Green mountain state of mind!

Many years ago, when i began my mornings with filter coffee and the Hindu; the Tuesday addendum, with the section called ‘know your English’, also had other interesting notes on books and authors. One such read had told me that Rudyard Kipling had in fact written ‘the jungle book’ in a far far land with green mountains. I must have probably skimmed the name ‘Vermont’ back then, for it must have seemed like a land I can’t ever fathom.

The memory had come fleeting back, this past weekend, when we were in the heart of the green mountains and I probably understand where Kipling must have found his inspiration and peace to let his imaginations run free!

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Our journey began on Saturday morning, on an apprehensive note, rather than excitement. It was the first long drive and vacation, that didn’t include family-visiting for toddler A. Like anything with kids, we had no clue how it would pan out, even with all the planning. Our fears were put to bay, as the trip progressed and our little one enjoyed the stay as much, if not more than us!

As the 89N meandered into Vermont from NH, there was a significant change to the landscape — the green mountains, just burgeoning in the soothing bottle green colors of spring were starting to rise all around us. I didn’t bother clicking any pictures on our SLR as we sped past, but simply kicked back on the seat in comfortable crossed leg, taking in the views all around us.

 

2 hours into the drive, our little one, buckled to the car seat, woke complaining from his long nap and we took the next exit that had signs for food.  That detour was our first foray into countryside. For, we expected the big chains McD and the rest, but found ourselves parked in a little wooden shack with a gorgeous porch, a huge grill and run down rusted gas station units.

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While we treated ourselves to potato salads and chicken sandwiches, grilled perfectly on the outdoor grill; the piano, cozy seating and comfortably crowded porch with wooden embellishes of grizzly bears were a welcoming treat for my little one to gobble his lunch.

Thrilled and happy with full tummies, we resumed our drive towards probably the most anticipated part of our trip, the Ben and jerry ice cream factory in Stowe. Ever since, I had watched the documentary about the history of this place and the almost revolutionary way in which Ben and Jerry ran the place with a social conscience, I had wanted to tour their facility. I was never a fan of their ice creams and I was hoping it may change during this visit.

Unfortunately, I still found their ice creams, less than ordinary, even the most popular chunky monkey. But, that aside, I was more curious to be here to understand a culture of doing business with social consciousness they always emphasize. The tour of the manufacturing unit had no bells and whistles; a simple talk as we watch, the machines and employees do their job, from glass windows.

Of course, one can’t gather much culture by standing in long lines for free icecream. Probably the only point that stayed with me, and I could see it sort of permeate in almost all places around the town, was the emphasis on fair trade, local community farms and all-natural raw materials. Clearly I am not saying ‘organic’ here, it is a given. B&J is definitely keeping many many farms that do not use hormones for lactating their cows, in business around Vermont. Even with so many farms and cows we spotted on our drive, wikipedia tells me that the farms are on a significant decline in the state.

 

I was glad I didnt indulge in icecreams, for our next stop at the cold hollow cider mill, down the road, brewed some refreshingly warm cider and baked fluffy, gently sweetened apple cider donuts. We explored their other edible products and spent a little time, as much as our forever-on-the-run toddler allowed, to sit back and enjoy the picturesque mountains and the rains mingled with sunlight.

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A short ride ahead and we were in our B&B destination in the downtown of Stowe. From the little research we had done online to figure the restaurants and shops around the street, the picture in my mind was of something akin to probably a beach town. Oh! was I undoubtedly wrong in my imagination!

The main st, was interspersed with few cozy stores, fewer restaurants, some probably can’t accommodate over 10 patrons, local grocers, coffee shops and a predominant white church. We could walk the length and breadth of it in under 20 minutes, while pushing a stroller. It was this not giving into excess and the mountain town charm that I fell in love with. As we took a stroll along the walking trails in the woods behind the church that beautifully wound over bridges and streams, I was starting to realize that the places Enid Blyton described in her books were in fact not all surreal.

By now, couple of things had started to seem familiar about the area. One, the greenery is equally strewn with rivulets and streams everywhere. And two, the residents and visitors are probably one of the biggest dog loving/owning places in the world. We spotted so many dogs and pups; my son had a ball throughout the trip, even petting and playing with some.

When it seemed, nothing could probably go wrong with the day, we made the unexpected mistake of dining at a mexican restaurant for dinner. Of course, when one doesn’t expect punjabi Dhaba’s to ace the idli-sambhar, it was foolish to expect this place, so far away from anything remotely mexican to even offer the bastardized meals of chipotle! Nevertheless to say, thoroughly disappointed with the food, we called it a day.

