As we were bidding farewell to our landlady at our first holiday destination in Provence, her French - Belgian friend Monique pointed at our youngest daughter's T - shirt that had about sixteen faces and accompanying emotions / states of being drawn on it. She pointed at the word "hungry" and said that she had seen a British man walking about town with a similar phrase written on it, what could it be? When I, after a short bit of soul searching, suggested the word "grumpy", she exclaimed "Oui! C'est ca!" It said 'I am a grumpy old man'.
Buried deep within the weekend's Times, amidst all the articles on the sheer glory of the Olympics' opening ceremony, is an article by a kindred spirit, someone called Giles Coren, if not a grumpy old man then at least one with similarly acute powers of observation. Start following him dear readers, on the social medium of your choice, Twitter or Google +, for there is at least one other person out there sane enough to observe "…when Ban Ki Moon appeared on massive screens it all started to feel like a vision of Britain in 2012 conceived by George Orwell on his deathbed as a place ruled by a softly spoken Korean dictator whose program me of de-urbanization has forced us back into the Middle Ages".
Speaking of the Middle Ages, we are now in the South Western part of France, bang against the Spanish border in fact, in a town called Sorede, in an otherwise lovely holiday home that has just one small itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini of a problem: it has no functioning television, i.e., should I wish to see re-runs of Paul McCartney singing "Hey Jude" (I have already suggested in a mood of grumpiness to the family that I think Paul McCartney should sing "Hey Jude" every day, to all of us; that should be the prelude to the 9 'o clock news), I can't. The witless woman who works for the agency that got us this house said by phone, "most people come to France to enjoy France", i.e., not to watch television. If you can't watch the Olympics once every four years, then what can you watch, I ask you? India may be winning a gold medal as we speak, and I would not know of it, not be part of the experience.
As a result of this non availability of television or wifi (did I mention that we don't have wifi?) I am expecting Jeffersonian productivity from yours truly. I always wondered how America's Founding Fathers managed to achieve so much in so short a lifetime, unsupported as they were by the NHS or Obamacare, but now I know. They didn't have France 2 to distract them with images of prancing Olympians, just the odd letter from Descartes. "Ben, I've been thinking, it's all about Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité, you follow?" And then complete silence for the next three months.
Mira had decided within the first hour of arriving in France that it is to be the country where she wishes to settle, and that Marseille is to be the city where she wishes to live, and has no desire therefore to rush back to Mumbai. There's no love lost between Kumud and Mumbai, and once the initial logistics of getting here have been surmounted she's happy to be in France (or Goa a year ago). I like being here but will as always enjoy being back in the thick of things. Tarini, our youngest, has been peppering her conversation with memories of Mumbai for the past several days now. Today, after reading the Time of London and struggling to gets its pages back in place, she sighed wistfully, "I miss the organization of the Mumbai Mirror. To each their own. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
I couldn't sleep today, so I finally got out of bed and switched the television back on again. It was the night of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. When I had gone to bed for my not - sleep some idiot woman had been singing a vague song. When the tele came on again, an idiot woman was singing a vague song.
An athlete who had won a medal three generations ago, a self important referee and a half wit who looked like one of Danny Boyle's drinking buddies but was masquerading as a coach all took turns to take meaningless oaths obo all other athletes, self important referees and half wit coaches.
I felt for the audience. Three hours of British agricultural history, odes to the NHS by kids jumping on beds, Kenneth Branagh as an industrialist, a man in a white track suit carrying the flame who could have lit the olympic flame and gotten it all over and done with after its
12,800 mile (!) journey, but who then gave the flame to a bunch of Olympic Jugend kids in black track suits who ran for all of 100 metres and were then given intense hugs by adults in white track suits as thanks for having run 100 metres without protest and they then finally lit the flame.
