this, but probably if I did that I would be here forever.

In short: am back, it was good.


Mar. 29th, 2010 09:19 pm
raven: (misc - winter)
Our landlord wants to know what we're doing on Shetland. "Oh," I said, taken by surprise, "oh, we're here to look at the wildlife, I suppose."

"Good place for it," he said, and not a lot else; he is, on the whole, a chap of few words. The truthful answer is that I have no idea; for some reason, when [livejournal.com profile] shimgray suggested it two weeks ago, instead of going to Ireland or even Iona (where I've never been, shamefully), it caught my imagination.

I went off the idea again five hours into the North Sea, having spent all the time at sea thus far with my nose in a bag, horse-like. To make things worse, the only seasickness pills on board were homeopathic. The boat skidded into Kirkwall around midnight, and most of the passengers departed in the direction of Orkney, taking with them my scope for people-watching, and everyone else on board lashed themselves down for the long night. I dozed off eventually and woke up feeling rotten at seven - despite the clocks going forward to BST overnight, the ship had thoughtfully put on a burst of speed to get us there at the scheduled time - and we got off.

Here's a free bit of advice: don't arrive in Lerwick at seven on a Sunday morning laden down with luggage hoping, naively, to find a cafe. After we had been almost blown out to sea several times, and found not a single place open - other than the Co-op, socialism never sleeps - in the whole town (we hid in doorways from the wind, and I would have been worried we were going to be arrested for vagrancy had the general air of the place not indicated post-zombie invasion), I ran out of energy abruptly and we returned to the ferry terminal and dozed off again until lunchtime. At which point we were picked up by aforementioned landlord, and things got a lot better.

Here is the view from our kitchen window: complete with wind turbine in the garden )

The wind turbine is out of sight to the left, but when you open the door you hear it like a helicopter landing. I can only say the double-glazing is very good in this place. Oh, but the little cottage is adorable. It sleeps five, which is a little embarrassing - it was still cheaper to rent than a B 'n' B! - and has the most adorable little kitchen, and beds with little cuddly seals on them. I love it very much. It is about ten minutes' walk outside of Lerwick, down a hill with no footpath, and surrounded by skittish sheep. Downtown Lerwick, such as it is, took us about forty-five minutes to explore this morning, but I found it quietly delightful - full of tiny little shops, including one that looked just like Quiggins would have done if you packed it in a tiny box and posted it to Shetland (that is to say, a tiny insular goth-shop - complete with incense burners, silver skull earrings, slogan t-shirts and spiky dog collars, everything the self-respecting teenage goth needs), and a bookshop that claims to be the most northerly bookshop in Britain. It may well be. We bought a book for the sake of the thing.

(Oh, also: while I am here, I am reading Lord John and the Private Matter, having found it in a bookshop in Aberdeen, and enjoying its intrigue and mysteries and fiery-haired Scots a little more than I would in a less epic setting - and now it seems like there is something I haven't read. Lord John and the Scottish Soldier - is that a short story, or a novel I haven't come across before?)

In the afternoon, we rented a car. I was a little dubious about this idea; generally, I am not the world's most confident driver, and it's been a good long while since I've driven. But after a few false starts getting out of Lerwick, and a pause at home for lunch, we got out the OS maps and set out again. It's worth noting at this point that the weather here is never the same for five minutes. When we got up there was snow on the ground; this melted by the time we went out, became bright sunshine, became rain, became stinging, painful hail, become sun glimmering off blue water, became rain, became more sunshine. It was grimly grey when we got in the car and started driving north. The road, which is one of two A-roads on the whole island, curves around to the west towards the water, and we reached the crest of a hill, and I nearly cried. The land just falls into the water - just a gorgeous curve into the sound, with the sun coming out gloriously over the shallows towards Scalloway, the second town on Mainland. I've never seen anything so perfect. After that we kept on driving - across these tiny, one-track causeways between the islands, over to Trondra, and then to West Burra, with the sun shining high in the sky all the way. (Here, so far north, the nights are already short - it was bright-sunshine bright even at seven and eight.) Once we hit a one-track road on West Burra, I insisted we stop - like I said, I'm not a confident driver, and had just driven, almost on autopilot, across three islands - and we did, in a tiny hilltop parking-place, and got out to have a look.

