Friday, March 24, 2017

The Un-Smart Actions

The most un- smart thing that can happen when using a smart device is to accidentally touch a link or an icon that was not intended. I am sure each one of us has suffered for this folly in some way or other. The result of this could sometimes be a laughing matter, while at other times a matter of a long time suffering. I know of instances when an accidental like for an ‘e-commerce site’ resulted in never ending stream of advertisements and similarly touching the ‘like’ button for a site that offered solutions to ‘sexual problems’ resulted into embarrassing stream of never ending advertisement to the friends list about the efficacy of the solutions duly endorsed by the ‘poor’ individual, who had no such intent!
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to ‘unlike’ these and going through the administrator is tedious, and does not offer easy solutions. Someone told me that while browsing on the hand device an unfortunate touch on an ‘online dating site’ resulted in a never ending stream of all kinds of suitors who were keen to befriend the individual.
I have been a victim too, but thankfully except for minor embarrassment, and sometimes paying a heftier mobile bill, the damage was well contained. Many a times, the outgoing calls to the last dialed number, happened while sliding the phone in the pocket and forgetting to lock the device. In fact, one of the person whose name was first on the dialing list on top of the alphabetic order, told me that I have troubled him at the most odd times and not once , but repeatedly. A harmless person like me certainly felt bad when I was informed on the phone that I had dialed half a dozen times and never said anything meaningful. At least it was forgotten as an un- intentional reckless act.
The ‘auto suggestion’ of word has resulted in many a blunder that do not border on humor. Misspelling of the names, giving a complete twist to the meaning, using harsh words that normally are not a part of my regular vocabulary are just a few examples. One omission of re-reading the text and inordinate hurry in pressing the ‘SEND’ button is one of the main causes, in my case. As the old adage goes’ once the arrow leaves the bow, you can’t call it back’ and only’ regret in leisure’. Sample this, and am sure there is an endless list one can come across from the real life scenarios.

A ‘share’ button and ‘change language’ buttons on most of the social media sites need to be touched with utmost  caution as  it tends to go to places where it was never meant to be shared and picks up a language with which one is least familiar. The consequences, needless to say are always disastrous as some good friends will unfriend you and huge amount of energy would be spent to restore the device to the original language. This learning is not very useful in long run as the history keeps repeating!

PS- Images Kind courtesy Google

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Patisserie and Boulangerie of Cote de Azure

An Artisian Bakery
The hunt for the perfect place to satisfy the growing hunger pangs was accentuated with the aroma of baking while strolling on the cobbled streets of the Old Town( Vieux), in Nice. The small streams of visitors were slowly heading in the direction of the Flower Market, a major draw. The surroundings looked like an Indian bride decked up in the finest. Buntings, hoardings, and images of Santa Claus adorned the marketplace, as it was Christmas time. Then we spotted one place that had a pull of the magnet, I had not experienced for a long time. It was a tiny Patisserie with a small crowd inside. The sight with an inset of all hues of pies, pastries, bread and croissants left me gaping like a child. For next couple of minutes, it was one of the most difficult decisions to choose from the offerings of Tart Au Citron( Lemon Tart), Tart aux Pommes( Apple Tart), more.Tart aux Myrtilles( Blueberry tart) and  more.Even the most hardened dieter would melt at the sight of these!

