Friday, June 29, 2012

The Shape Of Things To Come

The time between spring and summer is a very fluid one, with life emerging from the most unexpected spaces and growing in unpredictable directions.  We have exciting plans in mind but nature always seems to by pass our design and move along a path of its own.  This is never more evident than when I return from my summer breaks to find my house and garden in a very different state from the one I left it in.

I have been fairly non-interfering the last year in my garden - spending time only to weed and add a variety of natural manures to strengthen the plants.  There seemed to be a flurry of visiting earthworms in my bathroom, which I transferred to the flowerpots.  I also added an old stone urn to serve as a bird bath which the monkeys couldn't destroy.  This was unfrequented for the first six months as I diligently filled it everyday, splashing water around to attract the attention of neighbourhood birds.

Despite the late (and still pending) rains and my long absence, I seem to have lost only one plant.  Dried up creepers have suddenly soared upto the sky, (ignoring my bits of supporting twine) and burst into bright pink flowers and buds.  The frangipani seems taller than ever.

A pair of bulbuls have suddenly appeared in the sandalwood tree in front of my garden, I hear their shrill calls occasionally and see them bursting out of the tree with little bits of straw.  They are nesting close by but I don't know where.  They come occasionally to my bedroom window sill to pick up bits of leaves that blow on to the ledge.  A strange rectangular formation, like a dried up brownie nestles in a corner of the window.  I dig a little bit into it.  It is a discarded nest of some sort, fortunately I can clear this away.  

What I cannot clear away is a gigantic wasp-nest solidly lodged in the adjacent window.  I remember the time it began, in late spring.  It looked like a small inverted earthen container in the shape of a weaver bird's nest, with a solitary wasp flying to and fro from it.  "How sweet," I thought, "Now I have an opportunity to watch baby wasps emerging from this.  Perhaps two or three of them."  This just shows my abysmal ignorance of the insect world!  In just a few months, it has grown exponentially, and is now a giant apartment structure (with multiple entrances) for a whole colony of wasps.  Watching these creatures, I now understand why we use phrases like 'abuzz with excitement' and 'buzzing with activity'.  They don't seem to mind my presence and I am reluctantly getting accustomed to theirs (as long as we are separated by a wire mesh)!

My bird bath is now frequented by a pair of very timid koels (cuckoos) and by a raucous raven who I dislike because it seems to think it can eat and drink at the same time.  It perches at the edge of the bird bath, picks out dismembered animals and dips them into the water before popping them into its mouth along with some liquid.  A most disgusting ritual and one I plan to discourage now that I am back.  I also see lots of bees, they don't seem to mind me as I come to clean and refill the bath.  They just fly around my hand and wait for me to leave.  Inevitably one bee slips and falls into the bath and has to be rescued.  Rescuing bees at periodic intervals has become another part of my garden routine.  Perhaps they are intoxicated by the fizzy water (inevitable after the raven has had his share and added new microbes).  Yes!  I feel strongly that this bird is masculine!

The lemons (which were tiny little buds in spring) are ripening and will be most welcome, as fresh lemons have vanished from the market.  The karipatta (curry leaf) - a painfully slow growing creature has put forth new fronds, flowered and fruited and looks most respectable now.

My bryophyllum seems to have twenty four flowering buds on it (instead of the usual four), it is hard to imagine that on the coming full moon night, they will transform into large, scented white flowers, bending the sturdy leaves over with their weight.

 This is the shape of things in my garden as we settle ourselves and wait for those gathering clouds to burst.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Book Hunt In Delhi

As I approached the corner of another birthday, this time spent in Delhi, my family asked me to choose my own present.  And I decided it would be books - a delightful indulgence as it involves long, guilt free hours spent browsing in bookshops. 

Much as I appreciate the ease, accessibility and affordability of online shopping, this also tends to narrow one's range to things that one already knows about or that are prominently advertised.  Besides, I like to feel that my selecting and buying things from personal bookstores might help in a small way to keep them afloat.  I particularly dislike the convenient modern appliances that scan books in stores and tell you cheaper places to buy them from (not yet possible in India but quite prevalent in  the US).