There's a novel I read once - it may, to my sorrow, be by Ian McEwan - that described some extraordinary happening as being "like opening a cupboard and finding a beach."

We did that. like so )

Shim claims I look silly, carrying my handbag along a beach with my eyes shut (I needed somewhere for the car keys! I'm looking straight into the sun!) but I like it; it looks like that felt like, clambering down the rocks looking for nothing in particular and finding, out of nowhere, this perfect, tiny curve of beach, with white sand and blue water. I wandered across it feeling like I'd stepped into some other world - it was so unexpected, so perfect, and the sun was shining like it hadn't been all day, and the water was funnelling in along the sound from the North Atlantic, and had that oceanic clarity, that perfect blue.

On the way back there were little Shetland ponies in fields, peering through gorgeous mullets, and Shim claims he saw a tree. (No, several trees.) This is notable, really: it's a bit of a culture shock, getting used to an entirely treeless landscape, just rolling scrubland and salt water.

Tomorrow, we are thinking of heading further north, in the hope of spotting some seals. And otters. I am very much enjoying my holidays.
raven: stock shot of a wall with "I love you" graffiti (stock - love)
On the road! [livejournal.com profile] shimgray and I left Liverpool yesterday morning, swung through the city through the rain via bakery, and then started going north. This morning we left Edinburgh at the crack of dawn, and now we are on the train curving up the coast towards Aberdeen past rolling vistas of sheep, trees and sandstone, and the North Sea glowing under the sun. I have been to Scotland quite a few times over the last few years, but never in the sun. Everything shines. Everything is ridiculously picturesque. This from the country I visited last August and it rained so much the dye ran from my shoes. But, seriously, seriously: it is all drystone walls and clear blue water and tiny fishing boats rocking in tiny swells.

(The train has just slowed to a stop in Montrose and we can see the tail end of the Highlands with spars of snow standing out like bones. And there are real waves now, and rising spray, and flocks of Arctic terns doing loops and whirls.)

The last stops are some distance from Aberdeen, so we're picking up speed. This is the furthest north I've ever been in my life. Tomorrow morning I will be on a latitude with Bergen in Norway, parts of Greenland and Anchorage, Alaska. The way the landscape peels away, I feel like I'm flying.
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
On this day in 1950, the Constitution of the Republic of India came into force, replacing the Government of India Act, made in 1935 as an Act of (Westminster) Parliament. Driving out of Delhi at eight o'clock this morning, I saw the militia practising for the parade - on a row of camels with ribbons and bells and big fuzzy eyes. The fog was so thick they disappeared after twenty-five metres, merging with the rest of the early-morning traffic and I was thinking, all the way, this is my home and these are my people and please don't make me leave.

I arrived in Delhi four days ago, on Saturday morning, and the flight was very long and very delayed, and we waited hours on the tarmac, and when I reached the terminal building I was ushered through the "Diplomats and Officials" channel and very calmly taken home, where they greeted me with shouts of "Baaaaby!" and "Didi!" and various combinations thereof; I came through the door, put my things down, kissed everyone in sight, and then they did my mehndi, and I thought about coffee, and the maid brought me some, and it was thick, milky with far too much sugar, and occasionally you can go home again.

I was supposed to be there for a wedding. I wasn't, in the end; but I was there for my parents' silver wedding anniversary party, which is, for complicated reasons (to do with identity and disowning and difficult things like that), on the same day as my uncle's and aunt's, so it was kind of an enormous shindig. The moment I arrived, I was being fitted for things; my lehnga, when it came, was gorgeous, red, chiffony, covered in silver bits and and a gorgeous black background, and a perfect fit. ("We got it made in Connaught Place," my mother said, "to fit Misty, because I wasn't sure what size you were."

Passing over the fact my own mother doesn't know what size I am, I asked, "Why didn't you call me to ask?"