Our B&B inn was beautifully decorated in classical style and the narrow passageways and stairs that housed the various rooms of the inn, reminded me of shots from Downton-Abbey. Hidden speakers played jazz along the passageways. Black and white photographs of an era gone by adorned the walls. One was in the 60s or 50s simply walking down a few hallways, it would seem. Our room was comfortably snug with a fireplace and overlooked the big bell atop the ski museum and surprisingly our toddler slept in well too!

After treating ourselves to a pretty magnanimous breakfast spread at the inn on sunday morning, we headed to Burlington, a bigger town with a waterfront. It was a gorgeously sunny day and the streets were crowded with finishers of the annual VT marathon that ended at the waterfront of Lake Champlain. Spotting runners everywhere in itself was a treat for me. Combine that with lolling in

the grass by the waters for a picnic was all very hunky dory, except in reality, I was mostly chasing my son who wanted to pet every dog he spotted around the area.

The festive church street in the city was our next spot to stroll. Street music players, stalls, eateries, shops, brick-stone walking paths, wall murals were all making it pretty addictive that we let the afternoon slip by simply gawking and parked ourselves canceling the long drive to Cabot cheese factory. The cappuccino I devoured at the LakeChamplain Chocolate store was the closest to those i had in Rome many years ago; coffee is best enjoyed sugar free. Yes indeed!

One doesn’t realise how the combination of sunny outdoors and a toddler can make one a weary parent! We found out soon enough by sunday evening, when we took that odd 5 pm nap as a family! Because of the late summer sunset, we also found time later to swim a little in the outdoor heated pool with our son, while another family staying in same inn as us, strummed on their guitar by the bonfire near the pool. Refreshed we again drove a few miles through stretches of farmland and cows to a cottage our friends had rented by a small pond. In the middle of nowhere, as it would seem, we spent a quiet evening reading to our toddlers and kids, attempting board games, laughs and probably the best pizza, from a family run restaurant nearby, I may have in a long time to come.

By now, the third detail about the state had started to figure for me. The easy and fresh access to milk and milk products of this place are contributing to make cappuccinos and pizzas seem more delectable than usual.

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Hanging on to that line of thought, we made two more stops Monday morning. First was a cozy little chocolate store with an open kitchen, run by two friendly ladies. We got a little discount for our purchases for being guests at the b&b down the street. Again I enjoyed their large cappuccino as we pushed the stroller in the rain. The second stop we made before heading out, was the malt shop, which was another ode to the 60s. The audacious decor of the era was complete with Elvis, Monroe, jukeboxes and vintage coke machines. They also managed to floor my husband with the ice-cream soda.

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As if in inertia of not wanting to head back, we decided to make another stop, on our way out, at the Von Trapp Family Lodge. You guessed it right, it indeed has to do with the Von Trapps who fled Austria from Nazis and have been fictionalized in the most beloved movie ‘Sound of music’. And they settled in this land of pastures and green mountains, reminiscent of Julie Andrews making her entrance from behind the hills! This mansion is atop the very similar looking hills. The place is run as a b&b and ski lodge now and they hold tours with few details about the family. To make the best of the time while our toddler napped in the car, we cut the stop short to a few clicks, skipped the tour and sped away, promising to visit again!

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As we drove back, exhausted yet relaxed as vacations are turning out to be, I was leaving behind a dreamy self. As we left each green hill behind, I was slowly snapping to normalcy; to routines and chores. Even the promise of visiting again started to look bleak. As we turned to our driveway, even the tease of curd rice for dinner wasn’t enough to ease me of the thought of the house work mound.

To Robert Frost who duly reminds us of the miles to go before we sleep — For more travels and dreams. For ships we must sail on. For the miles we must go before we sleep.

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Movies, Religion and Malayalam

There was so much my husband and I didnt see eye to eye when it came to cinema, when we met, There was the obvious mohanlal-rajni tiff and believe it or not even at 22 years I crushed on srk, which he didnt get. Well! to think about it, I don’t get it anymore either. I will save that for later. Strike that. I am too embarrassed to even saving it for later!

But over the years of courtship, drama, marriage and parenthood, our convictions have loosened. I have watched one too many rajni, bhagyaraj and kamal movies, so I can no longer say ‘I don’t get the hype anymore’ and he has watched few movies, mostly lal-ettan’s and sort of gets the ethos; but still there are a gazillion things he ponders over about mallu-land and its cinema.

Some questions he asks have indeed made me look for an answer too; for what I consider normal may not seem so for an outsider. Malayalis seamlessly tolerate religion co-existence. Or so it is nearly all the time. We have beloved yesudas (often called das-ettan) who has rendered the best and favorite divine hindu songs. It is debatable that he isn’t allowed to enter guruvayoor for not being a hindu; then again which land doesnt have quirks.

