Sunday, July 29, 2007

Weekend delights

My weekend began on Friday, with post-work beers with colleagues outside The George on Wardour Street. We always try not to discuss work, but after chit-chat about weekend activities and holidays, conversation always drifts back to it. I used to shy away from work socials because of this - I'm also naturally introverted - but now I realise work socials are a good way of getting to know what people are working on, of getting people to know what I'm working on, of finding out what's going on in the company, and of trying to impress on senior colleagues which upcoming new business I want to work on (it's not always a good idea to wait for projects to be handed to you; if post-work chit-chat with a senior colleague reveals a piece of new business that sounds sexy or is in an area I want more experience in then I will say, "That sounds interesting, I'd love to work on that").

Then M called me to say he was leaving work and we met in The Brunswick in Bloomsbury - one of the few remaining modernist, even brutalist, social housing projects in Britain today. The centre has undergone a dramatic transformation recently. Where once it resembled the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with empty, condom-strewn thorough-fares, peeling paint and torn net curtains in the windows, today it is home to French Connection, Oasis, Starbucks, Carluccio's, Waitrose, et al. High street anywhere in other words. The fact that these are all chains and that the flats still look extremely run down means I've never spent much time there save for a visit to the Renoir cinema, part of the still excellent Curzon group. However, tonight we were on a mission to stock up on cheeses, breads, jams, chocolates, rocket, cured meats and wine at Waitrose for a Friday night picnic dinner at home with a DVD.

M had put in an large order at the cheap and very excellent - ten Asian DVDs in all. On Friday, snuggling into the sofa with our picnic food, we watched Japanese director of Nobody Knows and Maboroshi Hirokazu Koreeda's Distance, following the lives of the relatives of cult members slain by fellow cult members.

On Saturday, we hopped on a bus to Finsbury Circus to see the Paul Morrison exhibition at Bloomberg SPACE. Morrison had covered the walls with huge black and white stencil-like paintings of landscapes and botanical motifs that drew on a variety of influences, from classical Germanic and Chinese landscape traditions through medieval engravings to Walt Disney comics. Morrison keeps a database of found images and modifies them. As he wrote in the exhibitions notes:
"I collect imagery from a variety of sources including medieval woodcuts, quattrocento paintings, cartoons, botanical textbooks, advertising, children's illustrations, films, sixteenth century herbals and the Internet."
Expansive lakes, smoking volcanoes, densely packed trees, rocky mountains, multi-headed blooms - all painted on a grand scale that unsettled and unnerved me. Brilliant work.

We stopped in at the Japan Travel Centre again to confirm our bookings for the Kyoto ryokan - a traditional Japanese inn where we will be served kaiseki - a seasonal cuisine traditionally served during tea ceremonies and served in beautiful stoneware. They serve it here at the sublime but very expensive Umu. Whilst there, I picked up a terrific Japanese cookbook in Japanese and English that features simple recipes such as red rice with azuki beans, marinated spinach (ohitashi), Japanese egg pancakes (okonomiyaki), kakiage and tofu hotpot.

We lunched on scones, clotted cream, blueberry jam and white tea in the whimsical Moroccan-themed interior of The Parlour in Sketch on Conduit Street. Sketch spans several floors of a grade-II listed 18th century townhouse. It encompasses breakfast and lunch rooms, patisseries, bars, brasseries and fine dining rooms, each with its own personality. I last came here for dinner with clients, where we enjoyed an elegant meal on the top floor Library. The Parlour was full of ladies-who-lunch (save for a very odd 118-118 couple in sweatbands and tracksuits and leather baseball caps!) and M felt a little out of place surrounded by so much oestrogen.

We went downstairs to the very kitsch Paper Rad show in Sketch's basement. Click on the link and imagine being immersed in all that digital neo-psychedelia on twelve huge screens complete with a prog-rock, psychedelic, trance soundtrack blasting out from every surface. With influences ranging from 70s US children's programmes and cartoons to retro video games and YouTube viral movie clips - the experience had no political subtext or message and was simply fun fun fun!

I'm always creatively stimulated visiting art galleries and have been ever since I used to bunk off school as a teenager and escape suburban hell to travel to London every week or so. Though I never studied art there, all my friends at Goldsmiths College,where I was an undergraduate, studied art or music. I was so lucky to be surrounded by such fine creative minds and the environment really encouraged my own efforts at writing fiction.

M loves art as much as I do. He doesn't have a creative outlet as such - he doesn't paint or write or play a musical instrument - but he thrives on an artist's vision of the world. I am more experiential - enjoying art for how it makes me feel. But M is a real scientist at heart (his previous career before law) and enjoys analysing and dissecting points of view and opinions. And he likes it when an artist makes him see things differently. Art for him can be a wonderful intellectual exercise. So we both feel something is missing from our week if don't manage to go to a gallery.

