Life's vagaries explained through football, food, travel and canines.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Laos In Translation

I was in Vientiane, Laos, last week doing some reporting. And through the beer bottles and bureaucrats' ballet, I didn't quite feel that I was getting a true picture of what the place was really like. Though inertia will always find a true north and the next day along with a driver, my cameraman and a Lonely Planet Laos, we wandered aimlessly looking for people or a pulse.

It certainly seemed at times I was trying to conjure something that didn't exist--which is generally frowned upon for a reporter to do. But in fact, I just needed to readjust my own pace--Laos is certainly not speeding up for you. And a few phone calls later, I was standing in a kitchen learning how to make laab plaa and then eating my way through a delicious lunch. The next day was even more languid, it's the heat, it's the purple sticky rice, it's the BeerLao. All of this makes Laos sort of an anti-India but with the same result--you adapt to it and not the other way around. I had a really great time. I found the people lovely and they were nice enough to smile at my inadequate Thai.

I also had the singular experience of feeding footage via satellite from Laos TV--this is a very expensive process that gets pictures there instantly. It can be stressful and seem like 15 years rather than 15 minutes. At Laos TV, all was dark and no one, like a Brooklyn neighborhood, knew nuthin'. There was however a huge replica Eiffel Tower which served no purpose that I could see. I later learned that it was a gift from the Vietnamese. Odd.

I was beginning to stress--the whole place was feeling a little bit Dharma Initiative...with car seats in the foyer for chairs and everything a creaking rusty dusty brown. Pong and I were shown to a room--a graveyard of junked equipment carpeted with dust and I staged whispered "This is the shittiest place I have even been."

Honestly, though I should expect facilities to be like this after being in the region for this long. It all worked out in the end, but I don't think I will ever forget the set up. Cables running out the window to a satt truck parked outside--the dish on the ground and a oversized BeerLao umbrella set up to protect from showers. We could have set up a table underneath and enjoyed an aperitif! A hearty cheers to the engineers, Mr William and Mr Khankheo. Khob choi. Pics below for the non believers among ye...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Casa de Sanyal

I spent the last weekend with my parents in our family home in New Alipore, Calcutta. My grandfather built this house in the 1950s when the area was a new suburb of the city (and sparkling clean, I am assured.) Previously, my family lived in the heart of the city, but most memories were made in the sprawling three story structure on Block F with an adjacent annex building for the family business above a two car garage.

Recently my parents have renovated the ground floor and refurbished the apartment with paint and repairs. The overhaul helps many of the period features to shine through--the high ceilings and moldings and other architectural details.

Many of the motifs, such as the geometric shapes on the door, reflect the Art Deco sensibility that continued on in India well after its heyday in the West. And I can't help but love the "S" entwined in the window grates which speak to me of dependability, dynasty and ownership.