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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Café Culture

Let's go for a simple sentence, and many cultural interpretations and variant. While the drink is universal, how people have it and where is not.
In Switzerland, the right to a morning coffee break is a labour union right. Every employee is entitled to a 20-30 minutes break in their morning if they work at least 8 hours a day. As a result, most workplace have a coffee machine in a corner, or a mini-kitchen where employees can get their fix. However, many still do go to the nearby café. Most of these establishments are family owned, brand less and will serve you a basic espresso with coffee cream on the side. They are no frill places that then double as a lunch place and an after work pub. Don't expect a fancy signature coffee or something more elaborate than a croissant to eat at coffee break time, that is not what most of these café will be into.
The café culture is big in most of Europe, and in Switzerland it is not just limited to office goers. Come 10am and you are likely to see housewives and senior citizen flock to the nearby place to have their morning cup as well. In highschools, students will head to their establishment canteen around the same time for theirown caffeine fix, as there is a 20 minutes break specially provided for that purpose in the morning. I kid you not, we take the morning break very seriously, it borders on sacred!
I grew up being used to head to the café with my mom or grand mothers (when I wasn't in school). They would wrap up their household chores and grocery shopping early in the day and then meet their friends over a cup of something (it can be discrimination) while I would be given a glass of pomegranate syrup. Syrup, which in my youth still came free in many places. They would chit chat, gossip, catch up with each other for about half an hour and then proceed with the rest of their day worth of household duties knowing they would likely meet again the next day. Most coffee places have their regulars, and the owners know them well.
It is said that cafés were the social network sites of that time before Facebook. They in fact still are and still serve that exact same purpose. People don't go to a café because the coffee is good, at the exception of Starbucks (which has little appeal to older people in my homeland), no café will serve you anything but a generic brew, served black with the cream and sugar on the side. People go to such places to reconnect with people, forget work for 20 minutes and focus on human interaction. Coffee time is that bracket in the day where everything else important can wait. You won't find a lot of people dragging their work to the café or even discussing it with colleagues there. Because the moment you step on that "sacred ground", status and labels cease to exist, there is no boss and subordinates, no apprentice...nothing, just human being on a break.
Working in the outskirts of Geneva, I didn't have a café to go to. But, my boss installed an espresso machine in a tiny corner or our workshop. During that time of the day, he was no longer my boss, and I was no longer the apprentice and we would rarely, very rarely talk about anything work related. That too despite setting our cups down on the corner of our workbench with whatever sofa we were reupholstering pretty much inches away from us.
It could wait, anything can wait during that breather.
In India, going for coffee seems to fall into two categories, with very few exceptions. The first being the hasty filter coffee or chai being drank at a road side stall in a hurry. Which still remain a widely male dominated activity. The second being the Status symbol coffee. The one that is fancy and drank in plush franchise establishements. People visiting these joints usually linger much longer and it is now common to see informal business meeting taking place over coffee, as most of these places offer free wifi. Coffee shops around here, do not really serve the purpose of disconnecting from work unless you are college going student or a housewife it seems.
There are a few exceptions though, South Mumbai has many small cafés held by Iranians and Parsi where people will go for an unpretentious cup of something and a quick bite. And I've hear there is some of that culture in Kolkata as well, where the evening tea or coffee is a social event during which people just catch up and value human contact.
How is the café culture in your corner of the world?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Repurposing a greeting card

Another hectic week over here!
Mumbai is going to polls for the State election on Wednesday, and for an obscure reason, Ishita's school decided the kids needed to have this Tuesday off as well. As a result she will be in school only two days this week. Friday being the parent teacher meeting. Then, we have a three weeks long Diwali vacation. Needless to say that all the blog schedule and work plans I had are pretty much going out of the window. To keep Ishita busy in this heat today I took some old bits of cardboard out, lined the dinning table with old newspapers and let her go wild with her poster paint while I got busy with a project of my own.
I am in the habit of saving cute greeting cards my family and friends send me. You know...just in case. I have two that are particularly cute and wanted to use as wall decor for a while. And with my working on the study a lot these days, I found a use for them. And because it would just be too simple and so un-me to just use a bland generic photo frame to display them, I made one.
All I needed for that little project was a piece of packing cardboard (I save these from old shipping boxes) and of course an old greeting. After cutting my cardboard to the desired size and shape, I used acrylic paint to first pain a blue background. Then I glued the greeting in the center before adding a painted pattern to my blue background.
I did that pattern in two steps. First I used a teal acrylic paint to paint barely visible circles and flowers on the blue background. Then, I used a pink glittery 3D liner (I love that stuff...I really do!) and drew twirls and swirls with it. I finally added a few finishing touch with a pearly white 3D liner.
The whole project took me an hour tops. Once the glitter all dried up, I took some double sided paint and "hanged" it on the wall in our study. And yes I took a picture, but the lighting was completely off, and I really really need to wash the giant doodle Ishita scribbled on said wall before taking a more decent picture and sharing it. Thing that is unlikely to happen before we get back from vacation.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The City of the Nawabs

