Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Florence + Two days + Two Teenagers = Parenting Skills' Test (Day One)

It has been a while since I've put a post together. It has been a busy summer- lots of travelling and millions of reasons to thank the universe for. Hopefully, I can share some of the magic with you, too.

Let's start with Florence.

I guess the title of this post hints at the mutiny I faced in the land of Art. By the end of Day Two, the teenagers had roped their father in, too. But, I'm jumping the gun here.

It started out just like any other holiday- well researched and broadly based on the 'advice' of others who've gone there before us.

We landed in Milan and embarked upon our Italian road trip.

We were very lucky to find a great place to stay in Signa (near Florence) called the Borgo Villa Castelletti ( The owner, Alessandro, came out to greet us like we were old friends-  with arms outstretched and a booming 'welcome' breaking the silence of the surroundings. I actually turned around to check if he was headed towards someone behind me- but he wasn't. All the staff here were warm and always ready to help. The breakfast was sensational- fresh local produce - we enjoyed cherries and apricots, yogurts and bread and the ubiquitous espresso, served with a smile in the beautiful Tuscan outdoors. There was a bowl of flax seeds as well- I was impressed.

This was the view from our window...

And the corner that sealed the deal for me. How cute is this kettle?

After breakfast, we drove to and  parked at Signa train station and took the train to Florence. Fifteen minutes later, we were paying to get into the Basillica di Santa Maria Novella.

Two things struck me as unusual here. First, that we had just paid over 20 Euros to get inside a church! And second, the incredible light inside. Light streaming through stained glass, dancing as candle light, bouncing off surfaces like wrought iron, brass, marble and lace. It was spell binding.

The incredible ceiling...

The light, lace and the candles.

The gift shop.

The Sky Gods were getting ready to take a shower ( my son's theory of why it rains when he was about three years old- we were living in London then and it rained pretty much every day there; so I did not challenge his theory.)

My immediate concern was to find cover and still make good use of our 'tourist' time in the city. When one is in Florence for two days, one needs to make the most of it. Right?


Armed with my knowledge of the weather and smug with my plan to go into the one FREE building in this part of Florence, I shepherded my brood towards The Duomo. 

We made it just in time. The Sky Gods had started their water fight. The sky roared and thundered and it poured.

The Duomo offers free guided tours in various European languages. As the English guide was not available, a French speaking guide did an excellent job of relating the history and art of Duomo to us.

I hinted at going through this door to climb the 400 plus steps but the first murmurings of revolt could be heard under my teenagers' breath. I chose to ignore it. BIG MISTAKE!

When we stepped out...

photo credit: the husband
Thanks to the many Italian gelatarias here, the Jain clan was sweetened up to start the walk from the Duomo to Ponte Vecchio (the oldest of Florence's six bridges across the River Arno). The walk, however, turned into a battle of wits as the teenagers (who weren't used to walking for four hours at a stretch in hot Doha), started playing the 'do we have to?' and the more challenging 'why do we have to?' tune. 

I saw red and the rest as they say is histrionic history- a scene of a mother lecturing (with lots of emotional blackmail thrown in) her children on a footpath  about how wonderful this experience should be and how this should open up their perspective of the world and how if all they wanted to do was sit, we should've stayed at home. Even I would hate Florence if I was being given that lecture. But, hind sight is a great thing.

So the next set of pictures was taken while my brood brooded ten feet behind or in front of me and I tried to calm my rattling nerves while taking pictures.

Ponte Vecchio:

photo by husband

"Legend has it that if you and your loved one attach a padlock to any surface of the famous bridge and then throw away the key into the Arno River below, your love will last forever. Millions of couples have come to the Ponte Vecchio for expressly this reason, to lock in their love and throw away the key for eternity."   
Information coutesy:

Had I known this fact, I would've carried a lock, but I only found out after I came back home and googled this phenomenon- lucky for us (the husband and me ) as the number of good looking Italian men found on these streets would tempt me to carry a whole bunch of padlocks...just in case:) 

Let's cool it and focus, aha...the beauty of nature calls...

The river and its inhabitants:

The rain played hide and seek with us as we made our way to Piazza Pitti to feed the hungry children. Food always makes everything fine. The silence of the Jains was broken by diving into delicious sandwiches. We sat indoors and watched the birds play in the drizzle.

The rain was pitter- pattering down and all four of us were ready to walk the streets of Florence. The next set of pictures is anything that caught my eye while we made our way back to the train station.

For my English teacher friends:- an ambiguous statement...

Wall Art...

The street opposite the Dolce and Gabbana kids store- I think they were doing a promotion of some sort. It all looked very inviting.