To the Haunch Of Venison we went for the Jamie Shovlin show examining recent American history through the lens of 1970s MOR rock music. Particularly engaging was the home movie footage of his parents - nondescript Midlands suburbanites whose daily lives were enlivened by a middle-of-the-road US 80s rock soundtrack. The mother talked us through her well-worn vinyl collection of Hall & Oates, the Eagles, America and Foreigner - "Nice, handsome bands to watch," she gushed. "If I was ironing, Hall & Oates would be blasting in the background. I brainwashed my children into recognising any Hall & Oates song from the intro!" The large-scale acrylic paintings of Bob Seger, the Eagles, America and Hall & Oates album covers were also a visual treat.

There's a political subtext, of course, behind these paintings - the guide says, "The exhibition presents a narrative of hope and disillusion... [It] points to the ways in which the ideals of the 1960s were alternately compromised by commercial imperatives, buoyed up by the music and then broken down and abandoned" - but the film is worth watching for the sheer enthusiasm of Shovlin's parents alone, and I always loved the bravado and optimism of those MOR rock album covers from the 70s and 80s.

Walking down Bond Street, we saw Arsenal veteran Tony Adams. Or rather M saw him. I was too busy staring at his companion who looked like George Bush, so only got to see his back as he turned the corner out of sight. M furiously texted his sister and mum as his family have been supporting Arsenal since his grandfather's days.

Our final gallery was the Spruth & Magers' show of Stephen Shore's photographs from the Warhol Factory in the late 1960s. I've always adored Shore's coloured photos of the vernacular America landscape but it wasn't until we visited his retrospective at the International Center Of Photography in Manhattan in May that I realised he had worked with Andy Warhol for two years. The Spruth & Magers show was our first opportunity to see some of the photos he took at The Factory and what a treat it was - the candid photos of Warhol eating at the formica tables of a grimy Chinese cafe surrounded by a non-plussed clientele who look like they wouldn't give a damn even if they did know who Warhol was; or swigging from a bottle of beer in his studio watching something off camera. Shore was greatly influenced by the laconic nature of Warhol's Factory movies, by the artist's use of serial imagery and by his obsession with recording every detail.

And then it was a family dinner at Strada with M's childhood friend and his Chillean wife who live in Hitchin, a pretty little Hertfordshire market town half an hour outside London. M's sister, mum and mum's friend also joined us and it was a lovely evening. Though a walk through the town late at night to catch a train back home confirmed why I am reluctant to move back to the suburbs.

And now it's Sunday. The sun is shining, M's returned from the gym, I've cleaned the house and finished the laundry, we've lunched on spelt bread, smelly Camenbert, soft goats cheese, muscat grapes, sun-blush tomatoes and salami meats. Now I'm finishing off blogging while M washes the floor and cleans the toilet and bathroom. We'll nip out to our local shops and buy some food for the week, then we'll settle in for the rest of the day and watch Asian movies from our package, perhaps with some green tea. I'll try and tempt M with some of my favourite rose and violet fondants (very girly and old-fashioned chocolates). Later he'll make a Vietnamese poached chicken with lime leaves, while I chat with my wonderful parents on the phone. I wish they lived closer to London because I do miss them loads.

It'll be good to chill at home today. I've got a busy work week ahead, topped off with a work party and a client dinner. M is always busy and works late often - more often than not these days we sit down to eat at 10pm. I could eat before him of course, but it's so nice making the effort to eat together (and we're still newly-weds!). And from this coming Friday, of course, my busy birthday weekend begins - whoop!

Anyway, hope you're having a lovely weekend too!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Inside the machine

John Maeda at Riflemaker from Planethalder on Vimeo. Maeda was another person who inspired me to shift into new media.
"By the end of 2005, I had rekindled my love for the computer. It was in 2000 that I declared to go 'post-digital' and tried to run away. Perhaps my interests in the computer required sheer rejection. I came to the computer anew to find its own 'nature' inside the synthetic space of computation. These 7 films intend to capture the spirit of the naturally abstract and fleeting world of numbers that live deep inside the machine" John Maeda.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


It's been a whirlwind at work leaving me little energy afterwards to blog about my weekend. My highlights since Friday... On Friday we popped into the Crafting Beauty In Modern Japan exhibition at the British Museum, which showcased some truly beautiful and intricate ceramics, textiles, lacquer work, metal work, bamboo and glass work. Afterwards, we ate at the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Kikuchi on Hanway Street. One of my favourite Japanese restaurants, along with Umu, Roka and Matsuri - the delicate, fresh food belies the dowdy exterior and the place is packed with Japanese people. We ate turbot rolled in plum sauce, red miso soup, tempura crab, fatty tuna, sashimi selection, deep fried tofu and ginger, scallops with ginger and citron miso, green tea ice cream and red bean ice cream. All washed down with buckwheat shochu, barley shochu and green tea.