So, braving the furnace like Delhi heat, we went book-hunting (it was more purposeful than a casual browse)!  The bookshops I like in Delhi are the smaller, individualized ones, with distinct personalities of owners and their sometimes idiosyncratic staff.  We began at The Bookshop (Jorbagh Market).  They have a small but unusual selection of bestsellers, translations of well known European authors, new editions of Penguin classics and an eclectic mix of detective novels (something I have a weakness for).  Here one will find Raymond Chandler, Eric Ambler and Boris Akunin reposing peacefully beside H.R.F. Keating, Alexander McCall Smith and Agatha Christie.  An elderly, pleasant (and hawk eyed!) Punjabi couple run this little shop in a determined way.

The next halt was Khan Market, partly because it lies close to Jorbagh.  I often pop into Bahrisons just to see if they have anything new on existing authors that I read.  They usually get new releases soon after they are in print and have a steady supply of older and popular books. They also have a slightly different collection of hardbound cookbooks on one shelf in the midst of their regular cookery section.  Just for information, they have now opened a new shop for children's books, located in the same market.

In Khan Market is also to be found the Full Circle Bookstore.  They also publish their own books, focussing on spirituality, philosophy, religion etc.  They are one of the better stocked bookstores for books in regional Indian languages, in particular Hindi.  One climbs up a steep flight of stairs, past walls lined with Tibetan tangkas to reach a section of this store.  Above this is Cafe Turtle, a popular little eating place.  As a rule, though, I avoid eating in bookstores; I feel somehow that the business of book selecting and eating don't quite mix!  I have also often observed that eating spaces have an unfortunate way of expanding and overshadowing the rest of the environment around them (particularly evident this time when I visited one of my favourite alternative bookstores- 'Trident' in Boston.  They originally served home made fruit pies and fresh juices in a small, snug corner, but now a new cafe space has been constructed, pushing out several shelves of books).

Last but not the least - a bookshop that I have recently begun visiting is Midland Books (Aurobindo Place Market).  It stands opposite a little shop that sells excellent mushrooms, sprouts and different kinds of paneer.  My family stopped here to drink some cold almond milk while I rushed in to the shop, for fear that it might close.  But it seems to remain open well after 8 pm.  It was here that I chanced upon a cookbook I had not seen before and that looked particularly interesting - Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri.  It is hard to get a good cake book - one that has a range of cakes listed by technique, where the simple ones are not just plain vanilla and the fancy ones are not wildly extravagant, just elegant, interesting and do-able affairs.  This book perfectly complemented my blood curdling detective purchases!

Midland Books has a diverse collection (often just one copy of a particular book) especially of Western fiction and cookbooks.  They also give a hefty discount (20% on average).  This particular book's original price was about $40 (over Rs. 2000) but after the mark down and  final discount, I could get it for a little over Rs. 800 (about $16).  Even the internet would not be able to give a better deal!  It's probably because no one else wanted the book but that's the nice thing about real browsing as opposed to the virtual kind, I think.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eating Out, At Home And Abroad

Wherever I go, part of me is always looking or thinking about food!  It's not that I feel the urge to eat constantly, but I like to look at the ingredients, manner of cooking and presenting food and ultimately of course, think about what it's doing to us in terms of nourishment and renewal.

Exploring the local food market, Nagaland

Meal steamed and served in a banana leaf packet, Sri Lanka

On my travels this time, I found it easy to eat tasty and reasonably healthy food in Europe and the US, something that is hard to come by in India.  (Restaurant food in India tends of be overly heavy and spiced).  I was taken aback, as I usually am each time I first arrive in the US, by the amount of disposable plastic and paper ware and the enormous amounts of meat, white bread and fried things that are being dispensed!  The junkier the food, the cheaper it is.  Of course, the things I indulge in are fresh greens, fruit, seafood and occasionally, some of the grilled meats.
Seafood bar, New Orleans

The food scene had changed a little since I last visited.  Pizzas were popular as always, but there was a lot more variety in toppings - even strange ones like mashed potatoes and broccoli were sold out!  Pesto is definitely "in" and has replaced some of the mayonnaise and other flavourings used in sandwiches.  Mozarella appears to be a common substitute for processed American cheese.  Hot sandwiches are much more easily available, made with different flat breads.  There was even something called nanini (a combination of naan and panini)!

I also ate some very tasty salads, there seem to be many more fresh and flavourful ingredients and it was a treat (good salad ingredients are very hard to find in India).   Though it was not quite summer, berries, peaches, apricots and sweet cherries were plentiful and some of the Mexican mangoes were almost as good as the Indian ones!  On the whole, it was not difficult to find enough stuff to keep one healthily occupied at mealtimes.  There were many places which served pleasant food at a reasonable price but for very good food, one still had to go to expensive restaurants - I suppose this is a   universal phenomenon.

