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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Moreton Island - Tangalooma

Our time in Tangalooma brings back happy memories of a holiday with our eldest son, George, so this posting is for you to share some of the moments and say how much we missed not having you with us this time.

Moreton Island is a ferry ride off the coast of Brisbane and it is lovely. We went over in the morning with a ferry full of Japanese visitors, families and young people. Strangely enough they appeared to be swallowed up by the resort or other activities leaving us empty and magnificent beaches to stroll along, azure seas to swim in, and time to contemplate the world's doings as the sun dipped into the sea and shot back its rays as if not ready to depart.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Go Geckos

I went to a lecture about spiders the other night and I learnt a fair amount about them. The speaker could only describe them as super heroes. He spoke about how clever they were spinning their silk,  how perceptive about camouflage, how caring for their young, though females sometimes eat their male partners after mating ! He clearly spent any free time he had from being a cop in the UK chasing after them, rather than burglars and fraudsters, which is impressive in itself. 

Here is a man, a member of the public, who through some trigger in his life became passionate about British spiders. Lucky for us he has now emigrated to Brisbane and is sharing his passion with us. 

I suppose what I felt coming out of that lecture is that too often we are ready to dismiss what we are not comfortable with. A question from the public asked how introduced spiders, ( they came in on ships etc)  may have impacted the population of other species, in the way that the canine toad has caused havoc here.  His answer was surprisingly candid. He said no one could really be bothered to count or consider them. Most people just bring a slipper down over them.

Where am I going with this - well in my home I have a colony of geckos. They are very common in a lot of these climates. They love sitting on vertical outside walls on the deck waiting for a tasty fly to alight nearby and I have some inside the house as well who tend to live behind my pictures or flower pots. They come out at night. They are creatures that most people ignore, or dont like very much and on occasion chase away, though I would like to believe that most of us now see them as great additions to the home, to keep the mossie and fly populations under control. I am one of those, and so I cant tell you how excited I was when on one of my walls I caught this happening. Isn't it just such a priceless picture ? No big camera lens and no magic in taking this one. Just there at the right moment to share Gracia and Gregg the Geckos having fun. 

Pictures off the offspring, if observed, will happily be shared. Look up, any geckos in your house ?

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Book Issue

I read the Big Issue and I find interesting articles in this magazine which is sold all over the world by people who are finding it hard to make ends meet. My supplier is my lovely NZ man and when we spoke in the New Year he was very excited because he is down for a bariatric ring in March which hopefully will mean that he can start losing his excessive weight. I wished him well and I am sure I will keep up with him in the months to come.

My reason for writing however is a different one - and I am going to call it the BOOK ISSUE.
Having just returned from a Literature Festival in India I was conscious that there is SO much that I want to read, limited space on my book shelf and I need to make more - but I am also keen to spread the word, literally, and so a while back I picked out lots of books that I had finished reading and put them on a table in my front yard. Then I emailed all my neighbours, left the gate open and asked them to help themselves to books. They were thrilled and I was able to make more room on my bookshelves.

So when I read an article in the Big Issue called an Open Book by Michelle Mclaren I knew I was on the right track and one which I was keen to share. 

She says" To most bookish types the thought of giving their favourite books away is enough to summon sweaty palm dream. But all over the world, generous book lovers are releasing their books into the wild to find new readers, often with surprising results."

She then goes on to tell us about the Little Free Libraries popping up all over Australia. The movement was started in 2009 by Todd Bol who designed a wooden box, shaped like a school house, filled it with books and set it up on his front lawn. The rules are - take a book and leave a book.

There are 32,000 registered Little Free Libraries now in 70 countries.

See http://littlefreelibrary.org

Then there is BookCrossing - You tag the book you want to give away, leave it in a public space, someone picks it up, finds the number, heads to the web site and registers it. So books end up travelling far or just round the corner.

So how about spreading the word where you are. See how far they can travel.

And finally as the perfect cross between where I have just come from there was this : 


Street Art Transformation

In our neighbourhood is a corner plot with history. It dates back to the 1920s. There is some historic reference to a theatre in the area.  A taxi driver told us that when he was a child he went to the cinema there. Later a skating rink opened up and this was a popular spot for young kids until it burnt down in 2002 on Boxing day. I have spoken to residents who remember skating there and the horror of the fire.