The magical tarts and pastries-Nice
Mouthwatering desserts of Nice

We finally homed on the Tart au Citron and Tart aux Pommes with a steaming hot latte, and a topping of chocolate. The months of exercising, yoga and weight watching, was tossed out of the window as I merrily dug into the crust of the pie. The contents melted in the mouth with a flavor lingering, till the next bite came. Rarely, one gets a treat like this!
Who would not like this?
Tarts are one of the French’s favorite desserts. Many households keep the recipes a well-guarded secret. The fillings vary from region to region of the country. Those from Lorriane swear by the Mirabelle tart while in the Normandy region, the locals swear by the apple tart. It is an integral part of the regional heritage. In the Vosges, the abundance of blue berries that grow in wilderness is a favorite. Likewise the Lorianne region boasts of the finest Mirabelles.(cherry plums, almost 80% of the global commercial production is done here). Menton, is the only place in France where lemons grow and thus Tart au Citron is the specialty of the region. The list is almost endless and each of these delicacies deserves a separate post to describe it.
Cote de Azure also boasts of one of the best Boulangeries (bakeries) anywhere in the world. A visit to at least some of them is an absolute must. The most famous ones in the region are Boulangerie du palais, La Baguette Magique, Serrain Cappa(all in Nice), Patisserie Cottard in Antibes and Sapore di Pane in Cannes make breads that makes one drool. Their presentation is as beautiful as the places where these are located.Whether hungry or not just the sight is so tempting that it is difficult to resist.
Artisians at work in Cannes
The ‘French Stick’, the long thin crusty loaf, is perhaps the best icon of the French life. Baguette- literally means ‘a stick’ and is the most popular bread in France. The golden brown crust and the lattice pattern on the underneath makes this bread stand out. The other kinds of popular breads are Couronne( bread in a circular ring from), Flute( twice the size of Baguette), Batard(a half-length normal loaf), Ficelle( a thin loaf),and Brioche( a sweet bread) are just a few of the popular ones besides a dozen more offerings. These make an excellent treat for a picnic anywhere, while traveling in the region. They are extremely delicious and must be eaten when fresh.

Spoilt for choices of bread- A bakery in Cannes
For those traveling in the region, it is necessary to know that most of these boulangeries close around 1230 am for two hours or more, and by evening most of the fresh produce runs out of the shelf. So to avoid disappointment, be an early bird to pick and choose the best.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Color My World

In life many things happen on purpose though it takes a while to realize this. In the beginning of the year I met someone who opened a new avenue of opportunity I had hitherto not known. She teaches in a leading public school and also runs an NGO that helps in supporting education of children that hail from economically challenged strata of society. It was a chance meeting and from the next day, I found a new purpose to join hands with her for the cause for which she works whole heartedly with her equally devoted daughters.

Filling colors on the vacant canvas of life for the children whose eyes gleam when you help them in solving their problems gives a joy that cannot be compared. The education system that they hail from rarely addresses the grass root basics on which a strong foundation can be built. As a result the children try hard to understand but for no fault of theirs, have to struggle hard in coping with the syllabus. Coupled with the fact that these children are taught in the vernacular media where the transliteration of the main subject leaves you squirming, when it comes to subjects like Science and Mathematics. Every time one has to use tongue twisters for something very simple for words like radius, rectangle and so on.

During the brief association, I have realized that the most compelling way to communicate with the children is to relate every problem with the day to day things and the uptake is not only quick but the response in understanding is much better.  How I wish, the educationists found a easy way to make the teaching a song rather than an excruciating exercise.
Capt Trisha Mohan felecitated by Air India on 07 Mar 2017
Telling stories to the children makes them see the life in a new perspective. A recent news of the decommissioning of INS Viraat, a frontline Indian Navy aircraft carrier prompted me to to share the story of INS Vikrant, where I had the privilege to serve many years ago. The number of questions that came to me from them left me groping for answers.

A recent interaction with Captain Trisha Mohan the only woman pilot who flies a Jumbo( Boeing 747) in the subcontinent, not only made a compelling story to share but also awareness of what women can achieve. Hailing from a socio economic background that does not often put women on a very high pedestal, the story resonated very well. I am thankful to Captain Mohan for sharing some lovely pictures of the aircraft and her that I shared with the children. It almost gave the wings of desire to the young ones who too now nurture a dream to fly high.
Lt Swathi Patharlapaali of Indian Navy

