The Art of Map-Reading

Vancouver is right across the U.S. border on the Canadian side, but rum, how it gave us a unique experience, just by not having access to our cell phones while out and about there. I’ve written about how our generation’s boon and bane is the smart-phone.

The simplest of things can bring on a pang on nostalgia. For instance, free Wi-Fi was not as easy to come by, and the first thing the husband did was pop into a store to buy a good old fashioned paper map of Vancouver and its surrounding areas. He was thrilled with this map and reveled in the joy of looking up routes, and roads. I was thrilled that he could not badger me to see if the traffic up ahead is red, or yellow, (2nd paragraph here) and could peacefully drink in the beautiful scenery.

Paper map of Vancouver
Paper map of Vancouver

While there, the daughter sat up front while her father drove and gibbered away at his ear.

It was time to figure out the best way to go from Point A to Point B and the task fell on the daughter. “I am no good at directions!” she moaned, but it held no water. With Privilege Comes Responsibility, we said and shoved the map in her hands. Her reaction was one her 16 year old self would have approved of.

We are all creatures of habit in some ways. I remember one time sitting for a Mathematics paper in school, only to find that the question paper drew a right angled triangle upside down. We are all used to seeing the right-angle in the ‘L’ position, so when drawn in the ‘7’ position, it required re-orientation and I chuckled at how our brain gets befuddled for a moment before acquainting itself to recognize a familiar Pythagorus problem.

Why drag poor Pythagorus into a post on Vancouver musings? I’ll tell you. Whilst on our vacation, we went to a lighthouse. Just a whim. Lighthouses have a way of looking welcoming to folks a-visiting and we made a beeline for it. This one let us climb a rickety staircase to the top and see a non-functioning light. Obviously, this excited the children to no-end and they took us on guided tours up the rickety stairs exhorting us like we were 82 year olds with a wobbly sense of balance.
* Step sideways! *
* Hold on to the railing! *
* Careful, you can fall down all the way down from here. *
I must say my 82 year old self would have been happy at the care and consideration.

Lighthouse : image Source: through Google Search
Lighthouse : image Source: through Google Search

Inside the lighthouse, there was a museum of sorts downstairs and the caretaker inside was itching to talk to somebody. It was a glorious summer day outside and no one had bothered to come inside the lighthouse. He must have had a morose sort of day being couped up inside when folks outside were flying kites, running, jumping, climbing up slopes while letting the sea breeze rustle their hair. So, when we went in, he let loose a torrent that would have had his lighthouse forbearers proud. He told us about the different frequency lights, and the size of the lanterns, how far away they could be seen and on and on he went. My friends and I were reduced to “Hmm”-ing and “Aah”-ing. When he drew breath, we could say, “That sounds marvelous.” but nothing else.. He spoke to us about the different types of lights used in the days of yore and how the current lighthouse is not functional. A small voice in my head went off: If it is not currently functional, why have this poor man sit here and do nothing? I was not left to ponder on these thoughts for very long, for the sail winds had deposited me in front of a wall. The wall had a large map and on this map, the poor man pointed out three spots that formed a sort of triangle among lighthouses.

Thus far in the proceedings, I could not be classified as anything but blasé. I had been a polite head nodder and took in little of substance. I could not, for instance, hold fort at a lighthouse if the demand arose, in spite of the extensive information I had been given by the kind man. Yet, the map shook me. You see, the lighthouses seemed to be in a triangle, and what was worse, it seemed to be overlooking land. But that could not be right, since we were on an island.
“So, anyone trying to attack the Puget sound…” he went on, but I was not listening.
I stopped him, ”So, were there any land-based attacks?” I asked still fogged. I had to get to the bottom of this mystery.
“No…no. This was a Naval Base, and as such designed to protect us from attacks from the Waters.”
“So, when you say this was a Naval base and there could be attacks from the bay, how could these lighthouses have detected them?” I asked him totally unable to understand the whole thing.

The poor man. If he had had a day where people were agog at his work, he would have swept me out to sea then and there. But as it was, I was the only person who had shown the remotest interest and he sighed a bit and then adopted a kindly tone that was at once slower and louder. “You see this? “ he said waving his hand at the map. “This is one point in the triangle, and this is the second and this is the third. Only three points in a triangle.”

“Yes. I see the triangle.” I said stung.
“Good! Yes, so you see the Russians could not get to us.”

“But this is an island, right? How would the Russians coming on land be detected by the lighthouse?”

I could feel my friends inch away from me a bit. But I was intrigued now and nothing, not even looking like a fool, could stop me now. The man at the lighthouse mopped his brow. (It was a hot day), and tried explaining yet again. He had learnt his script by heart and had, apparently, not yet taken the Daft Questions Training. He simply repeated the whole thing. It was when he reached the great part this erstwhile lighthouse had done to protect the shores of this great land that I figured out something.

“Wait a minute! What is that brown patch? Is that the Puget Sound?”
“Yes it is. You see there is point #1 of the triangle, and there is point #2…”
I stopped the man mid-sentence and beamed at him. “No need to explain anymore my dear man! I have understood all! “ I told him. He beamed at me, thinking to himself that that script must be marvelous and that he only needs to repeat it multiple times everyday and all his problems and of those visiting his lighthouse would be solved.