So for years now it has been lying there, blackened, the roof rafters just about hanging on, the walls burnt and damaged and a "For Sale "sign periodically appearing as the buyer who owns it presently has been put off by the strong voice of the community who always have something to say about the development plans for the building.

This is a small You Tube Clip about the building as it is which conveys that dereliction well.

So it was a bit of a surprise the other day walking past seeing a whole group of graffiti artists were gathered there and were busy creating the most unbelievable mural for the burnt out wall.

A Festival of Street Art. It was on a clear day when the clouds had lifted from Brisbane. 


And here is the final mural - stunning work. 

I realise - a little late- that I should have used my Panorama button to have given you the full effect but I hope these pictures have conveyed some of the vibrancy of this transformation. 
They let their passion burn in this one for sure. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Leaving India again

Leaving India again felt different this time, perhaps because I had enjoyed the festival so much, perhaps because I had a great appetite for the incredible food, if not the traffic jams, seen friends whom I had missed and did not have to deal with any red tape. Others could do that. There were signs that suggested women were freer than before and others that placed them squarely in the fate of the menfolk around them. I guess that happens everywhere until everyone catches up to how it should be, if that day will ever come. But there was pride as well - pride at what the country had achieved, and I saw that in the debates at the Festival, the curiosity of the youth and their thirst for social media, another form of the printed word, but also the ferocity with which reactionary suggestions and tendencies were firmly booted out. I was in Delhi just after Republic day. This is possibly the only day in Delhi when you can travel on open empty roads, when shops are shut and everyone is able to enjoy a fantastic parade with everything the nation has to offer including female fighter pilots and dogs in the army. 
I walked around the city the next day when they were tidying up, security was lax but not gone and the smog hung over the city so that you no longer enjoyed the vista from India Gate to the Rashtrapati Bhavan something that was the pride of those who designed New Delhi in the 1930s.

The noise and traffic picking up by the hour and the day stretching into a miasma of roads and destinations some attainable, some not. As I wander through I see this Billboard above me and think times, if not traffic, are moving and thoughts, once unthinkable are now plastered all over the City.I am momentarily boyed by this realisation. It is however in English, a language that most of the nation, apart from the middle classes, does not speak. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Finding Vishu

The Jaipur Literature Festival has featured prominently in my calendar from the very first year I started living in Delhi – I fell upon it a little by accident as someone has pulled out of going and there was a place in the car which was traveling down to Jaipur that year.

From that initial trip I had the opportunity to explore the Festival but also the city of Jaipur and its surrounds, a place so evocative of the time of the Maharajas and all the systems they introduced which we can still appreciate today, whether it is the city’s modern grid system, the Jantar Mantar or the fortifications of the Amber Fort.

In the several trips to attend the Festival I made the acquaintance of a rickshaw driver who just stood apart from the crowd – something I know he did with pride but also with considerable fallout from others who found his ways a little alienating and different.

Vishu became someone I could ring up at any time to come and collect me or ferry me safely to where I was going. He spoke English picked up from the tourists and the guests he came into contact with.   He was always immaculate in his appearance, very well groomed and wore his scarves as if he was coming out of a Paris fashion show and not some humble home in the innards of Jaipur. We had a laugh and he was always warm and welcoming and because I thought he was so unusual he featured in an article of mine in Culturama Magazine.

This year going with others I was less dependent on rickshaws and we were driven to the venue in an efficient Innova. I looked around for him but did not find him – and frankly I thought the odds were not good in the sea of humanity that descends on the Festival for the days it is on. The numbers suggested for this year are around one third of a million participants.

The Festival was in its last day. We were snug and warm in the Durbar Hall listening to Gerard Russell talking about lesser-known religions. The session drew to a close and I headed to the exit. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and there standing in the hall was Vishu. He was, as is to be expected, dressed immaculately in a turquoise blue woolen jacket and a pair of jeans, sporting Ray Ban sunglasses.

We walked outside and chatted and soon seemed to be surrounded by a group of school children who were visiting the Festival for the first time excited to be hearing Kajol, a Bollywood star. My excitement was listening to them and seeing those bursting smiles and finding this old acquaintance.

He accompanied me to my next session, which was packed – he managed to get us two seats by actually asking someone to hand them to him over a fence. We sat there listening to a session strangely enough on Empire with Shashi Tharoor letting rip in his usual way.