On Saturday, we popped into JP Books on Haymarket and bought some pretty Japanese print notebooks (below). Saw the interesting Painting In England 1957 exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, featuring the muted post-war palette of British abstract expressionists such as Frank Avray Wilson and Denis Bowen. Francis Bacon's Figures In A Landscape (above) was elemental and sexually charged. His painting of two lovers tustling in the grass has not been visible for 50 years and was one of his earliest attempts to paint figures in movement.

We also saw Karen Kilimnik's wonderfully childlike paintings at the Spruth & Magers gallery. Her magical paintings set against striped Regency-style wallpaper and mouldings were like illustrations in old children's books or like the amateur paintings sold by the side of Green Park - the romanticised world of English teas, old London, and bucolic paradise. John Maeda's computer installations at the Riflemaker gallery (above) always mesmerise. But I most enjoyed the post-Independence collection of modern Indian paintings at the Aicon Gallery off Heddon Street. K Laxma Goud's powerful, earthy and vital line drawings, etchings and watercolours (below) particularly impressed and we had a great conversation with the Director about modern Indian art. This is a gallery I'm going to keep a keen eye on.

In the evening we witnessed the amazing vocal feats of charismatic Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, who I last saw way back in 2004, at The O2 - or "The O Queue" as my husband impatiently calls the old Millennium Dome for the intolerable people congestion and long queues inside the vast venue. As I wrote back in 2004, "N'Dour has an amazing 4-5 octave range and his voice soars and swoops with such ease, it transfixes its listener."

Sunday was spent walking off huge breakfast bacon sandwiches M is fond of making on weekends now - trekking 4 hours up and down the hills of Crouch End and Highgate Village looking at roads we'd like to buy on. Eventually we collapsed on Hampstead Heath to nap and chat and read and people watch. I love this area - we both have roots in the Hampstead area and we were married there earlier this year. I aspire to retire to a lovely old detached house off the Heath one day. A girl can dream...

Then we went into Pimlico to meet a friend who's stopping over from India and Tanzania. We chatted about development work, making or adopting babies, mutual friends, falling for married men (!) over some rather bland and overly salty Indian food at Nutmeg. Drinking Staropramens in The Warwick was so pleasant now there is a no smoking ban. It makes such a difference. Now they just need to ban sports TV. I was going to say, "Even if it's only mellow cricket" but M informed me it was actually golf. Oh well...

Also this week: bought a pretty polka dot silk dress from DKNY on Bond Street, spent a night drinking with colleagues and clients in Soho, booked our flights and hotels to Tokyo and Kyoto at the Japan Centre Travel Agents, and taken too many taxis.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Midweek rambles

- Completely shaken up by a very aggressive neighbour - the kind of man who cannot have a logical, adult conversation but has to shout boosted by alcohol (including at his wife).

- Work has been a much steadier pace this week which has been a pleasant surprise. Have been able to leave on time each day so far, though I still start early.

- I'm discovering that wireless is not so liberating afterall. I've had to ask M not to let me have his phone all the time cause I'm getting addicted to surfing the net on it all over the house. I need to stick to a laptop connected to a single location with wires.

- Choosing our hotels and flights to Tokyo and Kyoto. Poring over guidebooks and back issues of Wallpaper* and travel magazines and planning all the things we want to see and do. Dreaming of all things Japanese.

- Contrary to appearances, I am an inverterate snob. So when I was tagged by Broom, I jumped at the chance to vent on those I judge. Here goes, you may not like me after this:
  • Primark girls - you look cheap, perhaps you are cheap, why do you want to look like everyone else, dare to be an individual! (Okay, in venting I'm completely overlooking the fact that I like wandering around Oasis, The Gap and Top Shop once in a while. But this is a vent, so who cares.)
  • Addicts begging for money beneath ATMs - I'm not funding your habit, go away cause you're spoiling it for those genuinely in need.
  • Out-of-towners who eat in Garfunkels or Angus Steakhouse - this is one of the greatest cities in the world. You come here and then can't be bothered to take advantage of the sheer variety of food. You may as well have stayed in the suburbs.
  • Tourists dawdling in the middle of the street - okay, I do the same in your country, but come on I'm late for work!
  • Language students pestering me with their leaflets - I may have brown skin but please do not presume I need help speaking English - I speak it better than most English people anyway. (Did I mention I'm a Leo with a big ego?)
  • People in cheap purple nylon clothes pestering me to take their free London newspapers - I know you're struggling to make a living like the rest of us but please don't take up so much room on the pavement. Besides, why would I want to assist you in the cutting down of our trees and adding to the landfill?
  • Harry Potter kidults - please grow up, you look silly in a suit reading it on the Tube. How old are you - 35? At least try and hide your addiction or at the very least read the adult cover version. (Sorry all the people I know who are Potters - I'm just venting, just for the purposes of this post! Who am I to judge - I enjoy chick lit now and again.)
  • Men who wear wet gel in their hair to work - you're men not boys.
  • Men whose suit trousers don't quite reach the tops of their shoes - you're men not boys.
  • Suited men who forget to polish their shoes - why would I employ you if you cut corners and pay no attention to detail?
  • Whingers and whiners and naggers and ditherers - just get on with it for f's sake!
  • People who moan about living in London and sit watching TV or getting drunk in bars every free time they get - either move out or make the most of where you live but stop complaining.
  • Judgmental, small-minded, snobby people - whoops, I'd better move along guiltily!
- So far this week we've cooked and eaten chicken fajitas, beef and leek noodle soup, cheesy scrambled eggs with leeks and a balsamic tomato salad, curried chickpeas and spinach with apricots.

