Tuesday, May 25

Sissy to sassy 

I’m not much of what you might call a ‘sporty’ individual, except, I’m a biking maniac. A self-confessed paper tiger and acrophobic, I tend to circumvent looking down, when, say, aloft a tall building; if I marshal up the guts to get there in the first place, that is. ‘Tall,’ in my dictionary, puts the ceiling on ten feet, or thereabouts. But I’ve grown a lot from the debut-on-airliner days, wherein, looking out the window at the Goliath fluffy clouds would send me into such a tizzy-dizzy that I had to be whisked away in thought or physical proximity, whatever worked swiftest; never mind the fact that the person flanking me was at best a complete stranger, bound by no minuscule obligation whatsoever, even if you alluded to it by that proverbial humanitarian spirit, to watch over me.

Anyhow, here’s the lesson that brought about the afore-hyped ‘elevation,’ and pumped up the so-called chutzpah I parade around with these days. Well, standing a few feet away from a solitary lighthouse and looking down a knobby pohutukawa tree on a stark cliff atop the northern tip of New Zealand wasn’t exactly the kind of exercise for a psyche like mine. But I endured it, in all consciousness. This spectacular extremity of the Kiwis’ landscape, I learned, whilst there not too long ago, bears great historic and spiritual significance. The much acclaimed pohutukawa is the Reinga, or ‘place of leaping’ in Maori mythology, where the spirits of the dead plummet off the headland and descend the roots of the 800 year old tree, and go down into the underworld, to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiiki. If only it were that uncomplicated for us lily-livered creatures. Providentially enough, though, my attention was instantly sidetracked by the merging of two mighty oceans, a roaring Tasman Sea and an all the more powered Pacific. The resulting collision was such a maelstrom of waves that it did little, if at all, to nurse the trepidation. But a strange, liberating sense of freedom and space had overcome me by then and before I could take anything in, I got ushered back on the bus, only to be taken on a further exhilarating ride along the vast expanse of what they call the ‘90 Mile Beach.’ Therein, I gathered, the sky-high waves can actually be as unpitying as they seem -- no human that ever tread a few yards into them had come out alive. Neurosis status, you ask? At freezing echelon, by then. Nonetheless, with the ears still resounding the yowling of the deep, an even more hair-raising trip over the shifting sands of the Te Paki Stream followed; and the colossal west coast sand dunes were just round the corner. I had only just taken a good look around, when I was summoned and handed a ‘boogie board’ to lie on, stomach down. Just as I readied my panic-stricken mind for what was to come, the sudden prospect of having to go down that steep sand dune positioned like that, made me bawl my lungs out. I found myself behave like a child that’s being flung into thin air, I wailed and whimpered. But the guide wasn’t going to let me go simply --- it was really de rigueur, he said. He dragged me to a smaller, less daunting mound of sand and backed me up with some good grounding. So what ensued was my real turn to hit the real sand.

I stood there and witnessed many rollovers and mishaps and became more convinced my kismet would be no different. People were being hurled like lumber on planks, and when they’d touched bottom, they appeared to have casually separated from their boogie boards. I was prepared for the absolute pits. Clenching my fists, I lay down on the boogie board, like a goat ready for its sacrificial ceremony. With my compassionate family cheering on and a gentle prodding by the guide, I was sent gliding down...eyes shut, nerves twisted, brain numbed, heart pounding, voice muted, I landed at the base, slightly bruised and utterly exhilarated to be alive.

Surely, you’ve figured how knocked out I was, but droll as it may seem, I did go back and forth on many more rounds. Like all’s well that ends well, it took a few adrenaline-pumping sashays down some gigantic sand eskers to turn me into a daring, outdoorsy freak. Needless to say, my life hasn’t really been the same since. Aside from being a triumphant boogier, I have also taken a crack at a few other activities that are clearly the terrain of the stout swashbuckler in these parts of the world -- skiing, for instance. And just as I’m recounting this, I’m being called on to prime myself for an impending countryside crusade. The phobias, incidentally, have gone on a teensy escapade by themselves --- they’re out flying a kite!

Wednesday, May 19


There’s no telling what a silly sneeze can do to you…especially when you’re a baseball star. All Sammy Sosa had to do was unleash a couple. And the Cubs are paying for it, right through their noses. A sneeze happens, it is said, when the inside of your nose gets tickled, and this tickle sends a message to your brain, to a 'sneeze center,' to be precise. The ‘sneeze center’ passes the message on to all the muscles that have to work together to bring out a convoluted sneeze. Now these muscles, mind you, are a team in themselves. The stomach muscles, the chest muscles, the diaphragm, the muscles at the back of your throat, the ones that control your vocal cords, as well as the eyelid muscles.

Imagine the impact of two such drawn-out sternutations on muscles like Sosa’s. They straightforwardly bestowed him with a sprained ligament in his lower back, and a spot on the ‘disabled’ list. He missed Sunday's game in San Diego, after, what the media has been promulgating very anxiously as ‘two vehement sneezes,’ triggered pangs of twinges in his back. Dr. Schaefer, the Cubs' orthopedic specialist, examined Sosa before Tuesday's game against the Giants, and tests exposed a sprained ligament.