I fired off many questions, complimented him on his looks, if not his expanding midriff and asked him about his life – He said life was good and he was still involved in the “transportation business” and had over 250 names of foreigners and friends in his phone who used him whenever they were in town. Out of his back pocket came a dog-eared but clearly precious copy of the Magazine where he featured.

The connection was there – in 1.3 billion he found me and we carried on from where we had started all those years ago. At the time I thought he would go into politics or Bollywood both good arenas for confident good looking folk but where some of what surrounds those lives seem false and fickle. Here he was living it as it really was and we had connected not on Twitter or Facebook but on the human level among the next generation of Festival followers. I could not have scripted it to end more positively.

The return to Delhi

I am feeling sad leaving Jaipur this year. It has been an overwhelmingly positive and nurturing time and I feel energised by the creativity, the wit and the participation in the Festival. 

We head out of Jaipur and we see the usual traffic chaos but also the way pedestrians manage to weave their way in and out of the traffic. We head out towards the Amber Fort, the road full of the little shops selling the sweet and savoury snacks and congratulate ourselves at making good progress on the road.

Spoken a little too soon. Outside Delhi there is a small deviation where they are remaking the road. The traffic slows and then comes to a grinding halt as four lanes squueze into one - but however good the Indian driver is at being squeezed, (and they are masters at this,) they are also good at finding ways to escape and get to their destinations faster. Without wasting any thoughts on traffic regulations and rules, the cars just in front of us decide that the wait is too long, so a quick jump across the central reservation finds them travelling down the motorway in the wrong direction to all the coming traffic !

We look upon all this with some degree of amusement and considerable envy it has to be said. A trip that was meant to take 4 or so hours became a marathon of immobility of 8. I can hardly believe it but I actually missed the excitement of it all and took the opportunity to jump out of the car and record some of these mad moments. We approached Delhi and my old neighbourhood. The smog hung heavily over the entire city and in all the days I was there, there was not a hint of blue in the sky. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

A room on the Roof - and mine.

Ruskin Bond was born in India in 1934 and has lived in India for most of his life. His first novel the "Room on the Roof" was written when he was seventeen and he was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957 - the year I was born. The novel is nearly 60 years old but has lost none of its charm or its relevance. Since then he has produced a large number of children books, essays, short stories and novellas.

I am writing about him specially because he has celebrity status in India - a bit like a Bollywood star only better, because he can write eloquently not just recite lines, he can speak engagingly and not just about himself, and he has introduced a whole generation of Indians to reading.

The Room on the Roof is all about Rusty a 16 year old Anglo Indian boy who is orphaned. He hates living with his strict English guardian so he runs away - into the Bazaar of Dehra Dun and meets strangers, Indian customs and foods there which he describes sensitively and evocatively.
He ends up living in the room in the roof in the home of an Indian boy he befriends called Kishen.

Santha Rama Rau of The New York Times commented "Like an Indian bazaar itself, the book is filled with the smells, sights, sounds, confusion and subtle organisation of ordinary Indian life".

He was at the literature festival and his sessions were packed and everything he said was praised and applauded.
My room was not on the roof but in a wing of the wonderful Arya Niwas - a haveli which has been turned into a hotel to cater for many visitors. I thought about Rusty and how he felt in his little room in the roof. I was in my little room and it felt heavenly, it made me think of my sister Niki who had shared the festival with me a few years back, it made me want to write all day long and it offered the balm to tired minds at night. The simplicity and organisation of India life is a mixture of old and new. The almari cupboard- in Greek armari - to place your clothes but now with the necessary safe to keep your possessions. A book shelf in case you were travelling with your favourite books. The bar heater with its old fashioned way of operating but sitting proudly on top a TV with remote control. The bed with an indian print block bedspread and the old fashioned stitched quilt underneath for warmth. A desk at which to write your thoughts down before they disappear but also a socket to take your computer cables. The bathroom complete with bucket and cup to have a so called Indian bath but also a bathtub which is western as is the toilet. The chappals under the sink just in case you forgot yours. 

The price too small to reflect the joy and comfort this place offered me - the food - always vegetarian and simple but so very tasty, again a mix of old and new- heartening warm porridge, dhal and rice, delicious aubergines and pasta for those who could not take the spice.
Room to live, room to ruminate, room to grow.