Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Aubrey-Maturin

The Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O’ Brian.

My father was (and still is) a science fiction nut, and just generally a voracious reader. It took me years to appreciate the effort that someone of meagre resources in the Third World in the seventies would have to make in order to be such a voracious reader. Quite naturally, I have inherited his love for books. Possibly the best gift that a man can give his son/daughter. But I also inherited his tastes in reading. So, I grew up with the twin Gods of Asimov and Clarke. Took me years after leaving home to grow and develop my own taste in books. And I found that I gravitate to nautical fiction. The best, by far, in this category is the aforementioned Aubrey Maturin series. Patrick O’Brian has woven a beautiful and enormously detailed tapestry in his series of novels. They deal with Jack Aubrey, a young Captain in the Royal Navy, about to take on his command, a small brig named “Sophie”. He takes on a new ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin. This doctor, Maturin, is part Irishman, part Catalan, a Catholic and also in the employ of British Naval Intelligence. He is, in a word, complicated - and thus, an excellent foil to the exuberant Aubrey. The setting is at the dawn of the Napoleonic Wars. We follow Aubrey and Maturin through the series as they become ever stronger friends. Their struggles echo the alternately waxing and waning fortunes of Britain herself through this tumultuous age. The style of writing is at times technical and detailed, at times humorous but always profoundly insightful. Jack Aubrey’s various commands, and this series are populated by a veritable army (sorry, navy) of memorable characters.

O’Brian has served as an inspiration for many later authors including the excellent Julian Stockwin (Kydd series) and, it is rumoured, also for the equally splendid Naomi Novik (gossip on the forums has it that the Temeraire series began life as Aubrey-Maturin fanfiction. With dragons.)

So there it is. A recommendation for a masterwork. Incidentally, you may also recall that part of this series found its way to the big screen in the form of "Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World".  A very watchable cinema, directed by (if I am not mistaken), Peter Weir. I am intermittently thinking of starting the earlier Horatio Hornblower series by Forester. If I go through that, I will let you know how it holds up against O'Brian. 

Friday, August 07, 2015

And then there shall be a largeish paper masala dosa on your table



The fish market

 Even landlocked San Antonio has a fish market. Yes, yes, this is not a real "fish-market", it is a "seafood market". Also everyone from Calcutta to NY is laughing at me right now. But here in the South, we don't always have a spectacular array of choices when it comes to fresh seafood. In fact, we usually don't have fresh seafood. So when the missus and I went to this place, it was a very welcome change. These are pics taken from Groomer's Seafood. Their selection was quite nice, although limited. Not that I blame them overmuch - this being the land of steaks and not ilish-shorshe. But still, they did have some decent crabs and a lot of interesting picklings. Also a couple of people cooking samples - these are folks who advertise their foodtrucks and suchlike. Good stuff, a Saturday morning well spent - and I must also commend the friendly and helpful staff.




This tawa looks empty because the samplers disappeared faster than a politician's scruples.










Style is more important than content


Especially when you are a pizza chain. Style and decor are more important than your extremely underwhelming food. Gawd, I miss the 99c Bangladeshi pizza joints in the city.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Mountain beer

The wee town of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania has one thing I like (apart from the beauty of the surrounding mountains) - which is that the grocery stores have a nice collection of beers. These are just the regular stores, nothing fancy like a Whole Foods/TraderJoes/CentralMarket collection. And with that nice collection of beers, they do allow you to mix and match. This is something that I remember from a few places in Michigan and Boston. Glad to see that some stores are doing the right thing. Again, not that I am a beer aficionado, at least not like some of my more enterprising friends who spend their weekends brewing. Having said that, I do like a good beer. Here are some of the bottles I grabbed on my last trip out.









Monday, July 06, 2015

!Chalk!

JD and I drove up to the Kerrville !Chalk! festival a month-ish ago. Anytime he sends me the pictures I took with his 50 prime lens, they will come up. In the meantime, this is what I took with my pheun. The festival featured street art in the Peterson Plaza, which is this nice open air space in their town center. I liked the place. Quaint old Texas Hill Country feel, great weather, for a change, and some really cool people drawing, sketching and generally having a good time.






