Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Strangers in a strange land - II: The bus to Fussen

There are two castles that you cannot afford to miss if you happen to be in Bavaria. The Neuschwanstein (literally, the new rock of the swan) & Hohenschwangau (the lofty swan). So when Antara & I, having experienced these two castles & having managed to get drenched in the freezing rain, awaited the bus to Weiskirche at the foothills of the castles, it seemed to me that the very best of our day was already behind us. In many ways, that as not the case.

The bus ride to Wieskirche was rather event less except perhaps we were the only people on that bus who were going to weiskirche. So we got a little chatty with the driver only to find out how to get back to Fussen & the like. The sky was murky, & the church stood rather non-descriptively beneath it.

Those of you who have not seen the Weiskirche will draw little from my description, devoid as it will be of nuances of rococo. But what we saw was absolutely breath-taking & we lingered on for quite a while.

Waiting for the bus back, I had to quickly go relieve myself in the basement lavatory of the market outside the church. Upon arriving back on earth, I found that absolutes sheets of torrential rain were drenching everything around, & that my wife is nowhere to be seen. I decided to wait over a cigarette, & as I was puffing away, I managed to see the headlights of a bus flickering as if something incredibly urgent depended on it. Looking closer I saw my wife gesticulating wildly at me from inside the bus - she was holding it for me - so, grudgingly as always, I stubbed out the half-smoked stick & ran towards the bus.

It was being driven by the same person who had brought us to the wieskirche. I went up to him to pay. He asked if we had paid once to get to the foothills of the castles & another time to get to weiskirche. To this, I said yes. He then refused to accept a ticket payment from us arguing that our payments had already exceeded the amount for a day-ticket. I generaly do not argue against not having to pay up, but all this niceness around did something to me & I pressed him for a payment. He simply refused each time mustering whatever English lay at his disposal.

Antara & I sat back & started looking out at the resplendent rain-washed roads, & the castles in the distance.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Strangers in a strange land - I: The train to Munich

Certainly, our budget for the Munich Holiday did not account for cloak room charges of 15 Euros per day for 5 days. So Antara, I & our eight pieces of luggage found ourselves with the task of somehow finding our way from the airport via a train ride to the Munich Hauptbahnhof & rolling from there to our hotel. It was not very difficult getting to the airport train station given the trolleys we had, but once we got there, there were no more machines to help us. It was down to strength. And strength had never been my strength. So it took what seemed like an eternity, & we must have gotten some help from the sympathetic people around - for I don't think we got all the bags into the train ourselves - to get everything on the train with me striking a fine balance between trying to stand & lending a helping leg & a helping hand to help two suitcases trying to stand.

So there we were, trying not look anybody in the eye. I finally figured out a way to arrange the suitcases & myself in a less dramatic posture. The group sitting around us consisted of two elderly gentlemen, one young woman, & two college-age boys. One of the elderlies who had been considering our state for sometime decided to break the silence & proceeded to make conversation. Now, my general experience in the US had been that not too many strangers asked very direct specific questions, they ask general questions & you're can fill in whatever details you wanted at your own judgment. This person obviously did not believe in that kind of a thing. He first wanted to know if we were students & proceeded to ask exactly what we did if we did not study, how long had been in the US, how long was our vacation in Munich - you know, stuff which produces simple, direct, truthful answers , not unlike a visa interview. Having established our credentials, he proceeded to share some of his own. He said that they were from MD, USA & are returning from a holiday in Kiev. They had a flight home in the evening & were going to Munich meanwhile.

At this point, he asked me the question I was avoiding to ask myself. He asked how in the world Antara & I proposed to take the luggage from the station to the hotel. I produced maps & directions pointing out that it was about 100 meters from the station & we might take a taxi or one person will do all the moving, say two pieces of luggage at a time, while the other stood at the station. He listened & gave me a the kind of look a headmaster gives a pupil from whom he expected better. He simply said that they'll walk with us with our luggage to our hotel. I tried to protest, but he was not really asking me if we could do what he said, he was telling me exactly what we would do.

The short walk was over soon. I carried the heaviest suitcase, he carried the second heaviest, the young boys carried 3 lighter cases between them & Antara just carried one. They quickly departed as soon as we had checked in, having shaken my hand firmly & not even exchanging names, leaving us to feel warm & grateful on a Sunny Monday Munich morning.


*This is a series on people I've met during my travels. Most of these encounters were short, but left lasting memories.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Clinton - esque

The thing about Hilary Clinton is that she seems to always take the side of the correct, while managing to be to as candid as possible with the usual dash of charisma, not to mention caution. Briefly, she is complex. While I think that it makes for a very well-rounded person, I think such a fine balancing act that she has to put on all the time makes her too complex to win an election.

Drew Westen
has written this very interesting book called "Political Brain: The role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation" & it has some remarkable insights into the human decision-making model. Apparently, & rather sensibly (with the advantage of hindsight), it appears that evolutionarily the rational part of the brain developed way later than emotional part & Westen theorizes based on ample experimental data that our decision-making continues to be largely an emotional activity & rationality has little part to play in it.

This is precisely why economists like Manmohan Singh may fail at popular elections & folks like Narendra Modi & Lalu Yadav continue to be champions of the political game. Well, my intention is to not bracket Modi & Yadav in the same bracket because that's how I see them as politicians, but more because they have an element of identity with the masses (at least a good majority) & connect with them at levels beyond the intellectual.

Clinton would do well to do less balancing. Because the votes she is going to get out of folks who will value her for that kind of a thing are not nearly going to be enough.