Lucknow! The city I am heading to next weekend. DH's native place. A city with a rich cultural heritage, an unmatchable culinary tradition...
Lucknow has like many cities in North India, vestige of Islamic and Mughal architecture. THE architecture most foreign tourists associate with India. The India of the tourist books. Here, you have the entry gate that leads to the "Chota Imambara" one of the two well known palaces in Lucknow. the other one being the "Bara Imambara". Chota means small, Bara means big. The small one is still big enough for something small though, and having visited the two of them back in 2006, that one was far better maintained. Though the big one was going through renovation that last time we were in Lucknow.
Between the Chota and Bara Immambara, the Chota one is my favourite. Sorry for being partial, I just really loved the intricate architecture and beautifully maintained water strip and gardens. When I visited it, a lot of glass and crystal chandeliers were displayed inside, while its big brother offered a big empty cavernous space. Both are grand in their own way, that goes without saying.
Have you visited Lucknow? Which of the two Imambara was your favourite?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Gratitude diary

How many times a day do you remember to count your blessings? Do you even count them at all? Do you keep a list, a written list of everything you love?
I myself have kept diaries since I was a teenager. They always contained a mix of feelings and emotions ranging from love to anger. Ramblings of all kind living side by side on their pages. Some diaries contained more doom and gloom than others (and interestingly they were the ones I lost to termites recently).
I don't have to launch myself into a long explanation about my belief in the power of positive thinking. if you have been reading this blog long enough, you know where I stand on that ground. What I started doing a little while ago is keeping a special diary. A diary I call my " Gratitude and Love diary".
It serves the purpose of keeping all these feel good moments and warm fuzzies in one place. So that I can go open it at any page when in need of an instant pick me up. Truth be told, just writing it is energising to begin with. I take a little time each day to reflect on the things I am grateful for, and often list all the things I love. Randomly, with no given preferences, I just write down what crosses my mind without worrying about it being trivial or silly. If I love it, or feel grateful for something it goes in the diary. I also write wishes and dreams in it, and I have only two rules concerning said diary :
- Never write in black ink
- Make no mention of anything negative
I keep a few colourful fine liners pens around to write, and another diary to write my worries and rants. My reason for staying away from black ink is that it is a formal ink, I have plenty of other uses where it is just the one to use. In this diary I want colour, cheerfulness and happy feelings, writing in colours makes me happy...
You'd be amazed how much just half an hour of consciously giving thanks for the things you have does for your spirit. How energising focusing on the positive and listing all your loves is. I encourage you all to give it a try.
Pick a pretty notebook at the stationary store. Throw in a special pen if you don't have one already, and start writing. Write anything, just about anything positive that crosses your mind. Don't overthink it, don't worry about it being silly, shallow and insignificant. First because it's all for your eyes only and you should not be afraid to be genuine with yourself. Second, because nobody has the right to decide for you what is dumb to love or not. There is no stupid reason to be grateful and no silly things to love.
I love the smell of freshly baked bread. I love watching the sunset. I am grateful for that hour of quiet I got today. I love where I live. I am truly grateful being alive...
These are just a few ideas to get you started, and it will be as life changing as the 24 hours without complaints challenge.
Try it...

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The lil flea

Yesterday evening, we headed to Bandra's reclamation ground to have a look at this weekend's event : The lil flea market. There were a lot of shopping display of handicrafts by small companies and entrepreneurs, a live music corner, food...all the things you normally expect at these type of markets, which are often just one or two days events to look for via advertising in the medias. I tried taking a few pictures with my phone, and the one above was really the best considering it was getting dark (my phone doesn't do well taking pictures in low light...something I'll have to remember for the next one I buy).
This is my picture of India this Sunday, one that also show that contrary to what travel books want you to believe, not everybody in India wears Sarees and Salwaar suits and are no less Indian for doing so.
The lil flea market is still on this Sunday at the Bandra reclamation ground from 11am until 11pm, so if you are in Mumbai, consider dropping by for a visit. There is a picture of the flyer on my Facebook page as well. It seems they also do events in other cities in India if you are curious about it.

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