Sunday, May 28, 2006

Birthday blues, again

I turned 25 this week. I previously wrote about how birthdays are not exactly a time for celebration as I see them. This one is particularly not. Turning 25 is depressing. You'll start putting on weight even if you eat just a carrot a day, you'll start losing hair where you want them, and gaining hair where you don't. You are not exactly "young" anymore. If you're Indian, your parents might greet you on arrival with a "suitable girl", whom you've never met before, but whom you're supposed to marry anyway. Not to mention your relatives, who, you suddenly find out, number in the millions.

Recently, I had the distinctly painful experience of calling 911 again -- the second time in less than a month. The reason this time: a guy on a Suzuki motorbike rear-ended my car. I had taken my bike (bicycle) out to get to work that day, but it had a flat tire (yes, again). So, I put the bike back in the garage, and drove the car. According to my insurance agency, since I was not liable, I don't need to pay "anything". But the pain of getting the car appraised, filing police reports, talking to insurance agents, and getting the actual damage fixed is payment enough. And my parking ticket count stands at 7, since March. It feels like my life is an object lesson in how everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Shashank's tech speculation for the month: Google Photo from Google (gPhoto is already taken) -- an easy to use web application for hosting photos ala flickr -- that ties in with Picasa (which Google acquired) and the rest of Google's growing suite of web applications. This is hope, more than speculation, brought on by my frustration with the upload limits on flickr's free accounts, which flickr treats like an anemic stepchild. I uploaded about 8 photos (each about 2 Mb) at the beginning of this month, and I can't upload anymore for this month! That is ridiculous, considering that with Google's Gmail (and many other email providers), you can send potentially unlimited numbers of emails of size 10Mb each. Bad, bad, flickr.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Viva la France!

Updated with better layout.

I finally got my fix of France. I visited Paris from May 10 through May 14. I stayed at a youth hostel in the Montmartrelively Montmartre district. A few blocks from my hostel is the seedy red light district of Pigalle, with the legendary cabaret: Moulin Rouge, and about a thousand sex shops. With some guys I met at the hostel, I ventured out to Pigalle every night of my stay, and took in the sights, smells and sounds, among them a million hookers, and the Museum of the Erotic -- which turned out to simply be a very, very big sex shop, with inhouse hookers. If nothing else, I had some fine pastry in one of the boulangeries, which are inexplicably numerous in Pigalle. Sex and pastry go well together, apparently...

Arun at Arc de TriompheArun (seen here at the Arc de Triomphe), who goes to school close to Stuttgart, kindly flew out to Paris for the duration of my visit, so I had good company. Arun and I went to Versailles, which turned out to be a pretty unremarkable visit.

I was initially a bit intimidated as I had heard of how Parisians are famously derisive of people who don't speak French. Dom had told me of his French experience: he was in Paris for a total of 10 minutes and he managed to get punched in the face by a Frenchman, apparently for cutting a line at the airport. After the first two nights, I was beginning to feel right at home in Paris, riding the Metro like a pro, ordering at restaurants, and using my French vocabulary of about 5 words (fromage, merde, parlay, vous, anglais) with great flourish; it was all cool. Then, I stepped on this guy's toes in a crowded Metro train, and bam--he punched me in the back. So much for the friendliness. Luckily he got off soon enough, and it didn't turn any uglier.

Shashanka and others at the Eiffel towerShashanka (seen here at the Eiffel tower with others from the hostel), who was also in Paris for a conference, connected with us in the evenings. We visited the usual tourist destinations: the Eiffel tower (spectacular), the Arc de Triomphe (imagine Delhi's India Gate, only bigger), the Notre Dame (yet another church), the Louvre (more art than you want, notwithstanding the Mona Lisa), among them. We also tried the local cuisine (French Onion Soup, roast duck, poulet roti etc.), although it was virtually impossible to get any service from the highly incompetent waiters at the cafes in Paris. The lazy bastards know they have crazy job security, and they work as little as possible.

Eiffel towerThe Eiffel Tower, in black and white. Quite easily the single most spectacular thing I have seen. Courtesy my Canon Powershot S2 IS.

Finally, my hostel. The most favorable thing I can say about it is that it had character. I booked a 3-bed dorm online, but I was assigned to a 6-bed dorm, which was about the size of a matchbox. The shower was basically a hole up in the wall from which water trickled, if it felt like it. The upper bunk beds were so creaky and loosely made that just breathing while lying down on them made them swing like Frankie Manning. Room service lost my towel on the first day. Lesson learned: never take a towel the same color as the hotel towels. In summary, if you are going to stay in Paris, the pompously named le Village is not the best option for you. On the upside, the other 5 occupants of my room were these winsome British girls who didn't think anything of changing in front of me. Not that I complained.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


So, I can bet that most of you didn't have half as exciting a weekend as I had. After all, how many of you almost got arrested for driving a 250-pound, drunk Goth woman on Saturday, and then biked 50 exhausting miles on Sunday?

