Monday, March 29, 2010

Switch off! It's Earth Hour

Just a couple of days back, on the 27th of March, the world celebrated the fourth annual Earth Hour from 8.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. As I was browsing through the latest reports, the huge participation this year made me giddy with joy thereby prompting me to write this post. It is time that we give back the earth its life that we have so selfishly and wantonly been stripping off for years together. Earth Hour is World Wildlife Fund's global initiative where individuals, schools, organizations, businesses and governments turn off their lights for one hour to fight against pollution and climate change, and to show support for our planet and our future. What went on to become the biggest climate concerned event began in 2007, in Sydney, Australia where 2.2 million homes switched off their electricity to make a stand against climate change. Since then, Earth Hour has been held on the last Saturday of March every year. This year many major landmarks around the world such as the Colosseum in Rome, the Tower Bridge in London, the Empire State Building in New York and the Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur answered the clarion call and embraced darkness for an hour. More than 125 countries participated in the cause which goes on to prove that we, after all, are not fighting a lost case.

When the environmental geeks in the 80's foretold the alarming consequences of climate change for the coming years, we rubbished and rejected them. Now the time has come to repent and repair the damage done, and just how much. The United States, according to studies is the most affected by global warming with its year-round floods and hurricanes. Places in the East Coast that just experience a normal snow shower in the winters, tackled two brutal snow storms this year in February. It is not a surprise though when one considers the ruled-by-gadgets lifestyle of the Americans. It troubles me a great deal as to why even the trivial of tasks like the peeling and dicing of an onion should require electricity. As an Indian I am more concerned about our future generations who would not know what regular monsoons were like. The iffiness of the monsoons these days brings in longer spells of a merciless tropical sun or the opposite, severe floods. The adverse effect of climate change is the most visible in the changing ecosystems. This further poses a threat to the already dwindling numbers of many animal and plant species. The Arctic marine life is probably the best example to explain the alarms of global warming. In no time the polar bears and the walruses, who are already facing the survival challenge because of the shrinking sea ice, will be part of stories that once consisted of dinosaurs and dodos.

Nature is at the brim and it might give up anytime. In such desperate times I would even choose to agree with the grossly exaggerated movie 2012 that showed the end of the world in the year 2012 as predicted by the Mayans. Surely I do have my personal prejudices against the film and also because I don't have the heart to face something as beautiful and giving as the Earth to simply end in chunks. Collective efforts, like the Earth Hour, are a symbol of love and unity and hope for a better tomorrow. We know that a single hour every year is not much of a help. But it is for us, for our lovely planet. Lights out then!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Virginia is for lovers!

Cherry blossoms from our living room window

So it is that time of the year again when happiness just blooms and spreads its roots inside you because mother nature is on a song. I often lamented about never having the chance to experience a spectacular North American spring. When I arrived here first, on the land of opportunities and ambiguities, it was too late. It was June and I could see the spring blooms withering away with a very few exceptions. That was when I first met the rhododendrons or as the Seattleites would call their state flower, the "rhodies". My heart leaped and jumped and bounced as if I had never seen anything of such remarkable beauty. Now there is this 'thing' about me and those who know me would understand this. I am an obsessive nature lover and at times like these I become this absolutely incomprehensible person as if my life depended on that single moment. Most of Sam's techie friends must find me rather daft when I ramble on about how the Mount Rainier is actually an active volcano or the different kinds of maple trees or the hundreds of wild Himalayan flowers. Not that I mind their uninvolved air, but I just feel that there is so much more life in these marvels than watching detestable modern television or going to shopping malls and killing time by mostly window shopping.