- Have been engrossed in Paul Auster's The Brooklyn Follies - so much more expansive than his previous novels, with a fabulously realistic set of characters and an intense sense of location. I'm trying to draw out the last few pages because I can't bear for it to end. His best book yet.

- Losing myself in a series of in-the-moment activities - folding laundry, washing dishes, wiping surfaces, chopping vegetables. Who needs to sit in zazen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dreaming new worlds

In the last month or so I've read:
  • Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee. A richly-textured cross between a suspenseful thriller and an evocative Bengali family epic, set in San Francisco, New Jersey, New York, Bombay, Calcutta and East Bengal. Not a single one of Mukherjee's characters, from native Brahmin Bengali to second-generation Indian, was a stereotype. Truly gripping.

  • Interpreter Of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Uncluttered, sparing, elegant, poignant. These stories of Indians, expatriates and first-generation Indians are astonishingly insightful - the elderly stairwell sweeper in Calcutta, the Bangladeshi lecturer in Boston fearing for the lives of his wife and children caught up in the civil war against Pakistan, the dizzy young newly-wed bride Twinkle in Connecticut collecting Christian bric-a-brac to the despair of her new husband, the long and lonely journey of a young man from Bengal to London to Massachusetts. I shed quite a few tears reading this collection.

  • The Colour Of Love by Preethi Nair. Delightful, frothy, light-hearted Indian chick-lit based in London. Laugh-out-loud hilarious. It's a cliche, but I really couldn't put this one down. I never realised there was so much Indian chick-lit out there - Preethi Nair, Mitali Perkins, Kavita Daswani, Nisha Minhas... as well as more serious female Indian writers such as Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Manju Kapur. So much to read and enjoy!

  • Waiting by Ha Jin. A doctor has been passionately in love with an educated, modern woman for seventeen years, while his loyal village wife back home resolutely refuses to grant him a divorce. This funny, subtle Chinese tale has the aura of a modern folktale.

  • Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. This cyber-mystical thriller in nine parts hurtles us from Okinawa and Tokyo to Petersburg and London. The intersecting narratives lost me many times along the way, but Mitchell's Haruki Murakami-style prose successfully drew me back into the tumult.

  • Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. At first I was skipping entire paragraphs, reluctant to dwell too much on these grotesque, insular, narcissistic characters torching through arty NYC in the 1980s. But then Gaitskill's compassion, tenderness and love for her characters filtered through and by the end I was burning hot, jagged tears. A devastating look at exploitation, selfishness, love and death.
Reading is a wonderful route back into dreaming after a day immersed only in rationality. I love snuggling into the couch or duvet with a book after a long day at work, but another of my favourite parts of the day is reading on the morning and evening underground commute. I rarely read work documents on the train. M is the same. He'll often be checking his Blackberry waiting for the train, but once he's on, it's out with a novel. Reading in this way helps transition into and out of two very different worlds - home and work life.

And reading facilitates writing. I keep a small notebook for ideas and a larger one for a current project. As an aside, I also keep a journal which I dip my pen into from time to time with thoughts I want to keep to myself. After a few years, I am dreaming new worlds into being again. I was at university when I last wrote intensively. My time these days is far less flexible and I have to fit in chunks of dreaming and writing time here and there, but I'm in no hurry. The story and character incubation is simply wonderful - like luxuriating fully immersed in a warm and scented bath...