...cue stunned silence. I suspect my parents' entire generation thinks long-distance calls are still a matter only for weddings and death. Luckily, Misty is an inch taller than me but otherwise very similar in dimensions, and we matched beautifully. After years of borrowing Indian clothes, of awful, salmon-pink monstrosities and the like, I was a little bit in love.)

what Indians are like )

what families are like )

what Hindi speakers are like )

what I am like )

I could go on forever, but I won't. I went to the airport past the camels, I got there in good time, flew out, delayed through the fog, landed in Heathrow among the sad gap-year travellers looking out of place with their silly beads and sarongs, and the sad middle Englanders with their silly murmurs about "Jai-eye-pur" and "plain honest food", and I took three trains and a bus, and now I am in Oxford, but I woke up in Delhi. What I am saying is this: I am pleased and proud to be who I am, to be all of who I am; I am not, any more, angry about being Indian and British and half-Bengali with hundreds of cousins; I am not sorry, and I am not sad. But flying across the world, twice, in four days, twists out the melancholy in me, and the maudlin; I took a shower just now, and washed the thick Delhi road-dust out of my hair, and watched it swirl around a plughole while all the hot water I wanted landed on my head, and all the electricity I needed shone down, and I missed home.

an arrival

Jan. 24th, 2010 04:00 pm
raven: image of India on a globe (politics - india)
So, I got here. The Incredible Fornicatores never stopped having sex, I didn't get to the exam before it started, I was delayed four hours out of Heathrow. But, I'm here. It's warm. Not hot, but actually comfortable outside; the fog is thick, and the airport is mostly closed, which is slowing the influx of relatives.

Well. I got my mehndi done. My hands are covered with beautiful red flowers. Tomorrow night I ought to have a birthday party, or at least go out somewhere and drink to celebrate not being old enough to drink.

But I got here! That's something, I suppose.
raven: red tulips in a vase on a balcony, against a background of a city (stock - tulips)
I don't know why I have this tendency to make LJ updates at stupid places and times. I haven't written anything in a week because I keep trying to write about Hong Kong and failing; it defies glib description, and profound is beyond me. I have been back a few days now, and I am still getting up at astonishing hours of my own accord - so that's what seven am looks like, etc. - and I keep thinking I ought to write about it, but it isn't easily evoked: it's not like anywhere else, it's a distant place. My first morning there, I woke up the same way - suddenly, luminously awake at an unearthly hour, really, unearthly, with the sunrise breaking over the surface of the harbour and the moon breaking over the surface of the sun.

I admit, I didn't know. I had some vague notion of a total solar eclipse, somewhere, sometime: it turned out that there was totality most notably in Varanasi (now, that would have been worth seeing) and in the area around Shanghai; while there was a lot of excitement on television, in Hong Kong, it was the quiet edge of the penumbra. In the absence of anything more sophisticated, I poured water into a salver and watched the reflection when it stilled, and while it was partial, it was eerie to watch. People on television in India were doing what Indians do, viz., make a lot of noise and invoke our gods, but the city below the window briefly stopped, looked up, and started again. I suppose that ought to be very profound, you ought to learn something from that, but I'm still not sure I know what sort of place Hong Kong is. It's not a city for tourists. It's not a place to see, it's a place to be - to get up and wander around and eat street food and sear gently in the sun. It's an odd mixture of history, future and seascape, occasional colonial grace notes on a background of sunshine and chrome, things that are familiar from India, like bizarre juxtapositions of place names - places called Central and Causeway Bay next to places called Tsim Sha Tsui and Sheung Wan - and people who sell books in five languages on the street. And that, too, coupled with the weird feeling that I could pay some nominal amount and be on a train to Guangzhou, which I would have done in a moment had the train timetanle not been very stern about where you need to get off if your visa entitlements are not up to scratch.

