Memoir Musings: The Chocolates

A memory:  Late summer, 1988.  Thatha, standing at the Borneo House gates, still handsome with a big toothless smile on his face, slightly stooped but regal, one hand resting on his beloved black-handled, rubber-tipped aluminum walking stick, the other hand raised high, waving me goodbye.  He’s wearing a white tee shirt, his lungi- the traditional wrapcloth worn by Tamil men- firmly tied around his waist, and a small bag of foil-wrapped chocolates tucked inside.

I have just given him those chocolates that morning, the last morning of my visit, before heading back to college in the States.  I remember how happy he was to get them, eyes lighting up as he took them from me.  Paati said, “See?  She kept them hidden until now, just so you could have them after she’s gone.”

He nods, glowing with happiness at this meager gift from his granddaughter.

I smile back, taking their praise at my strength of will in keeping the chocolates secret.  I kneel down in front of them, silently asking for their blessings.  I touch each of their feet and then my forehead with my right hand, feeling their ritual touch on my head and then seeing their proud smiles as I stand up, my Thatha’s eyes cloudy with tears.  I hug them both gently, saying the traditional farewell in Tamil, “I am going, but I will return.”

They look at each other in wonderment, amazed at my words, since all they have ever known was my rebellion against anything traditional.  “Go, but come back,” they both give me the reciprocal response.  “Go, but come back.”

The car to the airport pulls away as I twist around for one last look at them out of the rear window.  They are both standing there, waving, framed by the swirling dust kicked up by the car.  I strain to keep them in sight, turning back to face the front when I can no longer see them.  Watching the familiar streets go by, the neighborhood teashops, the food vendors, swarms of people, the stray dogs, I think about the joy on my grandfather’s face when he saw the small bag of chocolates.  I can’t get that image out of my head.

—————–x—————————x———————————x——————————-

I had arrived three weeks earlier, on winter break from college.  I was in my old room upstairs, the one I stayed in for that brief and eventful six months in late 1982.  I looked around, my old schoolbooks were where I’d left them on the little desk, dusty, undisturbed.  Eighties Bollywood actresses stared up at me from old entertainment magazines, stunning in all their airbrushed beauty.  I looked out the windows at the majestic chickoo tree that dominated the front garden, my friend for all those years of visiting my grandparents, a watchful confidant, home to the resident fruit bats that kept me company through long sleepless nights.

Shaking away the memories, I unpacked for the stay, setting aside the gifts I had brought them: a scarf for Paati, Wincarnis tonic wine for Thatha, other little sundries that they had requested from overseas, things that were unavailable at the time in India.  I pulled out a large bag of foil wrapped chocolates, the ones with the gooey centers, the ones I knew he would like. But at the last moment, as I was gathering up the gifts to take downstairs to give them, I tossed them back in my suitcase.  Our favorite Swiss chocolates, Toblerones, were included in the pile of gifts.  That would be enough, I reasoned.

Later that night, as I lay in bed, windows open to let the cool night breezes waft in, listening to the rustling sounds of the bats in the trees, I unwrapped one of the chocolates and popped it in my mouth.  As the creamy deliciousness melted in my mouth, I closed my eyes in guilty pleasure, smoothing out the creased foil paper with my nails, bringing it back to a fragile smoothness.  I tucked the paper away in my bag, and went to sleep.

I ate those chocolates meant for my grandfather, night after night, for the rest of my stay.  During the day, I would watch him set aside his hated dentures, carefully portion out the Toblerone, cutting one triangle into halves, sharing them with me (Paati didn’t want any).  We would eat them together, relishing the nougat, sucking on the piece to make it last.  At night, I would take the same care with eating one out of the stashed bag, taking my time, rolling it around in my mouth until the last bit had melted away.  Then I would smooth out the foil and tuck it away in my bag.

The morning of my departure, I had maybe twelve of the chocolates left.  By now I was slightly sick of them and taking them back home with me seemed ridiculous.  I’ll give them to Thatha, I thought, he’ll love them. 

—————–x—————————x———————————x——————————-

I sit in the car, watching the city fall away, coconut tree plantations and farms slide by, the agricultural college, seeing it all from behind a veil of tears.  I picture his toothless grin, his joy at seeing those chocolates.  I can see them both, in my mind’s eye, standing there at the gates, waving, happy, proud.

“Go, and come back.”

“I am going, but I will return.”

I will return.  And I will make up for this insult, I will bring you bags of chocolates, more than you will know what to do with.  I promise. 

That was the last time I saw him on his feet, conscious, fully alive.

Venue Review: Bows and Arrows

It is hard to categorize this place, which is why I titled this piece “Venue Review.”