Fancy flambeed orange dessert, on a cruise down the Arabian Sea

Reluctantly, I tried some restaurant catered Indian food in the US this time and was surprised at how well made it was, much better than most things we would get in our own country!  The standard is fairly high.  I sampled a range of north Indian food bought from different places (by different friends) and it was all extremely good.  There is enormous difference between the mildly spiced, well seasoned, fresh Indian food available today and the aloo gobi (reminiscent of 'Bend it like Beckham') and frozen chapatis of yesteryears.  There seem to be several Indian eateries, especially around Indian neighbourhoods, that cater to a more discerning clientele.

Of course, when one thinks about it, the largest market for good Indian food should be India!  With busy lifestyles, both partners working, longer school and office hours and more internal tourism, the food and catering business is apparently booming in the country.  But strangely enough, it is very hard to find reasonable, healthy and tasty food outside the home (and often, even within the home).  Chillies (especially the ubiquitous red chilly powder), additives and various processed foods have had an unfortunate and pervasive influence on cooking and serving food.  In the spirit of an old Hindi song, I lament, "Khansama, khansama na rahaa, Dhaba dhaba na rahaa.  Zindagi hamein tera, aitbaar na rahaa.." (Cooks are no longer what they were, Dhabas (roadside eateries) are no longer what they were.  Oh Life, I no longer have the faith I used to have in you..).

Indeed, those good old days when one could walk into any dhaba (or home) and get a wholesome, satisfying meal (and plenty of gratuitous gossip) seem to be ending.  Where are those slivers of ginger, the freshly picked green chilly, the coarsely chopped onion, the dal drenched in home made butter or ghee?  It's all processed butter (or worse) and spoonfuls of chilly powder now.  Sigh!  What we need is a little retro-cooking and lots more time to sit and enjoy those slow cooked meals as we once used to.

"Welcome.  We respect speed, but speed also requires time"- sign on a dhaba, Himachal Pradesh

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Du Pont's Legacy, Dance Africa And More

An excerpt from my diary, written in the US a couple of weeks ago-

The time and hospitality extended to us by old friends and colleagues has been tremendous.  It is something I particularly appreciate for I do see how busy people's lives are and how difficult these times have become.

I left Harvard at commencement (the graduation ceremony), trying to weave my way past masses of parents, students, their friends and families that spilled out of Harvard yard and onto the sidewalks.  It was like a giant festival with flowers, cameras, balloons, food and more.  The excitement, pride, anxiety and happiness flowed out in waves towards passive spectators like me.

The outbound train was empty.  We reached Philadelphia in the evening and then took a local train to the outskirts, near Bryn Mawr, where we spent a very happy two days with friends.  During this time, our friends took us to the Longwood Gardens, a huge area filled with beautiful two hundred year old trees, flower arrangements of different styles (some outdoors, some in green houses, some lit up in the evenings with modern optics), charming fountains, a stone bench through which sound travelled remarkably well and a giant tree house (that was not built in a tree).

All this was made possible because Pierre du Pont (an engineer by training and a very successful industrialist), in the mid-nineteenth century, decided in a 'moment of madness' to buy the property and save all the trees that were being cut down for timber.  He went on to design and landscape the area on his own and created a series of gardens based on his imagination and taste.  The area still retains a distinctly personal charm though now it's run with a professional hand by du Pont's trust.  These gardens are a wonderful illustration of how one man's dream could reach out and touch so many people, through so many years.

Back on the road - to Chappaqua (New York), to visit some more friends.  It's interesting to watch the countryside emerge as one moves away from urban boundaries.  Each little town has its own particular feel and character.  We reached on a stormy evening and braved the rain to drive to Pleasantville, a small neighbouring town, for a movie.  Parking required a little scouting and maneuvering as there is only one main road and everyone has the same destination in mind!  We watched 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'. The film is pleasantly done, it's about some elderly British people attempting to spend their retirement years in India.  The British side of it was wonderful (because of the excellent actors) and the Indian bits were bogus (Peter Sellers' accents and overly-exaggerated, unreal characters).  Nonetheless, it is a spirited, positive movie.  The audience in the little cinema clapped at the end so it was apparently well received.