Thursday, July 02, 2015

Spotted in town: a Z4 coupe

So I was at the dentist's the other day (another story), and I spotted this beautiful BMW Z4 coupe - well, retractable hardtop. Feast your eyes. This is not the hated/adored Beemer clownshoe, but it is quite a looker. And it was a stickshift.







Wednesday, July 01, 2015

So, about crepes and things

Here we were near Bryant Park, I think, waiting for an old friend from the college days. She turned up. I introduced her to the missus. They immediately proceeded to gang up against me - because that is how things go. I am referring to the brief trip up East. Then the evening showing signs of an unseasonably chill snap, we adjourned to get some food. The way through the park showed us a lot of people doing yoga. Hmm, do they have laughing clubs in the US? Where did the concept of a laughing club originate, anyway?

So, we legged it to Lady M, or Madame M, or Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy KCMG's boutique crepe shop. Well, it is called something like that. The wait was just shy of being obnoxious. The shop was overcrowded in the way that  grates on your nerves just below the point where you might actually turn around and walk away. We ordered crepes. Now crepes are the Western equivalent of what we Bheto-Bangalis call Patishaptas. Crepes can be quite delicious. In this case, they were crepes in  the sedimentary rock tradition - in other words, with layers. Like an onion, you see. But all sweet and diabetic. I kid, I kid. They were indeed very tasty. But hideously overpriced. New York sticker prices on things never fails to appal me.





Monday, June 29, 2015

Is there anyone who doesn't like tacos?

Yeah, I didn't think so. Everyone likes tacos. Even desis, who swear by a decent chicken roll - have been known to appreciate a good taco. Trust the smart cooks down south who took meats and fish and stuffed them inside a roti. This is the newest taco joint in town. Yeah, yeah, I know.. a taco hut in San Antonio? What's next - a barbecue pit in Austin? Heavens! The tacos here are cheap and tasty. Also, you are being watched by these critters while you eat.



 

Jenga!

What are we doing here? Playing giant Jenga is what. This was inside the ER Bar, which is a little hole in the wall joint on Wurzbach, near the Medical Centre. This place is also home to Wayne's Wings, where the wait is totally worth it. So we found ourselves there on Saturday evening - and ended up playing giant Jenga. Fun day.




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

That one week when I decided to let the internet tell me how to cook

Blue Apron packages its stuff very nicely indeed. If you cannot go to the store and get your supplies yourself, or if you like following instructions while cooking, then it might be right for you. For a freewheeler like me, not so much.

I mean, the idea is great, but I pride myself on being a scrounger-cook ... meaning I can stroll into your kitchen and with a handful of spices, whip up a dinner which will not just sustain you, but actually make you happy. And I  can improvise. I will put in toothpaste if I need mint leaves and I cannot get any (ok, j/k - but you get the picture). So this business of pre-packaged stuff doesn't work for me. But I do applaud their innovative business model. And of course, the ingredients appear to be of pretty good quality.




Typo

When the "L" is removed from "Ali", this restaurant went from the name of a famous character in an Arabian tale to a Bengali exclamation of surprise.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to make a photographer

  1. Convince your subject that he/she needs to purchase a nice camera. Show them your own albums. Point out that sensors improve rapidly, but optics - much slower.
  2. Hold their hand through the purchase process. Do not let them succumb to "paralysis by analysis".
  3. The new camera has arrived. Yeah! Take them out for a photo-day.
  4. Work them through the tech. Modern SLRs have just a few controls that need to be used. Keep them away from things like Scene modes. Emphasize the fact that for amateurs, a photo should be taken at location and taken just right. You should not spend hours processing a RAW image at home.
  5. Take pictures yourself. Keep them simple. Ask them to replicate these via THEIR camera. A fruitful afternoon will end with the photography bug firmly planted in the minds of the new enthusiasts. La victorie!


A few vignettes from the American Museum of Natural History

The missus and yours truly happened to be there during our recent trip up to the coast. The big spherical theatre shows a brief "History of the 'Verse" presentation which is narrated by none other than Liam Neeson.

 The spiraling walkway exiting the theatre has a timeline of the Universe presentation along the walls.
 Yeah, hoorah for Multicellular Life Forms. Except for reality TV stars.
 They had it for far longer than we have.
 The lunar surface is modeled on Om Puri's face. Or maybe it is the other way around.
 Sky iron. Bears in the frozen North are known to make their armour from this.