An odd concept: clothing (some new, some consignment) for sale up front, the a large empty space (for performances), local artist endeavors on the walls, a lounge/cafe selling some alcohol, soups, salads, sandwiches, and then an adorable patio out back.  It all seems oddly disjointed, and I never feel quite comfortable enough when I go there.

I’ve attended a couple of events there over the past few months, most recently to watch a friend’s husband’s trio perform.  It seems to be a popular space for local writing groups or performance artists to use for their events, and I look forward to attending more events there in the future.

1815 19th St
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 822-5668

Restaurant Review: Seasons 52

I recently attended a low-key, understated, yet elegant affair hosted by Yelp at Seasons 52 to welcome in the Fall food selections on their seasonally-changing menu.  It was such a treat to be able to mingle with the other elite members, have conversations that lasted beyond a quick hello, and to not have to defend myself from flying elbows and spilled drinks.  Keeping the guests to 70 or so elites made this a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable event, one that helped showcase the beautiful and intimate banquet room we were in.  Wood paneling, rich shades in the carpeting, wood, and muted decorations all made it feel very elegant.  The floor to ceiling windows were left open; though we could see the mall shoppers walk by and look in, it still managed to keep the setting elegant…nicely done, Seasons 52.

I was very impressed, as before, by their knowledgeable and approachable staff, some of whom I remember from prior visits: Michael (serving up the amazing Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with pesto) and Mingo (clearing the plates and helping out in general).  Passed appetizers included flat-breads (Garlic Pesto Chicken, Trio of Mushroom, Artichoke & Goat Cheese, Blackened Steak & Blue Cheese), Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms (delicious), Tuna Tartare Sushi Rolls, Braised Beef Crostini and Cider Glazed Chicken Skewers.  I enjoyed the Macedon Pinot and made a note of the Viognier, one of my favorite types of wine.

1689 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95815

Restaurant Review: Monsoon Cuisine of India

I have eaten at some great Indian-fusion restaurants in large cities (Manhattan, the SF bay area, Chicago, etc.) and was excited that Monsoon touted itself as one.  I have been there a few times, twice for dinner and twice for their late night happy hour.  I prefer the dinner seating…service is friendly and quick, and the wait staff are pleasant.  The late night happy hour lacks the same friendliness: the bartenders tend to keep to themselves or talk to one of their friends, and the customers are mostly inebrieated and look at me as an easy mark when I walk in, not an appealing atmosphere.

The food is good…I used a groupon the first time I went, and the server pointed me to a couple of entrees on the menu that she recommended as being a good value for the groupon.  She was very helpful in deciphering some of the complicated-sounding cocktails on the menu as well.  Some of those drinks are no longer being served, more’s the pity.

Samosas are delicious, as are the chaat masala-dusted fries, and my friend loved the tamarind wings.

1020 16th St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 469-9999

Rage

I made my boyfriend rage and break down in tears this weekend. “I am an ASSHOLE!” he screamed at me. “And you have made me this.”

I have the most amazing boyfriend. He gets me. He completely gets me. He knows how to read me and can call me out on my issues as soon as he sees them.

I love him. He loves me. I pinch myself every now and then, from utter disbelief that I am so lucky to have him. And because my feelings for him run high, so also does my fear. Fear that I am going to lose him. Fear that he will find someone else, that I am a stepping stone, a stop gap.

Because as I see it, he is an amazing man, and couldn’t possibly want to be with me. So in order to prevent him from leaving me, what do I do? I preemptively drive him away, by having jealous fits, making up stories in my head and out loud, of him cheating on me, being attracted to other women, not being enough for him.

And he puts up with this, but only so far.  And then he loses it.  Dramatically.  Enraged at my lack of trust, my inability to see his integrity, he screams at me, and then cries when he realizes what he has become in that moment.

Rage.

Point, counterpoint.

One day, we will have equilibrium.

I pray that it is the equilibrium of peace and love together, and not apart.

Memoir Musings: Flying Solo

It is midnight and I stumble onto the Singapore Airlines plane, right foot first (for good luck and safe travels), dragging my carry-on bag behind me.  It takes a while for the passengers in front of me to find their seats, harried little old Asian women and men, Indian families going home for the summer break, babies wailing their discomfort at being awake at the odd hour.  I find my window seat and sit down, relaxing into the scratchy fabric, peace washing over me.  I wonder briefly at the notion that I feel at home on international flights, but then I remember the reason for this trip to Coimbatore.  I look down at the book in my lap, and then blindly out the window.  The flight attendant starts talking about the safety procedures and my mind wanders to another trip, another plane ride, another time.