Paul McCartney is playing Hey Jude. Why is it that every public event since Live Aid in 1985 seems to feature Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude? In case you think I am alone in cringing at the sight and sound of Paul McCartney doing a bad rendition of a very good song, read an alternative view at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2181373/Olympics-2012-opening-ceremony-Paul-McCartney-I-revere-time-let-be.html
I'm not hugely hung up on conducting protests etc, but witnessing this amazing waste of money who's highlight for me was 20 seconds of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, does make you wonder what alternative use that money could have been out to.
We're vacationing like Europeans, an ability that took years to acquire. The first time we vacationed in Europe as a couple with child (she who is known as Mira) we careened from Amsterdam to Euro Disney to Dijon to Torino (via Geneva and the Saint Bernard Pass) to Lago Majore and back to Amsterdam in ten days. The next day I rushed into the office, convinced that the corporate world would have collapsed without me. Getting in was a bit of an issue, as my arms were extended in front of me, as if still stuck to the steering wheel of my Alfa Romeo.
We are now on a "Gites", a French vacation address, in the heart of the Ventoux region, on a farm run by a very elderly but still sprightly French lady. She brought us fresh tomatoes and freshly made apricot preserve today. We have tea followed by coffee and breakfast in the morning, go out, visit nearby towns and eat lunch out, or as was the case today, on a magnificent picnic spread that Kumud and Tarini had laid out in the middle of a field while Mira and I wound up a four hour bike ride around the country side. Dinners have been self made affairs with local produce or meals out.
All very European and very far removed from the "Beep beep, beep beep, yeah!" of Mumbai.
What's also very European in terms of vacationing, and something I'd abhor, is to drive with your caravan, a pull along box on wheels, to a camping site and put up shop three meters away from the same neighbours, or kind of neighbours, you were ostensibly trying to get away from, and cook and brush your teeth in the company of the same group of twenty - thirty families for the duration of your three - week stay.
It's what perplexes be about life on the streets of Mumbai. People give up what must be fairly miserable lives in villages to move bag and baggage to Mumbai. The truly destitute sleep with their heads resting on their bundles of clothes, while they wait for their chance to claim an as yet unclaimed patch of real estate.
People much better off have ramshackle huts pieced together from pieces of wood and covered in plastic, with satellite dish receivers perched on top. All effective life takes place outside that hut, on the street, as cars like mine race by with people on their way to work. Tea in the morning, washing and drying of hair, talks about the children, arguments, washing of clothes in monsoon rain water as it gushes down a pipe on the side of a building: it all takes place in full public view on the street. Are they happy? They don't look unhappy. They seem to be able to ignore the rush of traffic, and the very communal carrying on of life seems to suit them fine.
As with life on a camping, albeit it for 'only' three weeks, or on a street, the prospect is abhorring. We are off for a wine tasting, biologically cultivated (no chemicals added) wine. La belle vie en Europe, albeit for two weeks.
As a predominantly agricultural country the obsession over the amount and quality of rains reaches fever pitch. States such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and U.P. are already thinking of drought status. If India has a drought then exports of rice, sugar, soya and cotton come down, heavily impacting global prices. You heard it here first.
Pranab Mukerjee, India's outgoing Finance Minister, tours the country drumming up support from political stakeholders for his Presidential bid. The 'campaign' basically consists drumming up the support of regional party bosses from all corners of India, his own Congress Party of course, as well as the Yadav family of U.P., the N.C.P. in Maharashtra and even Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.
We spent much of the second half of July looking for new accommodation, given that our landlord seemed hell bent on pushing through a 30% rent increase. It seemed to fly in the face of economic reality, but what would we know? On the day that we were ready to sign the lease with our new find, a 2,500 sq ft apartment in a heritage building, the landlord announced that he was going to keep the rent as is.
So it's another year in now familiar surroundings: a post well finished apartment (it used to be well finished) with Monsoon exacerbated leaks in the bathrooms, overweight security guards and an unfinished apartment built in the same compound, blocking our view of the street.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.