It all started on Saturday evening. I met my friend Brian and Kara, his friend from church, at Christopher's -- a rather good restaurant/bar in Somerville. Kara is middle-aged, a former Goth, and a born-again Christian. She seemed to be clinging to her Gothic roots, in costume at least. When I shook hands with her, I was pricked in at least 50 different places because of all the spiky ornamentation she had covering every square inch of her hands.

Kara was pretty smashed by the time I joined them. She claimed she could drink anybody under the table. "I'm half Irish, and half Scottish", she claimed. However, within the hour, we were asked to leave Toad (next door to Christopher's), because Kara passed out near the restrooms. So much for her illustrously capacious heritage, I thought. It was decided by all gathered, that she should be taken home, before further damage to public property could occur. It took five grown men to finally put her in the backseat of my car. It was about midnight then.

At this point, Brian and I just wanted to get her home, and go back to Toad, where the music was pretty good, although our exit from Toad was quite embarassing. But Fate deemed otherwise. Kara had had at least 10 drinks that night (some Sex on the Beach, many Dirty Bastards). Halfway to her place, however, what I had been dreading all along transpired. She started getting sick. Real bad. She puked all over herself. And then on my backseat. Brian and I groaned. I decided I couldn't let her vandalize my car anymore, her wellbeing be damned. Did I mention that I am a heartless son of a bitch? So, I pulled up to the curb, and asked her to finish her business outside the car. In retrospect, that was a bad idea.

Kara managed to open the car door, but instead of stepping on to the curb, she just fell out of the car. Afraid to see what actually happened to her, we stepped out too, and went around curbside. Kara, all 250-pounds of her, was stuck in between the rear wheel of the car and the curb. If I moved the car front, she would be crushed. I couldn't move the car back either, because the backdoor, which was open, would then smash her face. And she was still going strong with the puking. I can only imagine what it looked like to passersby: A stopped car with its hazard lights on. A rather sick, obese woman dressed in black, stuck beneath the rear wheel, and two men trying to pull her out of there.

This went on for some time, after which Brian and I realized the futility of trying to move our very drunk Gothika. I decided to call 911. A trooper showed up soon enough, and first thing he did: give me a sobriety test. I had to walk in a straight line, follow his fingers with my eyes, stand on one foot, and count up to an unspecified number. He actually let me go after I got to 55. I had just had a couple beers, so I was sufficiently sober. But the irony of possibly being arrested for drunken driving while trying to help another drunk didn't escape me.

Mr. Trooper had also called for an ambulance, so help was on the way. But the stupid ambulances kept missing the exit ramp just past us, and the nearest exits in either direction were about 3 miles. So, I saw two ambulances go past us on the adjacent highway, only to get to us about a half hour later. In the meanwhile, our drunk lady companion had regained a semblance of consciousness. Not coherence, though. She started flipping the finger at the trooper, and his car, and asked him to "shut those blinding fucking lights off". To his credit, the cop retained his composure. I am not sure I would be so kind to her if I were him.

Finally, one ambulance arrived. Another cop car actually had to "escort" this ambulance to the right exit, to get to us. Fantastic. By this time, Kara was actually able to move, and hallelujah... she rolled over to the curb, leaving my car free! I had half a mind then to just drive the fuck away from all of this. The EMT team had one look at her, and knew she was good to go. Considerately enough, they gave me some sheets, and a towel, to spread over my backseat, in case of further spillage. But it was too late. My car was already smelling like Calcutta after the rains.

The two cops, the two EMT guys, Brian and me lifted Kara back into my car. I thanked the cops, and the EMT guys, and then wasted no time in driving Kara to her place. Brian and I drove to my place in silence. At my place, we got some Lysol and some cloth, and tried to clean the puke on the backseat. This was at 2.30am. A cop car doing the rounds slowed down past us, twice. I am sure they were nonplussed by two guys wiping the stains of something off the backseat of a car late at night. Fortunately, they didn't stop to ask. I won't bother you with the nightmares I had while I slept that night.

The next day, Sunday, was infinitely less fucked up, although it was tiring. I biked to Lake Cochituate with my roommate Yves. It was a good 25-mile ride each way. Confirming that my life is basically an illustration of Murphy's Law, my bike's rear tire punctured about 2 miles from the lake. And this after I had changed the tube just two days previously. Fortunately, there was a bike shop not far from the lake where Yves found a patch kit, and we patched the bike up. Somehow, the patch held on the bike ride home. Strange.