An epidural or two to alleviate the inflammation and stabilize that stressed lower back, it is hoped, might just about get him back in shape. But then, as hard as Sosa swings, one wonders if he needs to slacken for more than a couple of weeks in a row. Dusty Baker and his men are sure keeping their fingers crossed…and all one can hope in these times of adversity is that they don’t, consequently, come down with peculiar cases of Distal or Proximal Interphalangeal (read finger knuckle/ middle) joint injuries. Bring on the panacea, Dr. Schaefer!

Tuesday, May 18

Cleanliness is so next to Godliness! 

Home keeping is grisly business, more so if you’re a cleanliness freak like myself. Spring’s long gone, and I haven’t wrapped my rounds of tidying up yet. I continually find dust wading its malevolent way back into every nook that I, with poise believe, have scoured through. Trust me, I have tried putting the trendiest of gadgets and brushes and wipes and sprays to use, with every knack that any living human of my tribe could ever possess. But dust - there simply is no busting wholly. It takes a certain allegiance coming from a resolute fighter, to triumph over.

Then again, I do have my precincts --- I cannot lug that brawny vacuum all by myself to all those remote attics and wicked crannies. And that’s when I forlornly think back to the good old Indian broom - handy and robust all the same. I am wary of using gloves, but cannot get my hands to stroke all that grime directly. I still reminisce the initial days, when I was fraught with living down the olden days of glory, when I used to lead a laidback, easy life, courtesy my maid. Invariably when I have to empty the trash. I loathe the very thought of carrying soggy, rotting vegetable peels, smelly leftovers and soiled tissues to the disposal unit, cleaning the baskets, and lining them with fresh plastic. My poor maid took care of all that very painstakingly, and my involvement with all that garbage was limited to just filling it up.

Sometimes the routine gets so dreadful that I end up having all that dirt ramble through my dreams. Those soapy spots on the bath mirror, those bolshie little specks of dust on the telly…they come to haunt me one way or another. Unsurprisingly, I can truly relate to Monica of F.R.I.E.N.D.S and Jerry of Seinfeld, albeit I’m just short of a clinical disorder; and I don’t shy away from admitting so. Also, I’ve come to understand that there is, indeed, an indubitable boon in this, contrary to what many outside the clan would rather suppose. One doesn’t have to fret about germ-infestations or unsanitary conditions when one is a cleanliness maniac. No guilt trips or sullied scruples either. Come winter, spring or summer, the mop always beckons…

Wednesday, May 5

Fatherland of an architectural revolution 

Hassle-free jaunts are virtually few and far between when you dwell in a windy city such as mine. But some perseverance and a dogged mind can actually take you places, pun very intended. This I say, after we braved the blustery weather thrown at us along with intermittent showers, last weekend, to go on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio, in Oak Park. And once there, we forgot all about the bleakness of the conditions, and focused instead, on marveling at that piece of organic architecture, or 'frozen music,' as Wright used to allude to it.

The 'horizontal' prairie style does have a strange propensity to make you feel one with nature…the red earth adobes, the verdant walls, low windows, and low roofing…appear cleverer and more practicable than the taller, dramatically ornate, Victorian style buildings. Not that I’m a trained architecture appreciator or critic, but it just seemed too palpable too ignore, or resist. Sent to an uncle's farm in Wisconsin to work and learn in his teens, Wright, we were told, became fascinated with nature and developed profound reverence for it. It was there that he began to ponder the theory of integrating architecture with nature. He is supposed to have told his apprentices, "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. Whether people are fully conscious of this or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the 'atmosphere' of the things they live in or with. They are rooted in them just as a plant is in the soil in which it is planted."

Now to some notable facets of the interiors --- the living room with a distinctly shallow fireplace, which centers the building down, the master bedroom with windows designed like the Japanese kimono, a noticeably huge attic in the kids’ play room, transformed into a balcony, and the natural light inlets, among other things, were effusive tell tale signs of Wright’s exceptional inventiveness. Wright believed that a building was not merely a place to be but a "way to be"; it had to reflect its surrounding and the people who would be using it. And he explained a beautiful building as, "more than scientific - they are true organisms, spiritually conceived; works of art using the best technology." The studio entrance was adroitly hidden by a mass of metal-sculpted storks guarding the ‘bible’ of architecture, as Wright apparently liked to bamboozle his visitors. But once you’ve made your way in, everything’s clear and within a direct field of vision. And it was in there that we learned, Wright not only designed buildings, but developed complete, cohesive environments: from the structure and the landscape to furniture, fixtures, fabrics, as well as ornamental accessories. As our guide pointed to the infamous hand stroked copper urn and a tall, lean, iron vase as proof of just that, he was considerate enough to mention we could buy replicas at the gift shop. There were scores of layouts, drafts and sketches secured in safes, vaults and shelves, some even pinned on the walls of his personal library. As I couldn’t decipher those lines and curves, I will safely say they were works of a genius, all right. Once out of the place, I could tell a wave of concord had descended upon the group, even as we were ushered into the gift shop. Conscientiously scanning the exhibits, I found all the crystal, metal and wooden knick-knacks too pricey for my curio collection. I had to make do with a couple of postcards, instead. Of such infinitesimal pleasures is a prudent living made. But if knowledge and travel-fanaticism are any yardsticks to go by, I'm now richer by more than a million. Besides, my dream house just got envisioned as well, prairie style, of course!