In our everyday lives there are many heroes who not only rose to achieve what they dreamt for but also made a mark for themselves. A recent story of Lieutenant Swathi Patharlapaali of the Indian Navy who is a part of six member crew of Indian Naval Sailing Vessel Tarini to circumnavigate around the globe is no less inspiring. Coming from an extremely humble background, her mother worked as a maid in the Naval Park and father a help in the Naval Dockyard canteen at Vizag) she joined the Indian Navy with true grit and determination.
Ms Nutan Chaturvedi teaching children at the NGO
This Holi, the idea of coloring the life of a lesser privileged child gives a joy unparalleled and I wish one day the children whom likes of Ms Nutan Chaturvedi( the founder of the NGO) nurture become citizens of a country that everyone can take pride in. The melody of the long lost Petula Clark’s classic ‘Color My World’(Must hear coming from the lips of these children rings in my ears, this Holi.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Where Eagles Dare

The High Fliers of Air India
The room was full of excitement as the smartly attired women of Air India slowly filled the spaces outnumbering the men at the Centaur Hotel on a Tuesday morning, O7 Mar 2017.In a country where most of the women are struggling for their rights, here was an occasion felicitating the ‘Women Power’ that has not only taken wings but flies high. The list of achievements will leave anyone spellbound. Air India, the national carrier of India was lauding the women who not only fly ordinary aircraft, but are test pilots, fly the jumbo aircraft, command the all women flight and circumnavigate around the world, hold the topmost positions in the hierarchy, and also work behind the scenes in the role of navigators, air traffic controllers and many more roles. It was a moment when any Indian would have felt proud to come across the ‘women of substance’ who have achieved feats of which stories of valor are made of.
All Women crew of Air India circumnavigating the world
From 1956 when Ms Durba Banerjee was inducted as the first woman pilot of Air India ( erstwhile Indian Airlines) to the  present day when  Capt Kshamta Bajpai and Capt Sunita Narula along with First Officers Capt Indra Singh and Capt Gunjan Agarwal became the first women pilots to fly all women supported and operated around the world on Delhi- San Francisco- Delhi route, the airlines has traveled a long way in every sense. In 1990, Capt Nivedita Bhasin became the youngest pilot in the civil aviation history to command a jet aircraft at the age of 26. Capt Trisha Mohan is the only qualified pilot that flies Jumbo aircraft of the Air India fleet.
With Capt Trisha Mohan
I had a rare honor to speak to Capt Trisha Mohan and learn about the challenges of commanding the mighty Boeing -747(The Jumbo) aircraft. She has a rich experience of 23 years of flying and has been flying the 747’s for last four years. According to her, the biggest challenge that she faced when switching over from the conventional jet aircraft to the 747, it was a question of ‘perspective’. The height of the aircraft is 64 feet and the payload is a massive 377.8 tons. The wingspan is 211.40ft. compare this with the Dreamliner -787 with a payload of 227.9 tons, wing span 197.3ft, height 55 ft. So for such a huge, wide-bodied 747 aircraft, the reflexes, responses of the engine and maneuvering are a different ball game. Of course, before moving to the actual aircraft she had undergone intensive training on the simulator with six degrees of freedom to simulate every possible scenario and give a ‘look and feel’ of the real thing. The confidence of Trisha Mohan was so reassuring that we are in safe hands that know their stuff and can be an inspiration for many. She shared some pictures with me, which I am taking the liberty of sharing here.
Capt Trish Mohan next to the might Boeing 747
As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day tomorrow, Air India is organizing a unique tour from Delhi to Agra for those women who have never flown in spite of their engagement with the aviation sector for many years. I wish the example of Air India in empowering the women and setting the example of what women can achieve can be emulated by many an organization.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Learning Curve

It has been almost a month since I posted on my blog. It was not the writer’s block that commonly afflicts us from time to time.  I am nearing six years of blogging and I realized that it was time to move on to a personal domain as I have worked on the Blogger platform ever since I started to blog. The search for best options ended on using Google G Suite which perhaps met most of the requirements.