On the following day we went for a short hike; the whole area is green, wild and wonderfully overgrown as there has been a warm winter and rainy spring.  After this began a long, leisurely party; some friends spent almost half a day driving or flying, in order to meet us.  The weather was just right and we sat out on a long porch that overlooked the woods, sipping margaritas and catching up on news.  Table tennis action proceeded indoors and, after a gigantic dinner, guitars were pulled out and some lovely old melodies strummed and sung.  The moon rose high and night birds called.  It was a time of shared laughter and camaraderie.

This was a long weekend- Memorial day.  Early next morning we set off to drop one of our friends to the New York airport.  The roads were clear, the path washed with early morning dew and strewn with sunbeams, showed the city in a very different light.  In the late morning there was the customary memorial day street parade with Hillary Clinton (a town resident and active participant) present amongst others.

After a hurried lunch of party left-overs, we drove back to New York city, to watch the annual performance of Dance Africa (a collection of musicians and dancers originating from sub-Saharan Africa).  We reached to find that the entire block surrounding the theatre had been converted into stalls selling modern African music, food, accessories and more.  It was packed with people dressed in flowing robes, elegant dresses, scruffy jeans and shorts.  Sounds of reggae and smells of roasted corn filled the air.  The theatre was old world and charming.  The performance demanded audience participation in the form of chants and claps.  It was different - and enjoyable, an experience that one would not easily get in cities other than New York.

We returned replete and happy.  The next day had more delights in store - a trip to the Metropolitan museum of New York - the collection is so vast that one always runs out of time here.  Quite by chance we stepped into the oldest lending library of New York city (which is now partly converted into a quaint bookstore with a large, quiet room for writers to sit and work) and also sampled some tiny tartlets at a dainty French pastry shop near Grand Central before taking the train back to Chappaqua for our last evening on the East coast.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

It's All About People

I have often heard non resident Indians ask, "How do you manage in India, dealing with all the things that just don't work?"  A couple of days ago, I got a call from a young couple who had returned to India from Cambridge (England) and found, after a year, that they could not function here - everything was unpredictable and professionally unsatisfying.  They have decided to head back to England.  While I sympathized tremendously with their problems (for I know how hard it is in India to get things to move amidst rampant mediocrity and red tape), I could not agree with them when they said it was impossible to get anything done here.

Of course, as I sit at the table and read my morning newspaper (which has arrived too late for my husband to look at), I see the headlines : 'No water in Bangalore from 12th to 14th June'.  I think to myself, "How do we manage?"  and the answer, in part, is that it's all about people.  This is of course a subjective view point, illustrated by a few of my recent encounters.

In India, a lot happens behind the scenes, and these invisible events can affect one's daily life more than they do in the west. At the same time, because so much hinges on people and their functioning (it is rarely a well oiled assembly line system), one can get a glimpse of the back stage events by trying to communicate with people.  Sooner or later, contact is established and one finds an entry point into the system.  However, this requires patience and the ability to accept short term blocks without losing hope.  

For example, today, I rushed after the newspaper man and told him the paper was being delivered late.  He told me that his entire staff had quit and he was delivering  the papers on his own until he found a new set of people.  He was apologetic and asked what time I needed the paper and I said that for the time being, it was all right.  We would read the paper in the evening.  He promised to resume early morning delivery as soon as he got some help and I know he will.  As for next week's water supply, I am not unduly troubled for I know we will all fill up our buckets and tanks.  Should we run out of water, we will find some solution for other people will need water as well.  We will deal with the situation as and when it arises; someone will always lend a helping hand during a crisis.

In the US this time, we got our news entirely through the internet.  Almost no house subscribed to newspapers any more; each person had their own computer and scanned their own preferred newspapers online.  This has been a big blow for the printed world.  Recently the New Orleans newspaper (the city's only daily paper, with experienced journalists and relatively high readership), The Times Picayune, has taken a decision to print the paper only thrice a week for financial reasons- something that doesn't make sense.  But for many people nowadays, a printout is unnecessary. For me, this is unthinkable - I find it hard to read on the computer, I would miss my periodic discussions with the newspaper man, my maid would miss the pile of newspapers she gathers to sell for recycling and so on.

When systems work efficiently, especially in a world increasingly dependent on computers, one doesn't require much communication with people.  In fact, one can live in a world of one's own making or choosing for long periods of time.  This is a luxury we don't have in India.  Of course, this phenomenon has its down side too for it is an easy addiction and one can spend long hours receiving and typing things, (even making 'to do' lists) without attending to the job at hand!  