Reading a map
Reading a map

We all know Land is depicted in Brown color, who depicts Water in Brown? I flashed back to this and narrated it to general hilarity in the car, and assured the daughter that she could not fail, and that if she tried hard enough, she could ensure we stayed on land and not plunge into the ocean near Vancouver.

There is something about humor that acts as a stimulant. She sat there figuring out which street we were on and by that finding out which road we needed to get onto and got us there without dragging us through the city unnecessarily. Which is more than can be said for some people who cannot bear to see the traffic back up for more than 2 minutes.

Tea Please!

For a 1-night trip to a destination 4 hours away, there really was no need for me to act like the Sergeant Major in Akbar’s Army about to embark on the Battle of Panipat. I can imagine him inspecting the elephants, looking over the horses, asking the chief trainer why it is taking so long to domesticate rhinoceroses, talking to the kitchen manager to make sure enough supplies have been packed for the long march ahead etc.

My tasks as I went about the house gathering things were just as varied. Make arrangements to feed the fish, take care of the trees, pack the snow pants, gloves and caps, butler up and pack the food, take on spare shoes, DVD, audio books, physical books, kindles. By the end of all this impressive bustling, the car trunk looked reasonably well occupied. The children and their parents were all counted and loaded. We backed out of the garage when I yelped like a cat that caught a stray pellet from a naughty child.  It was as if a bolt went through me. “What?”,  WHAT?”, “Amma!” the voice modulation on each expression would have had Opera teachers proud. I murmured a sheepish ‘Sorry’ and scampered off to get a last minute something from the kitchen. I prudently hid it in the handbag.

“What did you miss?”

“Yes – Amma. The car is full of stuff!” said the daughter who had made the last seat into a sort of villa with curtains, pillows and a blanket. I doubt whether Emperor Akbar was as comfortable in his royal palanquin as she was.

“I’ll tell you later.” I said in a mysterious tone, donning a serious expression, for I was sure to be ticked off had they known what the commotion had been about.

I don’t know about you, but I find being perfectly dressed a chore. By perfectly dressed I mean for the weather. Take for instance, Tuesday. I checked the weather forecast, and it looked pretty much the same as Monday. On Monday, I felt like a shaved penguin in Patagonia, for it might have been bright, but it was tooth-chatteringly cold even indoors. My cotton slacks and sandals were struggling to keep bodily warmth and by the time I stumbled into the house and drew up in front of the heater, I was beginning to lose feeling in my toes.  So, the next day, I turtled up and wore, I mean, I bucked up and wore a turtle neck sweater, closed shoes and went proudly, only to be sweating mildly.

Anyway, the point is, when I mess up on such a grand scale while looking at the weather forecast for a place I live in, I can be pardoned for messing up on a trip, right?

We started out from Spot A to Spot B. Spot A clearly thought it was May, and had asked the sun to shine that way, while Spot B thought it was January. It is only when we got down from the car to take in the breath-taking view that one realized that breathing in was alright only because the air does not freeze.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 9.48.04 AM

Chill-blaines crept up within an hour of being exposed and when I dashed into the department store for some milk, my mind was craving a good cup of tea.

“We can stop at Starbucks!” said fellow car-inmates, but I scoffed on an impressive scale even if I had to swallow some cold-ish air in the process.  I stuck my nose up in the air and said that Starbucks may have gotten a lot of things right, but an Indian tea? No Sir. Epic Fail. I miss the good old cuppa Indian tea more than I can say on trips like these.

A few minutes later, we had washed up ashore inside our rental spot and I was rattling about in the kitchen. The children got their hot cocoa and I made us some impressive Indian tea scented with cardamoms and ginger. Just the right amount of tea, right amount of sugar at the right temperature.

Tea Please
Tea Please

Allow me to enjoy a moment of contentment with the tea. When you visit a place like this, it is but natural to view the hot cuppa tea with a devotion meant for divinity.

Once the tea had made its way in and warmed our innards, I confessed that it had been for the tea that I had dashed into the house at the last minute.  All was forgiven, and I got the indulgent eye from everyone. “You and your tea!”

Yes. Me and My tea and proud of it! Well, even NPR covered the tea:

In the words of George Orwell:

Much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet.

P.S: This has already become a decent length blog.  I just might follow it up with another tea-blog for, ‘Traveling and Tea’ brings so many memories flooding into the brain.

Service with a smile

I wonder whether the poor thing would have a roof over its head tonight, or be let to stand outside.  California is warm now, so it should be okay. Ever since I knew the husband, I knew the car. Better yet, I’d received an appraisal about the car and therefore the husband’s tastes from a friend who had met him before I set eyes on him or the car.

I loved our Acura Integra. I loved the moon roof, and the fact that it made a noise like a whirring jumbo jet when pushed hard. Come to think of it, I never named the car, or associated a gender with it. After my long ride home on the public transit, I would find myself humming something and walking towards my car, only to find the engine start up with the same song I’d been humming a minute ago. The whole day, the tune would have slipped my mind, but the sight of the car would bring it on again.

Not a single complaint from it when we posed in front of it, or parked it in front of national park entrances for the ‘Patel shot’. If ever a car had a smiling face, it was the Acura Integra model we had.

The husband’s write-up on the car when it reached 100K is here.

Today, we sold the car. I’ll miss you Acura – thanks for the decade long journey.