Also, I had decided that it will be a ‘Do It Yourself’ model and thus began the quest for learning all the buzz words and understanding all the functionalities associated. I soon realized that making a blog post was any day easier than creating your own domain. The process started with what all I need to do and then move the posts from the Blogspot domain to domain. A lot of fancy work was also involved in learning how to change the fonts of the Blog Title to inserting the HTML codes in various widgets.

Like a true techie, my first move was to practice on one of my almost defunct Blogspot account the various activities and all the related sequencing. The D-day arrived making me nervous, having already registered a domain. The first step was moving over from the old Blogspot account to the new domain. To my good luck, the whole exercise went through flawlessly and lo and behold I had moved on to the new domain.

That did not satisfy me as I wanted to insert more pages and add some gimmicks to the blog as the ‘feel and look’ of the domain was still an old one. I learned some more tricks and then applied it one day to the backend of the new blog. Then the disaster struck! I could see all the blog posts but was unable to create any new post, and it looked all the work had gone in vain. I must confess that if you are bent on doing something even god will come to assist. He appeared in form of the Google backend support team who assisted me from remote and the blog came up once again like a proverbial rising of ‘Phoneix from the ashes’.

Very slowly and steadily I ventured to explore what I wanted to see on my blog and finally it is for you to see the end result. It may not be as professional as many would like to see but the joy of having tinkered with the technology to ‘create my own blog’. Has been a great learning experience! It has reaffirmed my belief that no age is too old to start something new. I would be grateful to my readers to give me their feedback for making an improvement to my blog.

PS: Image Kind Courtesy Google

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Fragrance of Grasse

(The pretty hills of Grasse)
The bus number 500 left the station at Nice as the thin traffic appeared on the Promenade des Anglais the street that overlooks the beautiful pebbled beach spread for mile along the Mediterranean coast. The heart was longing to reach the world’s perfume capital, Grasse. The drive along the sea initially till the Nice airport, soon ends for a gradual climb through a dense foliage in hills. The scenic beauty is breathtaking and soon the fragrance of the plants and sight of flowers greeted us. The aroma of fresh fragrant air enters the bus as the door opens on the wayside small stops. During the summer months the sight of Lavenders, Jasmines, Centifolia Rose , Iris pallida, Roses greets the onlookers. The biodiversity of the region aids in the growth of the most spectacular flowers in the world here.  The town was once known for tanneries and over the time people learned the fine art of making the perfumes. Most of the world’s renowned perfumes like Christian Dior, Estee Lauder, YSL( Yves Saint Laurent),Nina Ricci, Givenchy, Lancome and more come from France and their share is 30% of the world’s output.
Major Parfumeries in Grasse
Soon one can see the lovely factories that have been here in existence for more than a century , doting the landscape. Galimard, Molinard, and Fragongard are one of the biggest names that make perfumes here and it is possible to do a free tour followed with a workshop for two hours and prepare your own brand of perfume with the help of ‘Nose’ and their assistants.
The facilities of Fragongard

During the guided tour, it was fascinating to see the traditional process of extraction of ‘essential oils’ by the process of ‘Maceration’ ( soaking the flowers in a liquid that will absorb their fragrance) or by distillation. Next, the extracted oil is blended into the perfume as per the formula worked out by the ‘Nose’. 
The process of Maceration
With a lively and entertaining approach, the ‘Nose’ explains the architecture of a good perfume that is the ‘Top Note’( Peak), Middle Note(heart note) and Base Note(Fond Note).  ‘Nose’ is the expert with highly developed olfactory sense that develops new perfumes. There are about a thousand ‘Noses’ in the world and of these only 50 that are masters in the trade. The majority of them work with the perfumeries in Grasse. There could be as many as 800 ingredients in a formula developed by the experts and each formula is patented. Next, the scent is mixed with alcohol, the percentage of which varies depending on the usage. The perfumes have 10-20% content of essential oil whereas the colognes have just 3-5% of the essential oil content.
An office of the 'Nose'
Fine perfumes are then aged for periods ranging from 15 days to a few months. The quality control is very strict and the final product is bottled in very enticing packaged fancy bottles. All the perfumeries use the fatty acids / oils to make special soaps that are equally ‘alluring’.
An enticiing display of perfumes
An experience of creating ‘your own perfume’ is a huge learning experience besides creating your own perfume and the formula is registered in the name of the creator( You)!So the beautiful 100ml of perfume in the specially packaged bottle can be carried as a souvenir along with a diploma certifying completion of seminar.
International Museum of Perfumes at Grasse
There is also a beautiful  International Museum of Perfume’ in Grasse that can be visited to learn more about perfumes and the history. It was a rewarding day which will remain etched in memory forever. The return trip through the fascinating city of Cannes deserves another post.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Glitter of Monte Carlo