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I was eleven.  On my first solo trip to Coimbatore, to visit my grandparents for the summer.  I had been so excited the days leading up to this point: shopping for my new travel purse (a round white pleather bag, long cross-body strap, with an image of the Taj Mahal on the front), packing my clothes in my new suitcase. But now that the day was here, I was scared.  As I said goodbye to my mother and baby sister, I clutched my purse close to me and put on a brave face.  My mother held me close for a moment, and then I was off, headed to the car with my dad.  During the drive, I received detailed instructions on what I was to do at every step of the journey, and then he repeated them again, to reassure both of us that nothing could go wrong.  As I picked out a Nancy Drew book and Five Star chocolate bars at the airport newsstand, I could hear my father talking to the Indian Airlines flight attendant who would be responsible for me, and her soothing responses back to him. 

I walked on the plane, an early boarder with the other solo children, dressed in their maroon school blazers, all of them headed back to their boarding school in Ooty, a couple hours’ drive from Coimbatore.  Envy ate at me, watching their easy interaction with each other and the flight staff; they had done this countless times before.  I pretended a nonchalance I didn’t feel, giving them a cool stare when they looked over at me, and was surprised when my nervousness eased. 

“Are you a new student?  Are you going to our school?” one of the girls asked me.

“No,” I said shyly, barely making eye contact with her.  “I’m going to my grandparents for the summer.”

“Oh.  Without your parents?  That’s odd.”  She dismissed me and turned back to her friends, sliding easily back into their chatter.  I watched them for a little while and then turned to my book.

As the plane filled with the rest of the travelers, I thought about what she said.  Was it odd?  It had come about rather suddenly, the talk about me going away for the summer.  I reflected back a month or so…all I could think of were my exams, and how hard they had been.  I was behind in math, science, and hindi, and dreaded every night, when after dinner, my dad would start in on me and my inability to retain what he had tutored me on the night before.  “Idiot, you’re an idiot.” 

My mother, clearing the table of the dinner dishes, head down, not making eye contact with me.  She knew the drill…interject and bear the brunt of his wrath.  She did, sometimes, but not that night.  My sister was almost two, her teeth were coming in, and her crying was the accompaniment to our evenings. 

I cringed, which made him even angrier.  “What are you doing that for?  Did I hit you?  No!  I should!  Maybe that would make you learn better!”

My eyes welling with tears, I tried to recite back to him the multiplication table, stammering through it, messing up halfway through.  He threw back his chair, dragged me out of mine, and hit me, across the face, and then on my back.  “Idiot.  Can’t remember anything!  Go to your room.”

I sat, looking at the Nancy Drew book in my lap.  I was still on page one, chapter one.  The flight attendant was announcing our imminent arrival at the Coimbatore airport. 

As we hit the tarmac and coasted along the runway, I looked out the window at the hordes of people waiting by the gates, waiting to welcome their loved ones off the plane.  I scanned the crowd, easily spotting him standing towards the back, a tall man, one arm on his hip, the other shading his eyes, tracking the plane’s movements. 

My grandfather.  Thatha.

I smiled.

————————————-x———————–x——————————————-

The engines start up, the flight attendants close the doors, the high pitched whine of the engines reach a fevered pitch, and the plane pulls away from the gate.  The familiar scent of airplane deodorant mixed with the smell of the fabric seats and the recycled air washes over me, relaxing me.

I’m leaving earth for a while.

I smile.

Memoir Musings: The Phone that Rings in the Night

I startle awake, fear coursing like an icy torrent through my body. I look around the dark, silent room, reaching automatically under my pillow for my glasses. As I put them on, the phone rings.

My stomach clenches. I look blindly towards the alarm clock: 3 a.m. I have been trained over the years of living continents away from my homeland, to fear the phone that rings in the night.

The phone rings again. I know it is for me but I can’t move. If I don’t pick it up, the bad thing won’t happen.

Irritated, Jennifer rolls out of the upper bunk, hitting the floor with an angry thud, and walks over to the wall to answer the phone, “Hello? What? Yes, she’s here.”

She hands the phone on its long extension cord to me and climbs back into her bed, falling easily back to sleep.

I hold it with both hands, not lifting it up to my ear, hearing the tinny voice of someone saying “Hello? Hello?”

Finally, I reply, “Yes?”

“Priya? It’s Daddy. Not to worry, everything is okay. Thatha fell. He’s in the hospital. Everything is okay. He’s asking for you. You have to come.”

Thatha fell. He’s asking for you. Everything is okay.

I start crying softly, so as to not be heard by my father, or Jennifer. He hears it anyways. “It’s okay Priya, he’s okay.” But then, before he can control himself, a shaking sob rolls out of him, down the phone lines, across the miles, across the continents, into my ear, scaring me. My father never cries.

There’s silence, as though the sound scared him as well.