Getting back to my spring euphoria, last year we were in Texas during spring and there was nothing much on the platter except a few desert willows and Mexican buckeyes bursting out in their white and pink glory. Fortunately we lived in the Hill Country area which is home to many little charming German villages that are nestled on higher altitudes and host the wildflower festival every year. We did get to see vast stretches of red poppies, bluebonnets and cornflowers, and being a wildflower buff I loved every bit of it. But all the while I longed to see some typical spring queens like tulips and daffodils which are exotic to my tropical eyes. My friends back home would often ask me about the American spring and I would be at a very sad loss. But this year luck has smiled upon me and we have recently moved to this quaint little place called Charlottesville in Virginia. Apart from getting to live in the eastern part of this huge country, there is another aspect that quite thrills me. The state of Virginia that got its name from the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth the 1st is culturally rich and is home to historical sites like Colonial Williamsburg, which was the first British capital. The stately red brick buildings and the gastropubs here are a classic example of the once flourishing British rule. This is also the land of the legendary Indian princess Pocahontas. So I do feel pretty regal in a strange fashion! And to add to all this, there's spring here. There are pearly magnolias on naked, leafless branches and vibrant forsythias that ring the word basanti in my mind. During my solitary walk yesterday I could spot clusters of wild daffodils here and there, some upright and the others still sleepy. There is a certain untamed beauty in things of the wild which is wanting in carefully, patterned landscapes.
Till date I was unaware that the prim garden daffodils also had wild cousins. Then the thought struck me, "of course, Wordsworth must have seen these wild ones in the Lake District"!

My next agenda is the national cherry blossom festival that takes place annually in Washington, D.C. After almost a complete month of being buried in brutal blizzards, the time has come to venture out and celebrate nature. This is that sort of place where I could wonder around like Ophelia, wearing a crown of wildflowers and throwing my cares to the mad world. And why not, because as they say here - "Virginia is for lovers"! Or for incurable romantics. Or a bit of both?!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Sakura experience

Last evening we went out to try some Japanese delicacy to Sakura, a Japanese steakhouse. The word sakura in Japanese means flowering cherry or cherry blossoms. I have always wanted to taste sushi, but for some reason or the other I keep postponing it. Probably it is the thought of consuming raw fish that turns me off. But I always love to learn and experience the different food cultures and Japanese was one that I had yet to taste. So off we went and were warmly welcomed into a place adorned with huge murals of cherry blossoms and other Oriental artifacts. The ambiance was perfect. We were comfortably seated in the grill section of the steakhouse and Sam promised me that it will be a mesmerising affair. We decided our food to be simple, so he went for a grilled salmon whereas I chose to play safe with a grilled shrimp and sauteed mushrooms platter. We waited till we savored the last drop of osumashi (the Japanese clear soup) and the tricky miso (a seasoning made with fermented rice and soybeans) dressed lettuce salad. Then came our chef wheeling a cart of veggies, raw salmon and shrimp and other condiments that were required for the preparation of our entrees. We were seated in a square fashion where the grill consisted the center of the arrangement. And as the restaurant boasts of "where everything happens before your eyes", the chef sputtered off the hot surface of the grill with water followed by the ingredients. The manner in which he used a chopping knife looked like sheer magic. For the next fifteen minutes he was on song slicing and chopping away to the tunes of his knife and the sizzle of the items on the grill. He did it so effortlessly, it looked no less than a performance. In no time the flames boomed, reaching the chimney and our salmon and shrimp turned a deep rust, that lip smacking, perfectly grilled colour. The spices and the sauces that were used in the preparation enveloped us in an aromatic fog. I felt like being transported to another part of the world, one where there were gardens choked with cherry blossoms, where the geisha (a female Japanese entertainer) served tea in her typical delicate and artful way in a chashitsu (a tea room). It seemed like the tea ceremonies from Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha came alive! Once the food was cooked, our magician chef ladled the food on our plates. Needless to say that such aesthetically prepared food that tickled all our senses soothed our hungry and eager taste buds. What's more, Sam even rated this as one of his best dinning experiences! It was truly a heavenly experience, one that I would love to go for again, probably some day in God's own land of the rising sun!
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