I suppose, in the end, it came down to a certain sense of wistfulness. Hong Kong is a modern city, and if I can tell anything from a place, I can tell that - it has polished surfaces, smooth, silent mass transit and clean air, clean water - but it's not a Western one. The guide book - which was actually very helpful in most regards - was straight-facedly effusive about fusion and where East meets West and other such tourist-board platitudes - but I disagreed. There's a distinction between being Western and having achieved a state of modernity - and it's a distinction I've never been quite sure exists, and having found it finally, I'm going to remember it. Hong Kong is full of things to remind you that you're not in Western Europe or North America - it is emphatically not a Western city. It was like a glimpse of the world I hope to be living in when I'm old - the one where I come from is just where I come from, it has no connotations of developing and backward. I hope that one day, Delhi is like Hong Kong - full of the things it has today, the constant shouting, the noisy organised street religion, the people who can't mind their own business for a moment, the street markets, the people on the hustle - but with that clean air, clean water, without the piss and spit and betel-juice. It may happen, and it may not; but it was a treat, regardless.

Since returning I have applied for four training contracts, bringing the total up to some ludicrous number, and had my bimonthly I-am-going-to-be-unemployed-FOREVER freakout (this time, brought on by the fact that for the first time ever, I am legally unemployed); I have spent a pleasant afternoon relearning how one does not get oneself Thrown Into Tree By Angry Horse; I have resolved to take part in [livejournal.com profile] dogdaysofsummer; I have re-read Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, and decided that everyone else ought to. I'm surprised I didn't read the former earlier, actually - both books are set at Balliol in the 2050s, in a universe where time travel has been invented, yes, but is strictly controlled by the Oxford history faculty, i.e., dizzy academics and bureaucracy. Doomsday Book is epic and kind of gorgeous and deeply, deeply disturbing - the basic plot is so simple it ought to be trite, viz., the first mediaeval historian visits Oxford during the Black Death, and instead the author (er, Connie Willis) manages to wring real drama and tragedy out of it. I've read it twice in a month - no mean feat, considering it's 500 pages - and loved it without reservation.

And then there's To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is a sequel only in the sense that it happens after, and has two of the same characters. It's also wonderful - from the blurb, it's a romantic comedy with time travel, but it's more than that - it's deeper and denser, meticulously plotted and paced, but it is also a delicate pastiche of Three Men In a Boat, and a delicate little love story, besides. (I wrote fic for it for [livejournal.com profile] yuletide last year, in fact: Yes, Virginia.) Another one that rewards a re-read, I think.

Anyway, I was talking about making LJ entries at odd times and places. I'm on a train between Liverpool and London Euston, which is tilting kind of dizzily across the landscape. (I love this journey, usually; I love how you can just sit on a train for two hours watching patchwork fields and sleepy sheep drift by, and then arrive, but it all looks very vivid-light gloomy today, lots of clouds boiling indecisively above the horizon.) This week I have a job of sorts - a one-week placement with a tiny law firm somewhere in London, doing a lot of criminal defence work, so should be fun, and also should get it straight in my head whether I really want to spend my whole life doing this - and next week I am in Edinburgh with [livejournal.com profile] shimgray.

The first prompt for [livejournal.com profile] dogdaysofsummer is The enigma of August / Season of dust and teenage arson. I may not write it, but, how lovely, how aptly mysterious for this Sunday-afternoon journey into a month of something new. They are about to bring me coffee. In a lot of regards, life is good.


Jul. 16th, 2009 12:25 am
raven: red tulips in a vase on a balcony, against a background of a city (stock - tulips)
I am back from the Netherlands and very much don't want to be. I think that was the nicest holiday I've been on in years, and probably one of the most needed. One of my favourite poems is by Stephen Vincent Benét, "Nightmare at Noon", and has the lines, It was an old, peaceful city, Rotterdam / Clean, tidy, full of flowers / With the usual furnishings, such as cats and children.

We arrived in Rotterdam on Friday morning and I decided to extrapolate the sentiment to the whole of the Netherlands. The whole country is so small, so flat, so endlessly picturesque - there were rabbits bounding over the railway lines in front of commuter trains - so full of flashes of colour around corners, tiny, mundane wonders. We went by sea, and I was doubtful in the extreme about this - the last time I went anywhere by sea, everything was orange and ghastly, I distinctly recall, and I ended up wishing I'd just stayed at home - but we took the late train from London, reached Harwich in the dead of night, had a civilised drink by a porthole as the ship pulled out to sea, and slept peacefully on top of each other in a cabin with berths, towels and hot water by the bucket. When I woke up we were at the Hook of Holland and I've never travelled anywhere in such ludicrous comfort.