The day ended on a high with the best pizza I have had in my life. This was at a family run restaurant called Ristorante de Foffo (recommended by Alessandro) in Signa. I can honestly say that their mushroom pizza was awesome. Obviously, we had to finish the meal with gelato and this place was gelato heaven...

The hotel looked even more beautiful in the evening light. The family was all too glad to rest their tired feet.

LESSON LEARNT on DAY ONE:-  Food comes before Art or Culture. 

Don't worry, I have another day of Florence which I'll share in my next post and some more lessons I learnt as a mother of teenagers on a trip to Florence.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Of Doors and Shekhawati in Rajasthan.

Two weeks ago, I decided to take a month off from work so that I could catch up on reading and writing.

I haven't even picked up a book- let alone turn the first page.

And  today is the first time I've sat down to write!

Why? you ask.


Yes, the list of 'becauses' is a dark well of excuses which sucks creativity and thrives on guilt (or any other negative emotional factor).

Guilt? Why guilt? It's a funny thing guilt...somehow, WE,  the women seem to suffer from it more than the men.

My guilt skips around housework and hops on top of the kitchen stove - teasing me into sorting out the cupboards, cooking meals and folding the laundry and cleverly enticing me away from my personal pleasures- reading and writing.

So, today, after dropping my son off to school, I came back home armed with a strong resolve to get rid of the guilt, shut my eyes to the unmade bed and just write.

As I turned the key to open my front door, I realised that I had held the key to my guilt all along - that I am the chief key holder of my life. What I let in through the door is entirely my choice.

I'm sure a year of practising yoga has something to do with this 'awareness'-this simple truth that my day is mine to mould the way I want to. It is liberating.

Yes, the mundane can't be ignored but emotions like frustration, fear, guilt, regret, and anger can be asked to leave my door step after they've rung the bell because let's face it...they do tend to pay regular visits.

My front door in all it's infinite wisdom asked me to think about the many doors I open and close every day.

Doors that let in friends.
Doors that promise a warm family gathering when you open them.
Doors you look back at and check that they are secure when you leave.
Doors that glare at you with a teenager's angst when you try to enter them.
Doors that succumb to the clothes stuffed behind them and pour their hearts out when you open them.
Doors that are shut quietly when the amorous juices start flowing but still manage to groan in mischief.
Doors with big brassy name plates announcing the importance of the room's occupant.
Doors happy with 'welcome home' signs.
Doors with dodgy locks in public toilets screaming silently in panic.
Doors with sweaty slippery handles- apprehensive with the outcome of a job interview.
Doors you never knock on and
Doors you ALWAYS knock on.
Doors with a 'foot in' - promising a secure career progression.
Doors with a glass ceiling- unrelenting.
Doors that are never shut and
Doors that never open
Doors that exist only in our minds.
Doors that hide painful memories and are barred shut but do sometimes creak open.
Doors that rattle with rage when the ego is bruised.

Is opening a door different from closing one?
Do we even need doors?
Do we need these filters to protect us or the ones who live with us?
How many doors have you opened recently?
And have you shut any?

I opened a door to practising yoga a year ago
and that made me realise
that I am okay with just a door frame-
A 'dehleej', a 'chaukhat'
Where my feelings can park for a bit
And enter only if I give them permission.

I am alive and I can't deny that visitors like
love and pain, laughter and guilt, anger and joy
will stop by every day
But who I let in
and who I ask to leave
Entirely up to ME.


All this talk of doors reminded me of a trip I had taken to Shekhawati in Rajasthan.  This was in February of 2013 and I wasn't blogging then.

The trip was organised by a dear friend from college, Aparna Acharya (who deserves a post dedicated entirely to her for what she does for a living). Yes, she opens a lot of doors to let people see the beauty of India.

I won't be writing any captions for the following pictures. I would like for you to just soak in this beauty the way I did while wandering the streets of Shekhawati- the land of frescoes, doors and windows, arches and domes and warm and  inquisitive people.

And if you like what you see and would like to go, you can visit and start planning:)

Aparna had arranged for us to stay at Roop Niwas Kothi in Nawalgarh... the perfect place to come back to and relax after a day out in the biggest art gallery (I've ever seen) that is this town.

I can't resist posting the following picture of our loo...

There was even a nook for my book...

The view from our room door...

So this journey comes to an end. 
It started almost three hours ago when I decided to just do it. 
I think it's time to take a break and relax. Have a wonderful day everyone and do share your doors -
memorable, ordinary, extra-ordinary, tangible or otherwise with me.