Monday, July 16, 2007


I've always suspected Planethalder of having far more RSS feed reader visitors than website visitors. I read all my blogs via Google Reader (even via the mobile phone) and if a blog doesn't have a feed, or if it doesn't have "full text" enabled within its feed, then I'm unlikely to read. Normal website statistics packages, including Sitemeter and Google Analytics, do not count RSS feed visits in their totals. So I've started redirecting my Blogger feed to FeedBurner, which tracks a variety of feed statistics such as how many subscribers you have, how many hits your feeds are getting per day, what posts are the most popular. The service, which is now Google-owned, is completely free. If you subscribe to my site, you shouldn't have to change anything - the usual Blogger feed you subscribed via should simply auto-redirect to FeedBurner everytime you read via RSS. It'll be interesting to see what the feed statistics show.

If you are on Blogger and want to do something similar then visit the Quick Start For Blogger page on FeedBurner. Here are the processes for WordPress and Typepad blogs - I think the auto-redirects from your existing to your new FeedBurner feeds work the same way.

Weekend orientation

The weekend began with Friday night drinks after work with M and some of my work colleagues at the charming, stuck-in-an-Edwardian-timewarp Samuel Smith pub The Blue Posts in Fitzrovia. Talk ranged from working in Brazilian favelas through building carbon neutral, eco-friendly homes, to creating tidal-powered lunar clocks. M and I had a private giggle when my eco-friendly colleague obliviously mentioned that one of the reasons he preferred living outside the hustle and bustle of London was because it was "easier to drive to the supermarket with the kids"! We didn't bother pointing out the contradiction.

Full of Alpine beer, we ate steamed and fried whole pomfret in Chinatown's no-nonsense Lee Ho Fook. The fish was lovely, but everything else was extremely bland so I don't think I'll be returning. To make up for a disappointing dinner, we bought pretty little light-as-air desserts from the heaving Yauatcha where, in London at least, all dim sum roads must eventally lead, in my opinion.

Our sunny and bright Saturday began with thick bacon sandwiches with lashings of HP Sauce and the scorching Cuban hip hop of Orishas' Emigrante, before heading into town for a stroll through Covent Garden and Soho. We bought mangosteens, rambutan, giant lychees and dragon fruit from New Moon Loon in Chinatown, a 2001 bottle of Italian Barolo from Gerry's Wines & Spirits on Old Compton and some "guitar" spaghetti and potent fresh basil from Lina Stores on Brewer. We lingered over green tea (M) and freshly-squeezed apple, cucumber and lemongrass juice (me) at Pure California on Beak Street, chatting and people watching, then M returned home with our purchases.

I met my friend in one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants Mildreds on Lexington Street. This place is always packed and the food is satisfyingly moreish - comfort food of the highest order and enough to turn any confirmed carnivore into a vegetarian. Enough, but not quite! I was vegetarian for 11 years and vegan for 2, but got turned back onto meat in, of all places, India. But that's another story.

My friend is finishing off her PhD in English in Oxford, where we met. We chatted for a few hours about the pressures of work and the pleasures of play, while we ploughed through a starter of beetroot and green bean rissoto cake and mains of organic energising detox salad with carrots, sultanas, fennel, sprouting beans, coriander and toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds with apple, lime and ginger dressing plus goats cheese (me), and beetroot, red cabbage and red kidney bean burger with sweet potato fries (she).

Then we walked to Asia House on New Cavendish Street for the last day of the Tran Truang Tin exhibition. I had visited this a couple of months ago with M and it had made such an impression on me that I was itching to see it again. War and its effects fuelled the creativity of this self-taught Vietnamese artist and the paintings on newspaper produced during the American-Vietnam war are sombre and haunting. He was driven to paint what he saw around him:
"Painting was the only way I could express myself freely. I felt compelled to document what was happening to us. I wanted to paint the inside: women running to bomb shelters; so many orphans living in the street; Hanoi people gathering by lampposts, the only brief source of light between raids for our souls. Painting is the language of silence."
After the war, he married a photographer and a happier life manifested in the more colourful, sometimes ecstatic paintings - made more intense by his use of oils on photographic paper. He's still alive - now in his 70s - and has started to paint again after a stroke-induced hiatus. I can't wait to see his new work.

Then we strolled down Marylebone High Street, where I picked up some Palmarosa facial wash (for me) and some ginger essential oil (for M's cold) from Neal's Yard Remedies, some sourdough bread from The Natural Kitchen, and two Japanese books from Daunt Books for M - short story collection Tokyo Stories and Keigo Higashino's black comedy thiller Naoko. Tokyo Stories is a literary excursion through 20th century Tokyo - a century of war and rapid urbanisation. Naoko tells the tale of an everyman factory worker whose wife and young daughter are caught up in a catastrophic bus accident. Actually, I can't wait to read them myself as it will get me even more in the mood for our upcoming trip to Tokyo and Kyoto this Fall.