It's a very small place, with a very small railway station. The establishment at one end of the platform, where you would expect a ticket office to be, is a fishmonger's. There were ticket machines, which rejected first Shim's card, then mine. They didn't take banknotes. We were in a small town in the distinct middle of nowhere, being windswept as though it were the middle of December, and we didn't have thirty-one euro in change. I mean, who does? We went into the town, which was deserted, and had a bank with its only sign in English reading "No change". We walked back over to the tiny station, got on the tiny train, and waited to be thrown off or fined or told we must leave continental Europe for our sheer presumptuousness, when the ticket inspector appeared. He looked exactly like Lembit Opik, and said, "You must have a ticket. It is a seventy euro fine."

"We'll pay it," I said, feeling like I had proven myself unworthy of the Netherlands. "Really, we will."

"There is," he said very sternly, "a ticket office in Rotterdam. Go there."

And then he disappeared, whistling. The kindness of strangers turned out to be a theme - that, and speedy public transport, beautiful architecture and those cats and children. Rotterdam was fresh, full of busy, cheerful people, and they sold us tickets for the intercity train, which was a dream - again, you could doze off in one place and wake up in another, and then we were in Amsterdam, for which I fell, ludicrously and romantically, in the sort of way you are not supposed to fall for cities, which are really just bricks and mortar and canal-water, the moment I stepped off the train.

Things I loved about Amsterdam:

-The water. The way the city is moulded and shaped by the water, the way there are houses with small boats tied up to their front doors, and flowers growing at the edge, wild, and in perfectly cultivated pots, and how you can step up to perfect gnarled wrought iron bridges and watch the sunlight sparkle off the soft edges of it all. And then when it's all getting too poetic for words, a booze cruise drifts by, trailing beer cans and the dim smell of hemp. Shim and I waited all weekend for someone to fall out of a booze cruise into the canal underneath our balcony. This never happened. It was very disappointing.

-Balcony, yes! The apartment we were lucky enough to be staying in was film-set gorgeous; the top of an old warehouse building, almost a studio, but not quite, open-plan, enormous polished wood floors and the original, centuries-old beams holding the whole place together. Mirrors everywhere, sunlight streaming in every day from whole walls of windows, every step I took I felt like I was in an advertisement for something, possibly men's razors. It was quite noisy, being right in the centre of the city and surrounded by a lot of bars and coffeeshops, but I can usually sleep through people shouting when they're shouting in a language I don't speak.

(Although they seem to drunkenly shout in their native tongue, everyone in the Netherlands speaks English. This is a cliché, but it is embarrassing and it is true. My grasp of Dutch, after five days, extends to "alstublieft", which is how you say please and thank you nicely; as a contrast, one night we ate in a pretty Italian restaurant by Prinsengracht and the waiter spoke to the table next to us in Dutch, the one on the other side in German, and then came to us and began to precisely enunciate the specials in barely-accented English. For a moment he got sardines and anchovies mixed up. He apologised for his imperfect command of the language. I just... I cannot even. Anchovies.)

-The Café Het Gasthuys, which is possibly my favourite drinking establishment of all time. We discovered it on our first night in Amsterdam, and remembered it mostly because the waitress fell over twice. On subsequent visits, we discovered that a) all the waitresses were preternaturally beautiful (Shim notes, emphatically, that this is entirely my judgement, and he is not the sort of person who looks at waitresses in smoky bars, because he is old and respectable and I malign him); b) they are also very kind, and speak perfect English, and serve you gin with berries in it; and c) the café had the requisite cat. Its name was Kaspar, and it was amiable, black, and unruffled. It lived by the kitchen door. The place did very good food. The cat was roughly spherical.

By Monday, we realised we had been in the city four days and done nothing whatsoever. I mean... not nothing. We had slept in, and walked down sunlit alleys full of flowers, and watched the boats go past, and admired waitresses, and sneezed outside coffeeshops, and been momentarily horrified by the Red Light District (I believe it gets initial capitals because it's the oldest one) - the girls in the windows were disconcerting enough, but I was dazed by the girl who opened her window, swept the front with a handily placed broom, and then stepped back into her window and her livid backlight as though nothing were odd - and drank a lot of coffee, and discovered the Dutch equivalent of J. Sainbury, Albert Heijn, and spent happy half-hours procuring waffles, coffee and cheese.

