Travel Postcard #9: Ready for take-off

In the wee hours of the morning, well before the sun rises from its slumber, we gather together around the fire. Blowing on our steaming mugs of coffee, biting into a chocolate covered buiscuit, eyes wide with excitement and anticipation, we watch as air is pumped into a balloon…as it rises tall and magnificent in the pre-dawn light. And then it’s time for a fire…pumped into its immense cavity, as it stand, fluttering in the breeze, eager to sail away with the wind. And soon enough, it’s time to scramble into the basket that will take us high up above the world…soaring…floating… exclaiming in wonder at our very first hot air ballon ride. 

Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon? If not, would you want to?

More travel postcards

Book review: Turquoise by Ayshe Talay-Ongan

“Set against transcendent love, unrelenting hatred and loyalties to friends and family, Turquoise is the story of an enduring and passionate love affair between Yasmin and Renan, which spans two decades, two marriages and three continents.”
Turquoise: A love story by Ayshe Talay-Ongan

This opening blurb was enough to pique my interest in the novel. That it is set in Turkey just added to my curiosity. Yasmin, the main protagonist of the novel, is an independent Turkish woman who refuses to follow tradition to find a husband and settle down to married life. The daughter of a Turkish diplomat, she’s been brought up in a liberal environment, sheltered from the ethnic differences between Turks and Armenians. After completing her degree in psychology and working in New York for a few years, she returns to Turkey, where she runs into her Armenian classmate Ani and her husband Renan. As soon as Yasmin locks eyes with Renan, she knows she has found her Love. But seeing as he is a married man, and is married to her one of her closest friends, all she can do is love him from afar. Though her love is reciprocated, neither of them will do anything to jeopardize Ani and Renan’s marriage.

Soon enough, political tensions in Turkey force Renan and Ani to immigrate to Sydney, and eventually, Yasmin also decides to move to San Francisco. It helps that her brother lives in California and that her father has been posted to Los Angeles as the Turkish Consul General. She soon finds a job and a house and settles down into her new life. Through her group of friends, she meets Curly, a Stanford professor, who she eventually marries even though she is still in love with Renan.

While in the US, her father is assassinated by Armenian terrorists, who were fighting to compel the Turkish government to acknowledge its responsibility for the Armenian genocide. That tragedy impacts her life in numerous ways, forcing her

“to make a choice between the passion that defines her and the reason that guides her. When so much is stacked against Yasmin and Renan, how can love possibly triumph?”

I quite liked Yasmin’s character. She’s independent, thoughtful and caring; a go-getter, unafraid to take unconventional decisions; someone who isn’t afraid to turn her professional dreams into reality. I could identify with her to an extent – the easy life (sure, there are struggles, but none really depressing or gloomy), her independence and ability to look at the bright side of things, to have faith that things will work out for her (like when she was looking to buy a house in San Francisco, she knew exactly the kind of house she wanted and was sure she would find it even on her limited budget – and find it she did), her engaging social life and the support of friends, and her many soulful, self-reflective quests.

She’s also believable, thinking things that a lot of us would do or think about in real life. Like when she thinks to herself, “Dear God, let him be jealous of me!” as her obsession for Renan deepens. I think that’s honest – I don’t see why a novel should take the high road.

Or her thoughts after they make love for the first time:

“My eighteen hours with him…skin on skin, breath in breath. Pristine and ordained. Our bodies feel like a Homecoming with one another, like a cherished poem remembered verse and line. A sense of deep familiarity, of knowing and awaiting for from a time immemorial.”

I thought that was beautiful, especially when you see how deeply connected they feel to one another.

That said, there were times when I also found myself getting irritated with her – if she loved Renan so much, why would she do nothing about it? Why did she settle for Curly? Why the continuous soul-searching and yearning? And then I would have to remind myself that the novel is set in the 1980s, when some of today’s more direct approaches probably wouldn’t work. Moreover, for all her liberal environment, she also belonged to a conventional society, so there were those limitations as well.

A few of the others characters, including Renan, aren’t very well-developed, but seeing as they play fleeting roles in the novel, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Since Yasmin has such a large circle of friends, developing all of them would be pointless in any case. Another character that is really well-developed is that of Yasmin’s mother. She’s a lady of strength and such a huge support system for Yasmin. In a lot of ways, she reminded me of my mum.
If you pick this one up hoping for a regular romance, you will be disappointed. The novel, which is told from Yasmin’s viewpoint, unfolds at a languid pace. Although Renan plays more of a cameo role in the book, her love for him permeates her entire life, and therefore the entire book.

This isn’t a page-turner; it isn’t a quick read or a book that you can skim through – it’s a long, leisurely account of Yasmin’s life, of her overarching love for Renan, and the many life choices she makes. It delves into the many facets of her marriage with Curly, who can only ever be second best to Renan; and her struggle to keep her love for Renan compartmentalized so that it wouldn’t hurt his marriage or hers. This isn’t just romance between a man and a woman either; it also delves into Yasmin’s relationship with her mother, with her husband Curly and Sam, the son from his previous marriage.

This book requires patience…and if you need to take the time to savor it…and remember that it’s set in the 1980s in a more conservative era and society, it’s totally worth your while. Yasmin is a well-developed and very real character – by the end of the novel, you feel like she’s a friend! The story unfolds slowly and languidly, and again, is very realistic.

If you enjoy literary fiction, this one’s for you.

Wandering Wednesday #9: Christmas treats!

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

Danish Christmas tree

With Christmas just round the corner, I’m sure you’ve all got your trees up and your shopping done. Now, it’s time to think about the Christmas feast!

Christmas in India is incomplete without plum cake – I can eat huge quantities of it in a single sitting! This year, how about trying out this divine looking German plum cake – a new twist to an old tradition – or then try baking an Indian plum cake.

You could give your celebrations a French twist this year with this yummy bûche de Noël or Chocolate Yule Log cake.

With the weather outside growing colder, there’s nothing more delightful than a glass of warm mulled wine. I also found  a recipe for a chilled mulled wine – not sure if it’s for me, but you could certainly give it a try if you like!

With drinks and desert out of the way, it’s time to think about the main course!

How about this flavorful mustard and maple syrup glazed ham, or a fiery, Goan Pork Vindaloo served over boiled rice? If you’d rather take the roasted route, try out this Italian rosemary garlic roast turkey, or keep things simple, with this yummy Chicken with New Potatoes.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions and treats?

(Click to read older Wandering Wednesday posts)