I said goodbye to my friend and headed home. M had spent the afternoon reading, napping, watching the Tony Leung movie Seoul Raiders, and boiling chicken wings for chicken stock which he froze in batches and which we use to prepare noodle soups during the week. He also had a pan of homemade tomato and garlic sauce bubbling away on the stove. His sister popped by and made us yummy, thirst quenching apple juice and vodka cocktails and then joined us for a simple and delicious dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce and grated parmesan washed down with the Barolo wine. We ate a dessert of the assorted Asian fruit we'd bought from Chinatown earlier and then settled in to watch a few hilarious episodes from the 5th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Today was our chance to really spend quality time together. We breakfasted on sourdough bread and brie and hayflower goats cheeses and lots of strong Colombian coffee, then we headed to the hypnotic Antony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Gormley's sculptural explorations of the human body moving through and creating space was all-consuming and mesmerising. I was in awe of the dark and labyrinthine steel plated Space Station; I was thoroughly disorientated inside the cloud-filled glass box of Blind Light - I had to rush out after a few seconds in a claustrophobic panic; I felt enlivened rather than stressed as I oriented myself through the maze-like concrete "body cases" of Allotment II.

We then walked along the Southbank, past the Turkish festival taking place near the Oxo Tower, to the Tate Modern, where we chilled for an hour or so in the Members Room on the fifth floor. We sank into the leather sofas there, admired the amazing views across London, chatted, read and ate carrot cake (me) and a chocolate brownie (him).

Then we went downstairs again. I had last seen Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica in 2005 with M. Back then, I had enjoyed his plywood architectural space where we had been allowed to walk through the narrow corridors at will, even helping ourselves to paper cups of freshly-squeezed orange juices. So it was with much expectation that we entered the Tate's Helio Oiticia show. As a retrospective, it was wonderful seeing the progression of his work from Mondrian-style geometries of colour on flat surfaces to full-blown spaces to move through. Unfortunately, there were none of the latter to physically explore, just video footage, so I was a little disappointed.

Huddled under a single small umbrella, we made our way to the bus stop in the beating, steaming, humid rain. We felt like we were in the middle of an Indian monsoon! At home, M roasted a chicken and we ate it with homemade chilli-hot harissa and tabbouleh thickly encrusted with parsley and tomatoes. This is one of the first meals M ever cooked for me when we first started dating in 2005. He's been cooking since he was 12. I am such a lucky girl. We washed it down with a robust Malbec and now we're going to eat a variety of Yauatcha macarons - kumquat, matcha and lime, fig - and some more Asian fruits for dessert while we watch the always terrific Takeshi Kitano in Yakuza movie Demon on DVD.

It's still only 8 pm. Still a few more hours left of the weekend!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bed surf

There used to be two things beginning with "S" that I enjoyed doing in bed the most: Sleep and S.. well... you know. Now that M has signed up for an internet package on his phone, I can now add Surfing to my list. What a luxurious way to catch up with the news and blogs. We've never managed to install wireless in our house, so this is a complete revelation for me.


Quick post to say, that if you are wondering how to comment on this blog just click on the title of each post and scroll to the bottom. If you prefer to still email me, it's the usual my blog name at gmail address.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Midweek joys

It's Wednesday already! So far this week...

Buying DVDs from Yes Asia / Watching property prices go down on Property Snake as we prepare to buy / Realising cupcakes are actually the iced fairy cakes of my childhood / My husband surprising me by getting out of work at 7 pm and meeting me at my office so we can buy pak choi in Chinatown together / Black bursts of thunder, rippling flashes of lightning, large plops of rain / Having a good work week so far / My husband cooking Vietnamese beef with pak choi from Into The Vietnamese Kitchen - beef strips marinated in fish sauce, soy sauce, a little sugar and red chilli flakes, black pepper and a little cornstarch / Me cooking Bengali mixed vegetable curry - baby aubergines, tindori, shim, sweet potato and red lentils spiced with whole panch phoron, turmeric, cumin, coriander and red chilli flakes / The London rain making me nostalgic for the Indian monsoon where all the colours of the earth come alive and kids play footie in the slippery mud / Shrimp flavoured crackers / Settling in to watch the enjoyable Brothers & Sisters on Channel 4.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


After my last post, I've received a number of emails about how I managed to transition from anthropology to advertising. It wasn't as swift a move as it sounds. My entire academic life has been geared up towards being a teacher of some kind. Between my undergraduate degree and MPhil, I taught English literature at a well-regarded boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas. My dream then was not simply to teach, but to immerse myself better in Indian culture having been born and brought up in the very English Kentish countryside. I hadn't even been fortunate enough to have had an Indian friend growing up, so suddenly finding myself surrounded by Indians as an Indian was wonderful and life-transforming.

As an undergraduate, I was inspired by my supervisor to read some books on Native North Americans. So when I decided to study for my PhD in anthropology, it was a no brainer for me to choose a research topic in that area. By this time I had decided I wanted to lecture at university level and essentially pursue an academic career. My parents were beside themselves with pride - education being highly-esteemed among West Bengalis.