                                     ( The beautiful harbour of Monte Carlo)
The beauty of Monte Carlo the capital of Monaco is unsurpassed. It is a small country bordering France. The place is a haven for the rich and famous and the feel of same can be had as soon as one sets the feet here. The personal yachts of who’s who adorn the seafront which is pristine blue. One can see the small pups being carried in the purses by their female owners. Do not be surprised if you see the best-bred puppies going around in the strollers with fancy clothing, collars and even dyed fur. The harbour front looks like a setting direct from a Bond movie!Not surprising that 'Golden Eye' , 'Casino Royale' and 'Never Say Never Again' were shot at verious locations here.

                                ( The Railway station of Monte Carlo- Exterior)

The opulence of the city is visible as soon as one steps down at the railway station which has neon lights flickering giving an impression of a huge discotheque. The station looks like a fortress from the outside where one has to go down several levels to come to the sea level. Alternatively, the lovely elevators can take one to almost any part of the city in no time.

                      ( The Change of Guards Ceremony at the Royal Palace)

This post is not about the description of the riches that the city flaunts but about the many a treasures such as the regal palace where the current King resides, and one of the most unusual botanical garden called the Jardin Exotique, situated at the highest hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

                         ( Cactii at Jardin Exotique- The Botanical Garden)
The Prince of Monaco resides in the fortress that was built in the 11th century and is accessible by a short climb over the hill. The view of the harbor leaves one spellbound. The glory of the palace was restored by Prince Rainer III and his wife Grace Kelly, a well-known Hollywood actress from 1970’s.

                                         ( The Cathedral of Monte Carlo)

Both of them lie buried in state at the cathedral close to the palace where Prince Albert, the son of Prince Rainer, resides.  The parts of palace are open to public and one can  witness the change of guard’s ceremony every day at 12 o ‘clock. According to a legend Francios Grimaldi, from Genoa, entered the castle in January 1297 disguised as a monk. He killed the guards and his followers took control of the castle. The statue of Grimaldi adorns the castle even to this day.

(Some More Cactii at the Jardin Exotique)
Another landmark of Monte Carlo is the botanical garden that can be accessed by a series of public elevators in the city. The distance of 4 km uphill can be covered in barely 20 minutes using these . A boon indeed! Jardin Exotique or the exotic garden of Monaco is outstanding for the wealth of succulent plants that one can see here. 

               ( A still closer look at some remarkable sight of cactus at Jardin Exotique)

The Prince of Monaco personally took interest in construction of the garden and series of over bridges within the precincts. The cacti from different regions of the world ranging from Sahara, Africa, Mexico, to almost all arid regions of the world can be seen flourishing here.

                     ( The Stalagmite and Stalacite formations in the Grotto)

A grotto at the feet of the garden can also be accessed by climbing down a flight of long steps to the sea level. The stalagmite and stalactite formations takes one back to the prehistoric era since the times these were formed. Evidence of prehistoric humans has been found   in the grotto which was opened for public only in 1950.

(Legendary Formula 1 racer; William Grover)
The city is best known for F1 Formula races and has huge casinos that compete with Las Vegas. The beautiful promenades, sparkling blue waters and miles of white sandy beaches make the place a huge attraction during summer months and it is difficult to find a place to stay. The place is definitely well worth a visit.