Wednesday, May 30, 2012


are depressing. Because I live in a country where the stores are filled with things that look like Mangoes, but are imposters inside. From the Cote d'Ivoire. And the South American ones are even worse: with thick reddish green skins and fibrous hard stuff inside.

Last year I ate just one mango. The Mango came from a Bangladeshi shop on the outskirts of Milan, and was a gift from a shop keeper who said I looked like his Tamilian girlfriend from 10 years ago. I wasn't sure where that conversation was going so I took the Mango and escaped. It was bigger than an Alphonso, but didn't taste like a Banganapalli. Whatever it was, it was very very good. And it was the only one.

This year when my mother visited me she brought me 3 Malgovas and 2 Banganapallis. Banganapalli is my favourite kind of Mango. I ate one a day at dinner for the next 5 days. And then they were gone.

This week, on my way to the library I found a Turkish woman selling Alphonso mangoes. They will little but they looked lovely. And so for the hideous sum of Rs 130 per mango I bought two. I finished eating the second of those this evening.

Yesterdays newspaper had an article about Indian mangoes and how they are packaged and sent all over the world. I worry that I will find no more mangoes worth eating this year, so all that remains for me is to cut out pictures and scour the newspapers for more stories about mangoes. The Hindu rarely disappoints in this regard. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

spring cleaning

this evening i decided to clean up my wallet as there seemed to be a lot of bits and bobs in it.
i found a prescription of my grandfather's.
i found the business card of an ex boyfriend in which he had noted that we had been together from july 2008 to august 2009, and that any time in the future i could barge into his life and demand that he return to me for a maximum of four days. 
i found a gift coupon from a bookshop that i dearly loved, and that closed shop in 2008. given to me by said ex boyfriend as he had won it in a quiz. we went to the bookshop together and took pictures on the day it shut.
i kept the gift coupon and threw out all the rest.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Procrastination 2.0

I have a paper due tomorrow- on Maoist movements in India and Nepal. This is why I am now going to tell you about what I ate for dinner.

On my way back home I stopped at a farmer's market the other day and bought lots of fresh vegetables. Having bought them I found I had no will to cook them. So on day one of the vegetable explosion I made guacamole pasta. I diced one avocado, a quarter of an onion, one tomato and squeezed the juice of one lemon in before adding  a tiny amount of pasta. Because the avocado was really ripe it made a sort of sauce for the pasta, but the whole thing was more like a salad. I dislike chopping onions though.

Dinner on day two had fewer ingredients.

I cut half a pod of garlic and sauteed it in a teeny bit of oil before adding one medium sized aubergine, one tomato and half a teaspoon of chilli powder. I kept the heat high and let some bits of the sliced aubergine char before pouring in a bit of water and cooking the whole thing down. Right at the end I added some chopped basil and salt.

Tomorrow I shall make myself beans with just a little bit of butter and lemon. There by bringing down the number of things i put into the vegetables down even further. This is a game I will play until my paper deadline has passed. Or until the vegetables finish.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I wish I loved Cat Stevens as much as I did when I was 13

At some point I used to listen to Cat Stevens. And his songs filled me up with happy feelings. I associated them with afternoons in middle school when I would sit with my best friend (we would make an unsuccessful foray into boyfriend-girlfriend hood a couple of years after this) and sing Beatles and Cat Stevens songs. He made me a mixed tape with Tea for the Tillerman and a couple of songs of Sheryl Crow. She hadn't hit her beach bum stage yet. One of our long standing discussions was why we didn't know of more famous female rock stars, feminist before we had learnt the vocabulary.

Soon after I turned 18 my friend died. I don't listen to Cat Stevens very much any more. At first it hurt too much because of memories of a best friend and high school boyfriend. And later he stopped making sense. The sweetness of his music no longer related very well to the somewhat more chaotic and bewildering turn that my life was taking. I discovered the Postal Service, where every song was deep and meaningful. Death Cab for Cutie, who have written an accompaniment to every kind of heartbreak.

And now I wish I could go back to having the kind of relationship I used to have with the music I listened to.  I wish I wasn't listening to Adele and singing along in her anger and rage, but just listening to her because her songs are fun. This isn't because my life is all longing, tears, heartbreak or rage. Far from it. But for some reason the music I listen to is. I am going to set about fixing this. I don't see myself going back to my Simon and Garfunkel days, but perhaps there is hope beyond this current swamp of moody indie dominated stuff.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Belgrade Continues

To breathe in Belgrade is to smoke. Most restaurants and cafes have no separate non smoking area. This is the thing that bothers me most about the city. I am now on day 4 however, and I am getting used to hiding my coat in a cupboard, or under someone else's coat, on entering a room, so that the smoke does not get into it. I have given up worrying about the smell of smoke in my hair. 

