Month: April 2018

An ode to café

What better way to write an ode to coffeehouses than being in one and drinking the most popular drug of all the times.

How coffee works?

Our brain has adenosine and adenosine receptors, when both of them come in contact then drowsiness or sleep is induced. Caffeine when taken in binds itself to the adenosine receptors and thus blocking opportunity for adenosine to bind. The nerve cells speed up in this process and pituitary gland thinks of it as an emergency and thus releases loads of adrenaline hormone which is the fight or flight hormone.

 

Other things about Coffee and coffeehouses!

Cities such as Seattle, Vienna, Reykjavik, London rank consistently higher in number of coffeehouses that call home to these cities. In 2011, UNESCO put cafes in Vienna as part of the intangible heritage of the city and it is true indeed. But the first cafe in the world, Kiva Han, was opened in Constantinople(modern day Istanbul) in the year 1475 and soon they mushroomed all over the world and are thronged by all. There are the famous ones such as café central in Vienna that served as the incubator for the likes of Freud, Trotsky, and Lenin.

 

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Café Jax – Upper East Side Manhattan

I am one of the loyal ones with an allegiance to this dark drink but more than that I prefer to sit, read, and observe in these establishments. I have had moments of flow there that is curated by the moderate level of noise that can send one in the mode of diffused focus, one of the state that helps in creative thinking and launches one in the space where inner and outer imagination meet and create something that can’t have taken flight on terra firma.

Alfred Polgar in 1927 in his essay “Theory of café central“said that the place is for those people whose hatred of their fellow human beings is as fierce as their longing for people, who want to be alone but need companionship for it. This is the exact feeling I get in New York City, you can be alone but can be with millions of people. The coffee houses are like the archipelago of people who are alone yet close, may be that’s the reason I do like the archipelago cities – NYC and Stockholm as examples.

These sanctified places provide refuge to the ideas, the lonely ones and to the gregarious alike. Here you can concoct an ephemeral world within the tangents of humdrum and mundane world.

o

Café Central – Vienna

 

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Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant can easily be one of the best short story writers that existed on the face of the earth. But as all talented people aren’t perceived normal in society’s eyes, so was he. Maupassant swayed between happiness and sorrow, Emile Zola used to say that he is happiest of the unhappiest people on earth.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian war he spent most of his free time in writing stories and meeting women from different strata of the societies, many of whom became the subject of his stories later in life. He eventually contracted syphilis which later became the cause of his death but his mood used to alter greatly because of his condition and it had an effect on his writing which would have mood swings of a human if personified. His mother had introduced him to Gustav Flaubert who had great influence on him and he urged him to pursue literature and writing on a serious note.

The admirable subjects of his writing are real as life and are taken from various walks of life and their interaction with the rest of the society. Some people could term it as vulgar but he wrote about what he knew and the audience appreciated it. The characters are not deified in his works, they have the natural tendencies and inherit the human flaws. Short stories are special; the characters, the plot, the emotions, the climax all develop simultaneously and the writer has the responsibility to do justice with each of them without considering one or the other as his/her favorite offspring and he has to execute the task in finite number of words without creating a tome. Maupassant was successful in this and that puts him in the cohort that belongs to Munshi Premchand, Anton Chekhov, Natsume Soseki, Allan Poe. He was audacious like Flaubert to write on controversial subjects that gives makes him stand in a cluster of his own.

It takes a thinking brain and strength to create Boule de Suif, Bel Ami, Une Vie, and likes of The Necklace, and Guy de Maupassant had both.

 

Color me saffron

A few days ago when I was sitting in Scheltema in Amsterdam, I found a book named The Secret Lives of Color on the shelf. It was an interesting find. I quickly read the quoted stories on few of my favorite colors and was delighted to see the aspect of history associated with them. While I was about to return the book, I thought of another color – Saffron that forms a part of the tricolor flag of India.

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and at one time saffron color was one of the most expensive ones. In 1444 a man was burnt alive in Nuremberg for he used to adulterate saffron with marigold and used to stretch profit margins. The spice is so fragrant that Cleopatra used to bathe in milk and saffron.

In Indian context, the color represents strength and courage in the nation and in terms of Hinduism it represents the holiest color among all colors. It is the color of burning flame that can purify, it represents the sacrifice. The priests, the monks, the learned ones wear the color indicating renunciation of worldly wealth. S Radhakrishnan said the color in the flag should symbolize renunciation and disinterestedness. Indifference to the material gain should be the fundamental rule followed by leaders but we have seen umpteen times how the country has been plagued by corruption scandals.