But we hadn't done anything that tourists do, we'd been too busy being on holiday. So we went to the Anne Frank House, which I was last at when I was eight and it was being refurbished, and it was... sobering. Outside, the queue was miles long, there was a group of tourists with southern Californian accents saying things like, "So, like, who was this Anne Frank person?" and "Like, so, was this her house?", and I wondered if it was a bad idea - but inside was worth seeing. The museum aspect has been done well, subtly, and mostly it lets extracts from the diary explain themselves, with the bare minimum of explanatory notes. I always forget how young she was. Thirteen when she started writing, and fifteen when she died. The sunlight outside was necessary, afterwards.

(We also, through a mistake in navigation that was entirely not my fault, ended up walking by the harbour, and while we were there, paused to look at the Amsterdam, a reconstructed Dutch East Indiaman currently moored in the harbour. I've been reading a lot about the Age of Sail. It was worth seeing - tiny, and beautifully reconstructed, and we peered into the hold full of cinnamon and nutmeg, a gunroom I couldn't stand straight in, and perched on the top decks and looked up at the rigging and out of the water. More fun, I think, than museums, really. And that was it, for Serious Cultural Things In Amsterdam. I suppose pancakes are cultural - we found, also, the world's best pancake house, run out of the front room of the people who had the apartment next to ours. It was run by two guys, had only four tables, could only be accessed by ladder, had a roof covered in kettles, and served the best pancakes I have ever seen. They were enormous, covered in cream and cinnamon and apple and bacon (not all at once, but nearly) and it was with great disappointment that we discovered they were only open three days a week. (My theory is that the owner must be putting himself through chef school, the rest of the week. Mmmmm.))

And so there we go. The return was unfun, not because it didn't go smoothly, and not because there weren't the same easy fast trains and cosy wee berth out - but because it was a return. What a wonderful country. All the syrup waffles you could ever eat. A monument, in the city centre, with fresh flowers laid on it, for oppressed LGBT people throughout history. The sound of tram and bicycle bells waking you in the morning. Flowers, running water, children, cats. We got back to dim grey England and went back to London on a dim grey commuter train, and I have returned to the north, and all went entirely to plan, and oh, I do wish we hadn't left. The days were all perfect, full of nothing but varied and disparate joys, with my dear-and-much-maligned-beloved, all washed through by water and golden sun.

We said we'd go back; I hope we do.
raven: red tulips in a vase on a balcony, against a background of a city (stock - tulips)
Paris. It was perfect, pretty much. I am home now, waiting for my washing - very prosaic, I know - and thinking that I don't want to go to school tomorrow, bah, and it's now March and life is probably going to pick up speed again soon, but that was perfect: the briefest of interludes, and all I needed and wanted. [livejournal.com profile] shimgray and I went down to London on Friday evening, running down after school and work and trailing socks and Scotch eggs, and went down to Wimbledon to [livejournal.com profile] apotropaios' Loft of Wonder, and presumed on his hospitality and met [livejournal.com profile] lazyclaire, who is sweet and charming and has a robust sense of humour (I tried regaling her with tales of Jon's past lurid adventures, and she'd either heard them before, or cheerfully mocked him for them; I entirely approve). And I would've been happy with floorspace, but Jon accommodated us very happily on an astonishing inflatable airbed, which was comfortable as long as you lay perfectly still, and somehow we made it to morning without capsizing and even so I dreamed of sea-spray and Spanish gold. (I have been reading more Aubrey-Maturin. It's a theme.)

London at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, clean and clear; then St. Pancras, gleaming glass and chrome, and poetry set in stones in the ground, and then the Eurostar, which is a very ordinary train, except they ask you for your passport on the way in, and they give the annoucements in French and then English, and then you drift off to sleep in dull Kent fields, and the train coasts gently on, and you wake up and the pylons are different shapes, and the cars on the other side of the road. We arrived at the Gare du Nord about two hours later, and it was bright, several degrees warmer, and we walked into Montmartre through blazing sunshine. That evening we made the pleasing discovery we were staying in the shadow of Sacré-Coeur, more or less; you could see it, stepping out, and somehow we ended up wandering through backstreets in the dying light, tearing at a baguette and turning corners to see the city down the slope of the hill. It was a cliché, yes. But it was beautiful.