A PhD requires original research. To do this I had to get my head out of the books, my arse off my seat and go to the source. To Pine Ridge Indian and Cheyenne River reservations in South Dakota I went, camera in one hand, tape recorder in another. Unlike my blonde, blue-eyed friend in the previous post, my life among the Lakota Sioux was easy - the elders particularly were tickled pink by the fact that I was a real Indian and we joked about it often. The fact that I was brown and even looked a little American Indian myself, opened all sorts of doors. Once, in New Mexico, I was even asked by a Navajo if I was Navajo! My parents stayed with me for a few weeks there and had long chats with my Lakota friends about the similarities between American Indian and Indian Indian cultures. My mother in her sari had the children at Crazy Horse School on Pine Ridge virtually crawling all over her in excitement at her exoticness.

Many of the educated Lakota I worked with were keen on disseminating their own stories, their own descriptions of their culture, and their own political views - fed up and frustrated by the constant filtering of their lives to the world by white anthropologists. Though I was not white, I was a guilty anthropologist nonetheless. I sat with them as they set out their own messages off- and online. It was my first real engagement with new media and political advertising. It was also my first exposure to web programming.

After a year, I returned to Oxford and my PhD; I delivered papers at conferences and published them; I became a lecturer while finishing off my thesis. But a seed of doubt had been sown. I began feeling uncomfortable in my role as an anthropologist, writing endless papers and teaching - basically pontificating on a culture that firstly wasn't mine and secondly that had its own educators, writers, lecturers.

A lengthy break from academia due to illness allowed me to pursue other things. I pursued getting better, and I pursued web programming. When I was able to complete my PhD and re-enter the job market, I started to apply for new media posts - chancing my luck because of my lack of experience in that field and keeping my lecturing career open as a fallback option. I was primarily applying to charities and, luckily, most people were intrigued rather than put off by my experiences. I guess I was a refreshing change from the usual geeky IT or internet applicants.

Charities run their off- and online marketing activities just like their for-profit counterparts. Their goals are the same: to sell something, whether a campaign, a belief, a product or a service. When I felt the need for another change, a few years later, I discovered that the leap from non-profit to commercial advertising and marketing was not that difficult. Interviewing for my current job in the commerical sector was enjoyable - my colleagues are still intrigued by my anthropological background and I like to think it gives me insight into my clients.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wellcome weekend

Our warm and sunny Saturday began with apricot and oatmeal bread with thin slivers of hard hayflower cheese, big mugs of Colombian coffee, apricot sheeps milk yoghurt, the weekend FT and Monocle. We dropped off and picked up the weekly dry-cleaning, bought red snapper and king prawns from the fishmongers, beef and bacon from the butchers, baby aubergines, tindori, shim, paneer and a box of Alfonso mangoes from the Indian grocery store. Then we headed into town to meet an old Oxford friend visiting from Arizona.

The three of us had met in Oxford a few years ago. Like me, she was doing her PhD in anthropology, but a year ahead. Unlike me, she remained in the profession and is now an assistant professor, whereas I've moved completely out of academia after a brief spell as a lecturer and am now in advertising. We both specialised in Native American cultures. She lived on Zuni in New Mexico. I worked on two Lakota Sioux reservations in South Dakota. Now she is briefly back in the UK to finish off her book. Her partner is an artist, a photographer, based also in Arizona.

We wandered around the Medicine Man exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in Euston, featuring an eclectic collection including old Japanese sex aids, torture chairs, infant identification kits, snuff boxes and oil paintings of birthing scenes. We ate sublime quiches, a chicken and tarragon pie, a cupcake and some Black Forest gateau at the fantastic Peyton and Byrne cafe. Then we walked down Charlotte Street for beers and cocktails sitting outside the Charlotte Street Hotel, chatting about academia, photography and our personal lives. Our friend has that rare quality whereby she talks incessantly but her chatter is always interesting. Several hours rushed by immersed in talk.

M and I returned home, and he cooked me a meal of grilled red snapper, rocket salad and a pesto made from black olives, capers and basil leaves. The flavour of the snapper was delicate and fortunately there were few bones for me to contend with. This was followed by a big bowl of cherrries for dessert in front of the TV.