Scheltema – The Secret Lives of Color

Scheltema – a book store on Rokin st. near Dam Square in Amsterdam is one of the largest bookstores in Europe and the oldest in Netherlands serving the bibliophiles since 1853.IMG_20180311_122700

When I walked in, some children’s activity was going on and a few volunteers were arranging things. I was scouring for the Tulipmania by Mike Dash for I was interested in how tulips came to a level at one time that single bulb of tulip costed more than cost of a house. It mirrors today’s economy when we think of bitcoin’s surge in past few months.

I finally found it on 4th floor of the store in the history section and sat down on a cosy chair to flip through the pages. There was a lot of moving space around and the place carries the attitude of a young and confident speaker, telling stories coherently in a cogent fashion but I won’t compare it with the capitalism that Barnes and Noble brought to the world.

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Apart from the American Book Center on Spui 12, Scheltema is another place where one can find quality English literature in Amsterdam area.

It’s here I realized how wonderful oil pastel art can be and thus I picked a random book from the shelf named The Secret Lives of Colors. It is so interesting to see the possibility of a book on colors. Soren Kierkegaard said “Is anything more sparkling, more dizzying than the possible?”  The book provided history on many colors, how they were found, what’s the significance, which artists use them, how do they align with the values of various countries, what is/was the economic significance of certain colors. It would lead you to the paths of history where you can find yourself in the multitude of kaleidoscope of  hues and pigments. It is a compendium of answers that will establish the connections such as bard, green, and envy. I wonder what Moilere might be thinking here?

Bike On

I am not here to preach you about biking and its benefits to health, environment, and the society. The advantages are conspicuous enough and if one can’t see them then what’s even the point. Critically cynical stance from me but I still gape and don’t believe my eyes when people take their cars out to go to a store within 2 mile radius. I have nothing against cars, they are great mode of transport if we are talking about longer distances but if used within the city limits can cause the slow death of the city life, deteriorate the environment, and unnecessarily encroach the urban space. But oh well, what do the status hungry society care? Higher the BHP better it is, flashy the car higher would the status be in the ‘society’. But there is hope, it lies in the diamond frame. H G Wells said ” Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of human race.”

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My Parisian Friend

One of my favorite question in the interviews revolve around the framework used by the candidate, and I prefer the lucid and simple ones. A good framework is easy to understand and works well; It is akin to a bicycle – a simple machine that can have solution to few most complicated problems that infest the modern world.

For most of us, bicycles were the first source of freedom, taking us from point A to B but over a period of time we have shunned the bikes and have taken refuge in the cars. Whenever I go to a new city, I prefer to walk or take a bike no matter whether it rains, snows, heats up. Even if I end up walking 33 km in Paris in a day, bike for 40 km in Northern Amsterdam along the dikes, or find myself accidentally in Skagen(sleeping in train isn’t a good idea) and spend the entire day on bike there. There is a different feeling to it, it’s ineffable. You see the world differently, you hear it differently, you smell it differently than from behind a car’s windows. The speed is slow and you can appreciate more around you.

One of the best places to bike, in my opinion, are Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and having the entire road or bike highway to yourself without having to worry about getting hit by a motorized vehicle is a bliss. One can cruise on the bike thanks to the flat terrain of these cities and the cool breeze makes the experience enjoyable. It is interesting to note that studies have been conducted in England that showed that bikes helped in expanding the gene pool of counties( people had more mobility, so they procreated with people from other counties) and at one time was a symbol of female empowerment. Enrique Penasola, the mayor of Bogota exclaimed that absence of bike lanes is undemocratic way of life; If bike paths are present then the city can become a lot safer as there will be people on the road or outside more often.

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My Dutch Way Out

The most talked about advantages of biking are economic, political, social, and ecological but the personal ones cannot be discounted. Advantage of biking for the Parkinson’s patients has been talked about in many papers; one of the doctors took his patient on a tandem bike ride and saw the symptom level for Parkinson has gone down, he kept on repeating this tandem ride for few weeks and found his eureka moment for finding a correlation between biking and slowing down of disease.

Here goes a high five to German born Baron Karl von Drais – creator of this simple machine for “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” — John F. Kennedy