(I was impressed, especially that evening but later as well, that between us, we managed in French. I think we have about the same command of it, but remember different words and constructions, so managed to get to a vague place of tourist competence. (Of course, this meant a lot of "Excuse-moi, est-ce que je peux avoir... er... there is supposed to be a noun here, isn't there?") Shim was more confident, I had more words. We did all right, and even spoken announcements started to make sense after a while.)

And the oddest thing was, I slept like the dead. I didn't wake up until much prodded the next morning, and fed good coffee, and then we went out into the city again, and while it would be an expensive way to solve the problem on a long-term basis, it was still a great relief. Somehow or other, that morning, we ended up in a bird market. As in, a market where people were selling budgies and canaries and parrots and macaws, as well as a sprinkling of chinchillas and rabbits. It was surreal. We wandered, around Notre Dame (but didn't go in - I thought it might be sacreligious for atheists on a Sunday morning). in and out of boulangeries, and paused a moment to reflect on the true ugliness of the Pompidou Centre (it is not as ugly as it was when I was in Paris last, at which point I think it had grass on it) and continued, eating pains aux chocolats, to the Louvre (where it was not warm enough to jump into the fountains, although I was sorely tempted; Shim was concerned at the sheer quantity of armed police wandering about) and then south to Montparnasse. I kind of wanted to see the catacombs, but eventually realised I am either too young or too old for underground racks bones, and settled for the graves of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, covered in roses and metro tickets.

More sleeping like the dead, after that. It was good. We had dinner in a small, family-run restaurant somewhere in Montmartre, where they fed me a salad the size of my head, and filled with smoked salmon. It was honestly a transcendental eating experience. There was something of the transcendental, or at least the quietly ethereal-that-comes-from-drinking, about the whole evening - I am not used to pitchers of red wine with dinner, but tipsy and giggly is the best way to see a city by night, I think, jumping over cobbles, and we paused for ice-cream and more wine and meant to be sensible and retire after that, but I was feeling quietly wicked and drunk and dragged Shim up to the Basilica du Sacré-Coeur, running up the first few flights of stairs and then giving up and walking the rest, laughing and scaring the respectable Sunday-night Parisians. The view out was spectacular, generic city-after-dark with jewellery-box of lights, but seen through a joyous haze. On the way down, we gave up on the idea of being sensible and I discovered the joys of cassis. At length, we realised we had euros, but no change. "It's not a crime, tipping badly and being drunk," I complained, but Shim hid a five-cent coin under a napkin and we ran, falling over ourselves on the cobbles and everything was stil transcendentally lovely. (I was pretty drunk. I'm a pretty drunk.)

This morning I had a hangover which I entirely deserved. We went, therefore, to Shakespeare and Co., an English-language bookshop next to Notre Dame, which has all the things I love in a bookshop: nooks and crannies, towers of bizarrely-ordered books, passages too narrow to pass, books stacked up on the stairs, small stickers saying "Howl if you love City Lights", a dog. (Who seemed to be the only French-speaking member of staff - at any rate, she was mostly addressed as "Colette, attendez!", whereas the rest of the staff were cheerfully English and Australian and American.) We bought books. The only thing I brought back from Paris, other than biscuits, is Delta of Venus. Unrepresentative, maybe, but with something of the appropriate whimsy.

I am about to return to sleeping like the dead. As of today, or yesterday, or some other day - maybe we shouldn't have picked the only day in the year that doesn't come every year - Shim and I have been together for a year. We've done things. We've ambled tipsily around Montmartre. We've clambered over college roofs and chased cats and pondered matters serious and spent whole days reading and dozing and stood on the Royal Mile making fun of statutes of Hume. Last week we started a small kitchen fire. I don't have much I need to say about it, except, this is how life is, how it ought to be.

October 2017

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