Last time I visited Kerala, I noticed the churches have the kodi-maram with a cross on top, akin to the kodi-marams in temples. I learnt that vidya-arambham, the first alphabets of a child during navaratri season is also now practiced in churches. The edapalli punyalan st. george riding a horse is considered an incarnation of the snake god the hindus revere. I have watched my grandfather and parents make a stop there to light a candle and tell a short prayer everytime we travel to cochin from trivandrum. He is also the protector of the traveler. One definitely needs that in the kind of traffic and rash driving the state has. The trisshur puram elephants usually have a busy year too. They shuttle between various temples and churches for festivals that are conducted all year round.

I can tell you more unbelievable stories. I personally know three reasonably smooth with initial hiccups, marriages between a hindu and muslim, who raised kids and lived in the state. Our muslim neighbors in Cochin, who were from kottarakara, which is well known for the ganapati temple there, didnt think twice to send offerings with us, when we told them we are visiting. They believed in their town’s popular deity too. The picture that is often shared during independance day of muslim parents dressing their child as krishna is sort of a true picture in kerala.

These things baffled my husband, especially his stint in the VT area in Bombay wasnt communal tension free. Going by this rather effortless blanket of peace, malayalam movies are also strewn with characters and protagonists of these three religions equally and of course the palakkad iyer is featured every now and then too! One of my favorite characters of lal-ettan is sunny-chayan in manichitratazhu, achayan as the christians are often referred to.

Of course marriages are an exception. Even with few success inter religion stories, I am sure there are a bigger percentage that doesnt work for the same reason. One answer I offered my husband was “the food”. The non Brahmin hindus of kerala eat beef. Enough said? Somehow we Indians gel over food; When my tam-bram friend found a gujju spouse, the final consensus was “vegetarian ah pidichurikan. adhe pesuru” ( it is great that he has at least found a vegetarian )

“The love for gold” is something I suppose no malayali can deny. And the industry is equally held by affluent families of all three religions. Sometimes money and common interests let’s religion take a back stage. Or so is my comprehension from what I have known and only saw how the gold buying has snowballed across the state in my last visit.

And the third reason, I offered my husband is “Kerelaites follow the marxist religion above all else”. Now this culture of parties, elections, strikes and hartals confuses any non-malayali to no end. Probably a bengali may understand the passion. While N enjoyed the movie “Classmates” which sent kerala into a frenzy of reunion meetings and poignant college years, he was completely thrown off by the need for elections and parties in a college.

The communist dream was beautifully portrayed in little nuances in the recent movie I watched of vineeth sreenivasan – ” thattathin marayathu”.
A Nair boy growing up in a predominantly Muslim area who has Muslim best friends and falls in love with ( no surprises here) a ummachi-kutti ( Muslim girl ). The director has kept the story pretty much communal free with humor that’s becoming. I laughed so much for ” symmonds inde wicket kittiya sreesanath ine pole njan endokeyo kanichu”. Translation may probably kill the humor, but nevertheless — ” I behaved wild like how sreesanath had when he got symmonds wicket ”

The pictures of Che Guevara the Marxist god one may say ( the irony! ) are subtly made backgrounds in many scenes. So is how Muslim members of the communist party don’t blink an eye to think of rooting against another Muslim leader of a different party. It simply reinforces that the communist dream can keep a keralite true to himself.

The movie otherwise has a Fantastical touch, and the little screen space sreenivasan has takes the cake. All in all I would say it is a master stroke second directorial venture by young vineeth sreenivasan and Malayalam cinema is truly going places after an awkward transition phase to modern portrayal.

Malayalam movies are no longer all with anti climaxes and ripping your heart out renditions. The feel good, thrillers, historicals are all making their way pretty beautifully with many new and young actors and directors.

The thrillers to definitely watch is mohanlal’s “drishyam” and “22 female kottayam” while drishyam Kept me on the edge of my seat the latter left me stoic. Salt and pepper of Lal and Sweta menon was oh! So wonderfully portrayed love story through the love for cooking and taste. Syncing the story of the making of the rainbow cake to the protagonists was my favorite part.

I still have a huge list of movies to catch up on. I have been hooked to the music of “Ustad hotel” and probably one of last of tilakan’s movies I definitely want to watch. 22 north katham of my new favorite actor fahad, based on OCD is also on my list. Someday I will get to catch up on lots of these movies.

So if you are cribbing about the lack of ideas and change in the movie industry you otherwise follow; stop. Give Malayalam movies a try. Start off with subtitles. Our humor is a little hard to warm up to. Our tongue annoying even. And our culture and settings probably harder. But you will be hooked no doubt.

Appo varate. Pinne kannum vare!