I spent quite a few  hours in buses and trains in the US during this trip.  I noticed that the iPad and iPhone had changed things tremendously; people were always wrapped up in these gadgets- checking mail, getting information, reading or just playing games.  One time in a train (between Chappaqua and New York), I was seated next to an Indian lady who my friend introduced to me as a regular commuter.  She came from Bangalore and was an editor working with a Science journal on a subject that was quite familiar to me.  It was remarkable how many areas of overlap we had. Despite this, we didn't exchange a word.  She spent her time checking the headlines on her iPad and leaning against the window for the most part.  Perhaps for her it was just another commute to work in the familiar, controlled every day environment that she liked.  For me, it was definitely strange not to talk to a friend's friend in a crowded train, but it did not really matter.  

Of course, this being the US, the train rolled into Grand Central punctually and we went our separate ways.  In India, the train would invariably have been delayed.  We might have talked the whole way - discovered another common acquaintance or two, exchanged some thoughts on Science, complained about the wretched train system, shared some food etc.  Or, of course, we might have sat in stony silence that dragged on an hour or two more than anticipated.  Or worse, she might have begun a conversation with the person seated behind me, turning round and jabbing me in the ribs each time.  

Yes, in India, it's all about trying to keep oneself open to people in the hope that one comes across a sincere, well meaning, interesting individual.  But being dependent on a critical few in a country of so many requires an acceptance of the unexpected, unpredictable highs and lows.  Blame it on karma!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sixty Hours In Strange Places - Tips From A Tired Traveller

New Orleans to Bangalore was not a straightforward connection, especially as our departure date was unchangeable due to commitments in both places.  We were also reluctant to take early morning flights because the following international connections were only in the evening.  Therefore we chose a set of flights that I would advise people to avoid if possible - two different airline carriers (United and Lufthansa in this case) though they were part of an alliance.  By and large the Lufthansa end of things worked, but dealing with United was a complete disaster.  Flights are unpleasant (extremely rude staff, bad food) but that one can tolerate.  What is harder to put up with is United's consistent mishandling of  our luggage, both on the incoming and outgoing flights.

As I write this, I sit at home and wait for the baggage staff to call me (and they don't).  A sense of deja vu pervades.  I have spent the whole day sleeping off my weird sixty hour trip and this is what I have learned:

Always keep a toothbrush, small bottle of moisturizing lotion and an extra set of underwear in your hand baggage.  A packet of flushable, anti-bacterial toilet seat wipes, a small tube of antiseptic cream, a pack of emergency medication (for pain, allergies etc.).  A small bag of dry fruit or chocolate or anything else to get some quick calories.  If you don't mind carrying another small bag, do so even if the airline discourages it- if the flight is full, it will be checked in at the gate (a set of night clothes, socks, slippers, hairbrush and a fresh T shirt work wonders if you are stuck and there often isn't enough space in a small handbag to fit in all this).  A little extra money is always reassuring (a credit card is the best because you don't have to worry about currency conversion).

Wear sweaters rather than jackets because jackets have to be removed while going through security.  Leave enough space in the front pocket of your bag empty to slip your passport, ticket and wallet in each time you go through security.  And don't be self conscious about security checks or take them personally, everyone goes through the same irritating experience sometime or the other.  When things are annoying beyond control, I find it helpful to smile at the person who is being particularly obnoxious and curse them aloud in Hindi (any unusual language of your choice will do).  There may be other people around who know the language, but they never rat on you!  This is a win-win situation as it releases stress without causing a situation where the airport staff feel compelled to retaliate verbally.

For connecting flights, it helps if you have a visa for the stopover though this is not always possible to manage.  If you miss a flight and are put on another one, make sure you have enough time (about 1 hour if you have been checked in because it takes time to reach the gates and go through security and lines are unpredictable).  Make sure that you have something in writing (a print out is better) though this is not something the staff will easily oblige you with.  This is important though because there is often a lack of communication between the computers of different airlines and without a confirmation number, you may find that you are unable to take the assigned flight.  If you are not madly dashing to the gate in question, insist on a print out of your ticket and on getting a calling card (make sure you can use it to make a reasonable call to your home country- often these cards can only be used through special airport phones, so make sure you know where to call from).  If you have a long wait, do ask the airline people to check for other possible connections and make sure you are booked to your final destination (the staff are often lazy, incompetent and/or evasive so assume the worst and check every sector of your travel).  At each place, if possible, check that your bags are being loaded on to the aircraft by asking the staff at the gate.

