The City of Palaces is the oldest in the Americas, home to ancient pyramids, intriguing museums, glorious cathedrals as also to yesteryear artists extraordinaire, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Fascinating as it is, some of the city streets are named after famous poets from all over the world – Lord Byron, Tennyson, Edgar Allen Poe. A beautiful street lined with avocado and orchid trees is named Ruben Dario after the great Latin American poet. Walking along tall, old acacia trees as bikers on eco-friendly red bikes zoom past, I spot statues of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. High-end restaurants located inside old haciendas evoke images of an era gone by. A hundred years after the Mexican Revolution, the class divide continues to be painfully prevalent even as trinket sellers in the zocalo proudly wear T-shirts with pictures of Latin American leftist leaders, the most conspicuous of which is of course, the legendary Che Guevara. Interestingly, the Cuban Revolution had been planned by Castro and Guevara in Mexico City, adding yet another dimension to the place. Though Mexico’s capital has a character all of its own, parts of the city can be likened to Paris and Madrid and even Delhi because of the riveting blend of the old and the new that manifests itself in the historic monuments and the burgeoning corporate skyscrapers.
Every time Coldplay’s Viva la Vida begins to play, it feels as though a revolution is underway. A riveting blend of intelligent lyrics and sweeping orchestration, much like Frida Kahlo’s painting of the same title, the song shouts out to new awakenings. There has been much speculation about the theme of the song. I think it really is about perception. The song could be talking of the French or Russian Revolutions and due to the title, Mexican Revolution as well. However, given that the band is British, from a purely British perspective, it is Anne Boleyn who comes to mind. The most famous queen consort, a well read, far travelled person, the heroine of the English Reformation and mother of a trail blazing monarch, Anne Boleyn makes for the quintessential fallen yet glorified royal. The line, “For some reason I can’t explain …” is especially evocative of her plight before she was executed.
The Ikea ad always has me smiling and thinking. Of course, the dream lives on. It, however, has taken on new meanings and people are living it in diverse ways. Somehow, now in the wake of the changing social and political climate, the ad seems to resonate deeper than before, a reminder perhaps to value people and experiences over things and materials.
The Panama-California Exposition was held in San Diego in 1915 to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, which unfurled astounding vistas for San Diego as it was the first port for ships sailing north-west through the canal. It put San Diego on the map as a major naval base and a center of Spanish-Colonial architecture, which was the highlight of the exposition. Thereafter, the architectural style caught the fancy of Hollywood stars and moguls who build Spanish-Colonial villas across southern California. Today, a misty day turned sunny as I strolled around the sites of the exposition, which tell tales that no historical records can. Marveling at the heavily-textured buildings, I could sense the pride and fulfilment of the San Diegans who hosted the exposition a hundred years ago with the hope to offer a more vibrant and richer San Diego to future generations. The baroque ornamentation on the buildings is caught and held in my mind, an inspiration to pursue new hopes and dreams.
March skies are a peculiar frothy blue as if painted by an inspired artist with quick, coarse strokes. Birds fly briskly under the mellow sun and despite the soft breeze, the pines are still, as though caught in thought. Everything around is young, learning the robes at a happy pace. Outside of the Griffith Observatory on Mount Hollywood, they all seem to draw near – the sky, the sun, the birds, and also a few dimmed out-by-the-sun constellations, and one hopes that they’d always stay that way- remarkable, resplendent but close, waltzing ecstatically to a subliminal celestial tune.
I have been growing purple geraniums in my front and back yards for over a decade. Formally named Martha Washington after their famous planter, the flowers are commonly referred to as Regal Geraniums due to their color and velvet texture. Every spring, they light up my outdoors, splashing the air with cheer. Ideally suited to the arid southern California soil, they form resplendent symbols of beauty and fortitude, tenaciously spreading across the garden every spring, in rain as well as in shine, each plant overflowing with charming, big blooms all the way through fall. Interestingly, on my trip to Florence, an engaging cafe owner told me an anecdote about geraniums, that dates back to World War II. The story goes that when the Nazis bombed Florence in 1944, human life, historic buildings, valuable artifacts, rare fauna and lush foliage were destroyed. As the city of Michelangelo and Leonardo-da-Vinci sat steeped in gloom for months afterwards, residents couldn’t help noticing that tiny geranium samplings had begun to creep up again from the mud, the rubble and the many forgotten nooks, gradually restoring color and vibrance to war- stripped Florence. The story is one of my favorites to tell, testifying to the spirit of survival. Each time, I share it, it makes me fall in love with my resilient purple geraniums all over again. The fact that plants so pretty and delicate have the power to surmount the worst possible calamity makes them unforgettably inspirational, impelling us to rise and shine despite the odds. In these singularly uncertain times, there are so few things that one can be certain of, one of which is knowing that nothing can keep my purple geraniums from returning every spring – neither the winter and El Niño nor drought and water shortage. Even as I cut back the geranium stems every November, I smile big knowing that my spunky little plants will bounce again in color and glory soon after the new year sets in. Thank God for small wonders. Thank God for my purple geraniums and their abiding promise of hope and happiness.
Del Mar, the beach front community that I am so lucky to call home, is a fantasy of sorts, where summer lasts all year long, where youth seems, so to say, eternal and dreams invincible. The beaches are perennially busy with people frolicking along the squiggly shoreline as the rugged land embraces the enormous water, offering a sight at once formidable and inviting. Del Mar’s beach at 15th Street with its lush Torrey Pines and unforgettable sunsets is much adulated by film and print media. It is, however, the surfer boys of Del Mar who shower it with utmost adoration. They show up with their gear every day to ride the waves even when it is misty or raining as though to keep an ardent promise made to the beach, a pact so inviolable that they’d rather risk their lives than break it. The surfer boys are enrapturing pictures of beauty and perfection as they ebb and rise on the ocean floor, doing a dance both calming and brave, real and ethereal, many of them waiting for hours to catch a perfect wave to ride on, presenting a timeless lesson in practice and patience. Today is yet another glorious day in Del Mar, holding out sunny assurances. A stranger smiles and nods as I look up from my writing on a green patch by the shore. Farther up, a surfer boy walks into the water, surf board and paddle in hand. In the distance, I see a big wave coming and sensing his euphoria, I grin. Everyday is a reason to believe. Life is a beach.