I must be one of the 3 people in the city who does not drink tea. On breaks from the workshop my policemen (I think of them as mine, because my project works for them) sniff at me, when they offer me coffee and I ask for tea. Each time this look of mild disgust and disbelief passes across their face on hearing that anyone could turn down coffee. The one thing they are most unhappy about at the workshop is that we have had to remove our coffee-filter machine thing and have replaced it with instant coffee and a kettle.

Three times now I have walked into what I think are department stores, because I like looking at shiny wrappers, and I want to know what Serbian groceries look like. Every time it has been a different chain selling cosmetics and hygiene stuff only. There are more kinds of hair dye than I have ever seen before. I studied a shampoo made with cow placenta for a while, but bought a body lotion made from goat's milk instead. I am not ready to wash my hair with the placenta of anything. I still don't know how stores are organised here. I need to investigate this further before I leave.

Yesterday a colleague of mine took me shopping with her. We ate Serbian Chinese food at a tiny restaurant in a corner of a very shiny mall. I had the spicy chicken with vegetables and wheat noodles. She had the hoisin chicken with rice. Both looked exactly the same, until the waitress covered my portion with toasted peanuts and hers with toasted cashew nuts. I got some 'chilli' sauce and mixed it with everything on my plate. It still looked and tasted exactly like her plate- which was alright. Whatever that one dish was that the restaurant made that day, and called five different things, it was good.

This afternoon's lunch at the police academy was bread, thin clear vegetable soup with an anaemic kind of noodles, cabbage salad, white beans in tomato cheese sauce, pasta with braised beef in a brown sauce, and chocolate cream cake- which I strongly suspect is the same cake that has been served for the last 3 days but covered with an extra batch of chocolate icing. There was also a choice between strawberry or sour cherry nectar. I had two glasses of sour cherry nectar and one apple. I am looking forward to dinner.

And here is a picture of the Assembly that I took myself. It is not as good as the one I posted yesterday. But at least I took this one myself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I have been in Belgrade for 3 days now. I love the city. From about ten minutes into it I felt like I could live here and be happy (except for all the smoke, but we shall get to that later).

It has been cold and rainy since my arrival, and it fits every notion I had in my head of a the beautiful grey bleakness of Eastern Europe. I arrived at the Hotel Excelsior, which is where my ex-diplomat boss likes to stay, and found that it stands bang opposite the National Assembly which is in an ex-Palace and looks like this (but without the snow).

This part of town is full of hangovers from a greater Yugoslavic past, lots of imposing buildings with fountains in front and wide roads. I love the rain. It fees delightful to be sploshing across puddles, while not freezing away. It is May, so everyone from Belgrade that I have spoken to is peeved about it, but since I just escaped an unusually unpleasant summer in Bangalore, I'm not too unhappy.

Prices in Belgrade are a relief from the unrelenting ridiculousness of Switzerland. Everything seems reasonable, and I had the most wonderful dinner, with drinks and dessert, at a very lovely restaurant for the amount I spend on a general- bought on the go from a supermarket- lunch in Geneva. And the food- day 1: bacon wrapped chicken breast with a spicy cheese salad and chips. On my second day I returned to the same restaurant and asked the waitress for something light with vegetables. Looking thrilled she said, leave it to me and marched away, only to return with 5 bits of fried aubergine and an enormous piece of chicken schitzel covered with a mushroom and cream sauce. She scowled when I wasn't able to clean my plate, and went off in a huff when I told her I wasn't able to deal with Serbian portions. She was mollified later, when I ordered a glass of rakia (a sort of fruit brandy- that is usually 40-50 % alcohol), and stayed to chat with me about things I should do while in town. After three sips of the stuff I stopped, and this time she laughed at me, because i was beginning to drop thing. Even on a full stomach quince rakia is too much for me.

The workshop I am here to attend is held at the Police Academy. Like so many other college messes the food here is not so bad that it is inedible, nor good enough to inspire you to really want to eat it. There are 25 other people who go to lunch with me, and this is what most of then eat: 2 or 3 hunks of bread, a bowl of soup, a plate of leafy salad, a plate with sides- usually mashed potatoes or chips and boiled veg, two medium sized pieces of meat or one large piece stuffed with cheese, and a slice of cream filled cake for dessert. And this is just the average. Most of the men eat more. A few of the women eat less. There is also no way to tell the women at the counter to give me a small serving of anything. Even when I say this in Serbian they look at me blankly and then move on. So when I waste half or more of the food on my plate my worried hosts keep asking if they should get me something different, but the problem is not a lack of things to eat, it is the excess.

This evening I shall go to a restaurant inside a converted opera house. Will report on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It has been exactly two months since the last time my grandfather picked up the phone and said "hello darling" to me. The last time he said it he had a coughing fit; he was taken to hospital later that night.

On most days I am ok. 84 year olds are more likely to die than others, I tell myself. Specially those with cancer. At least we had a good time when he was alive.

On some days the thought that I can never again pick up the phone and call my grandfather, or Skype with him on Sundays, or sit next to him at the dinner table and nick the food from his plate fills me up with so much grief and blankness that I am paralysed.