What happened to us was strange but not unusual - we saw many passengers to India who were stranded or redirected.  It was a combination of scenes from the movies 'The Terminal' and 'Meet the Parents' that came to mind.  It is hard initially but it is amazing how the body and mind adapt to changing situations and how quickly one gets used to life inside airports and airplanes (this is meant to be reassuring, not disturbing)!  Do eat the last meal offered even if you are not very hungry as you don't know what lies ahead at the airport.  Keep a small bag in the front pocket of your seat and slip in  the (generally not very tasty) bread roll or muffin because often if you are stuck, even if you want to buy food, you don't get the time to.

We left New Orleans at 9.30 in the morning and reached Newark by afternoon, only to discover that our evening connection to Frankfurt was delayed.  The United staff told us not to worry, time would be made up etc.  Of course, none of this was true, in fact the staff did nothing to facilitate the speedy exit of passengers even after the flight had landed (all four buses were waiting until all passengers including those using wheelchairs had got on and obviously there was a mad scramble when we reached the airport entrance).  There was only one ground staff member present who was completely confused and told us to go  to gate C16 to get another flight immediately.  As it turned out our original flight was ten minutes delayed and we may just have made it if the staff were communicating with the gate.  But would United and Lufthansa communicate with each other?  Out of the question.  So we ran all the way, went through security only to be told that our names were not on the list and we should go back to the transfer desk.  There was a queue at the transfer desk, only one official at the desk and the family ahead of us took an hour to get their tickets sorted out.  We had already  missed our second connection.  We were then put on a third flight, fortunately we asked the lady to write down the gate and flight details to be sure.  We ran back to the gate (passed security with a physical check for both of us this time- each time you pass through security, the result is different even if your accessories are identical - I think the system is faulty by accident or design).  This time we reached the gate, only to be told that our names were not on the list and in the absence of a print out, the check in could not be done.  I dug in my heels and told them that they should call the United staff, we had not enough time to run back to the desk and return.  But United and Emirates are not really on talking terms.  No one answered the phone , no one called back.  The Emirates people cursed the United staff and sent us away as the flight was leaving.

Back to the counter and we were given the option of taking another flight to Pune which left in an hour's time.  Once more I dug in my heels and refused.  This was the last flight for the day (and it involved a twelve hour wait in Dubai and an early morning connection from Pune to Bangalore).  We had Schengen visas and we would stay the night in a Frankfurt hotel.  Easier said than done.  By a stroke of luck (or the laws of probability) we got a particularly good  man at the transfer counter.  He immediately issued hotel and food vouchers and then his shift was over.

We went to the ticketing section, to be greeted by an aggressive, irate woman, who eventually cooled down (this happens sometimes if one doesn't lose patience with the staff but obstinately keeps explaining one's point of view).  Finally we were routed to Bangalore via - London (possible only because we had a US visa)!  She gave us a printout but later we realized that it contained no information - no booking number or ticket number, just the flight numbers.  In order to check in one needs a booking number or reference number.  Back to the ticket counter.  The man who had issued our hotel vouchers was now doing the ticketing and we managed to get boarding passes and baggage tags for our first flight.  They couldn't do the second - United to Lufthansa to British Airways was just too much cross talk for them!  We used the computers in the arrival/departure hall to check into our Heathrow-Bangalore flight and when we reached the hotel, managed to print out our tickets.  Online check-ins save on time and effort at airports and decrease your dependence on the vagaries of the staff who are "assisting" you.

We did make the flights, though at Frankfurt my bag was taken from me at the gate as it was "too big" (it was in fact a standard carry-on size and many other people with similar or larger bags were allowed to take them into the flight so this was another of those airline whims that had to be indulged).  However, I realized, soon after, that I had no British visa and would not be able to collect my bag in London.  So, it was a mad dash back to the gate and eventually the obstinate lady, after refusing to return my bag, checked it in all the way to Bangalore.  This was all right by me as I had all my essentials in a small backpack.  The rest of the procedure worked out except that I am still awaiting one bag of wedding finery.

The up side of this was that we had an excellent dinner and breakfast in Frankfurt (I do like German food, whatever little I have tasted - unusual, dark breads with lots of seeds, tender veal and lean pork, white asparagus and dark, flavourful cherries, mountains of delicious whipped cream, hazelnuts and chocolate).  We also managed to catch up on shopping that we had no time for in the US.  German chocolate, marzipan, salami, British cheese, music.  The only thing left on my list was olives but I suppressed the thought of this - in fear that we would be rerouted to Italy or Greece next!  It is important to be choosy about one's wishes.  
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