Finally, softly, “He’s okay, he just wants to see you. I will send you the money for the ticket. Just come, okay?”

I nod, then say into the phone, “Yes.”

Restaurant Review: Paesano’s

Bocci Balls are delicious. If I had eaten a couple of orders of that and had a second Island Girl Martini, I would have walked away thinking the place was divine.

Regretfully, we had the above while we waited for our to-go order: the kids’ meals: mac and cheese (boring, flavorless, odd yellow color) and the pepperoni pizza (small, doughy, meh). My risotto looked and smelled wonderful…tasted like they had salted it once, and then salted it again. I was so disappointed…choked down a couple spoonfuls and then had to run for water. The garlic bread that accompanied the mac and cheese and my risotto was completely lacking the garlic. Which I know they have plenty of, since the Bocci Balls were soaking in the stuff.

I was expecting a lot better for the price…the service was great, the ambiance was fine, the kids felt welcomed, but in the end, the food is what makes you want to return. May try the happy hour at the midtown location (for the Bocci Balls) and give the chain another try.

8519 Bond Rd
Elk Grove, CA 95624
(916) 690-8646

Review: Downtown & Vine

This little wine bar occupies a beautiful space in the pedestrian mall area of K street downtown.  This is a welcome addition to the area, a perfect spot to grab a drink before a movie at the IMAX across the way.  There is a parking garage right next door, so if you don’t grab street parking, you still don’t have far to walk (the garage is spendy…for 2 hours, I paid $14).I attended the Yelp Wine tasting event here last night, with a large group of people.  Good mix of wine connoisseurs and relative newbies; we all got great treatment from the staff.  Gregg, the owner, went over his and Kate’s reasons for selecting their business, as well as why they chose the various wine regions they represent in their collection.  

We were given pours of the following:
2008 Iron Horse Classic Brut sparkling wine (Sonoma).  Did you know that Iron Horse is the wine of choice for American Presidents to serve to visiting dignitaries?  No?  Read more about that here…I was very impressed by the wine, by the way.  http://inside-sonoma.com…
2011 Neyers Chardonnay Carneros)
2010 De Loach Pinot Noir (Green Valley)
2010 Dillian Barbera (Plymouth, Amador County)
2008 Michael Mondavi Family Emblem “Oso” Cabernet Sauvignon

They also gave us little bites of bread, cheese and meat to augment the wine tasting experience.  Delicious.

I was torn between the De Loach Pinot and the Dillian Barbera, but in the end, the Barbera won (I love Barberas, what can I say!)  We also got a 15% yelp check-in discount.

The wine bar is not that large, but the owners have done a great job of making it look spacious: light woods, beautiful white armchairs in little groupings, a long bar along the left as you walk into the main room, a glassed-in room towards the back…all make for interesting vignettes and keep your eye moving around the space.

I look forward to visiting this place again!

Downtown & Vine
1200 K St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 228-4518

Review: Glenfiddich Tasting at the Citizen Hotel

Glenfid-DICK.  That’s how you say it.  If nothing else, that pronunciation lesson alone was worth the trip to this event.  However, as with any event hosted by Alex, the Yelp community manager (Sacramento), the Glenfiddich Scotch Tasting at the Citizen Hotel was nothing short of classy and amazing.  The location was the perfect setting…the mezzanine above and surrounding the reception desk of the hotel was oddly intimate.  The plush carpeting and dark walls added to the smoking lounge feel, and the tables were set beautifully with platters of meats and cheeses, and tumblers filled with single drams of the four whiskeys we would taste.  A tall glass of water and a surprising addition of a medicine dropper rounded out each place setting.A medicine dropper?  Yes.  Very necessary.  Because that’s how you add water to whiskey.  With a medicine dropper.  And yes, it is now a part of my whiskey tasting accoutrements, accompanying me on my nights out, discretely couched within its plastic sleeve, ready to be whipped out for a quick addition of the perfect amount of water to my dram of whiskey.

We tasted aged single malt whiskeys, from 12 years up to 21, and as the age progressed, so did the amount of water that got added to my whiskey to make it palatable for my sensitive throat.  Water cuts the burn, y’all!  They were all delicious, but I found myself partial to the 12 year old.  

The Glenfiddich rep, Mitch, was appropriately irreverant and unintelligible, as per his scottish heritage, and exceedingly funny.  After the tutorial, he visited all the tables and answered a few more questions, some of which were influenced heavily by the amount of whiskey imbibed earlier, leading to some amusing conversations around our table.

It was all over much too soon, within an hour, but of course, the party was just getting started for my table mates….I however, was a good girl and went straight home.  

Thanks, Yelp and Alex, for another delicously extravagant experience.

The Citizen Hotel
926 J St
Sacramento, CA 95814