I awoke on Sunday still exhausted. My body refuses to completely recover from the stress of my week these days. I need a complete month off to do absolutely nothing. Alas, that's not going to happen any time soon. We lay in late then M went off to the gym and I settled in for a sunny morning with the papers and a novel. In the afternoon, we went into town to buy gym gear in Niketown and UniGlo. Then back home to meet M's sister and mum for a lovely vegetarian Keralan meal in the very cochineal-pink Rasa in Stoke Newington. Afterwards, we watched Maria Bello and William H. Macy in The Cooler on DVD.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Friday night picnic

Argentinian Malbec / 2002 Medoc / Fresh basil / Rocket / Cherries / Wild blueberry jam / Peanut butter / Very Berry muesli / Marcona almonds / Soft goats cheese wrapped in cherry leaves / Gorgonzola piccante / Brie / Gouda with caraway seeds / Hard cheese with hayflower / Sheeps milk yoghurts in apricot and blackcurrant flavours / Lomo / Spicy salami / Sun blush tomatoes / Kalamata olive bread / Apricot and oatmeal bread / Green tea infused creme brule / Dark chocolate bark with goji berries / Dark chocolate mandarin fondants.

We met up after work tonight at Whole Foods Market in Kensington, stuffed our basket, then came home and had a scrumptious picnic in front of Sex And The City.

I can and do usually buy all these items from the many individual small shops dotted around my office in Soho and my home in North London, but Lord knows it's lovely seeing so much good food under a single enormous roof. My ideal supermarket.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Simply pak choi

I work a ten minute walk from Chinatown and love strolling down there during the day when I get a free moment. It's so much quieter and sometimes I have the entire store - be it Loon Fung, New Loon Moon or SeeWoo - to myself.

Yesterday, I picked up a large bag of baby pak choi from SeeWoo - they always have the best selection of fresh vegetables. In the evening, I steamed some pak choi with udon noodles and king prawns for a refreshingly light yet filling meal for M and I. Tonight, I served them with teriyaki burgers I made from the fantastic Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking book. The teriyaki sauce was quick and easy to make - I simply heated together mirin, soy sauce and caster sugar. The burgers were simply minced beef mixed with chilli flakes and a little egg, baked for 15 minutes in the oven.

I still have loads of pak choi left. I wonder what I can make tomorrow night...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

For the love of God

We hadn't planned on seeing it. I've always been nonplussed about Damien Hirst. But as we were passing by the White Cube in Mayfair, we thought it wouldn't hurt to pop in. It was sheer production from beginning to end and I freely admit we were taken in by the awesome theatricality of it all.

We were asked to get a free ticket from the counter around the side of the gallery. We joined a roped off queue of ten; some of us had our bags searched by black suited security guards. We were called inside and ushered up some back stairs and waited, hushed, in a corridor as a woman all in black told us to please leave our bags in the hall, to take a moment to adjust our eyes to the dark once inside the room, and that we would only have two minutes to view it.

The room was pitch black and the diamond skull twinkled and glowed from a pedestal in the centre. We tiptoed around it, awed into reverential silence: A life-size 18th century human skull cast in 2,156 grams of pure platinum and encrusted with 8,601 flawless, ethically-sourced pave-set diamonds weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats from jewellers Bentley & Skinner. Mounted within the skull's forehead is a dazzling, flawless light pink brilliant-cut pear-shaped diamond weighing 52.40 carats. This is the largest diamond piece commissioned since the Crown Jewels and it took the prestigious Bond Street jewellers 18 months to complete.

The cost of the raw materials to create the work was £12 million, split between Hirst and his dealer and White Cube owner Jay Jopling. Hirst's search for the high quality diamonds in such a short space of time affected the market and pushed the price of diamonds up - as Bentley & Skinner sourced each stone, the price went up! The skull is now on sale for £50 million and it is rumoured there are already two potential buyers.

Indulgent, unnerving, breathtaking, gorgeous, stunning, frightening - Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull made me feel I'd finally met both the Devil and God face to face.

Also this wet and rainy Saturday, we've viewed a smogasbord of paintings in the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, abstract expressionist artist Joan Mitchell at Hauser & Wirth, and Keith Arnatt at The Photographers' Gallery. We've shopped for menswear in Selfridges and Browns. Browsed for Japanese guidebooks and Indian chicklit in Waterstone's on Piccadilly, and for Japanese photobooks in Claire de Rouen Books. We've eaten parma ham and parmesan ciabatta sandwiches and a roasted vegetable with goats cheese puff pastry flan, plus the best Chelsea bun I've ever eaten - moist dough encrusted with hundreds of tiny fruity currents - in Soho's Fernandez and Wells. Scoffed jelly babies and cola cubes from Mrs Kibble's Olde Sweet Shoppe on Brewer Street. Drunk beers and cocktails in Soho's Alphabet Bar. And we've devoured a delicious smogasbord dinner of herrings, meatballs and smoked mackerel at Swedish restaurant Upper Glas in Islington with dear Oxford friends D and J, whose civil partnership ceremony in St Albans last year I was a witness at.

But it's that dazzlingly macabre skull of diamonds that I cannot get out of my head tonight.