Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Story

Elise had convinced Sam and Peter to take naps on New Year’s Eve by promising that they could stay up late and watch fireworks from our rooftop. See, there is a random spiral staircase on the side of our house that accesses the roof. Even though everyone napped and they held up their end of the bargain, I squashed their plans by saying I wasn’t comfortable taking my three small children on the roof of our house in the dark. 

Instead, they spread their sleeping bags on the floor of the sunroom, a glass-enclosed balcony off of their bedroom that currently serves as the playroom, but will soon become Elise’s photography/yoga studio much to the kids’ dismay. They peered through the thick tree canopy surrounding our house, combing the heavens for a sign of a single spark.

Throughout the day, the neighboring Madras Club, the most affluent country club in Chennai, was putting their sound system through its paces. Sporadically, the rumble of bass would carry over the trees to our ears. I swear at one point I unmistakably heard a Men at Work cover.

The evening wore on without even the pop of a firecracker, and I finally had to send the little ones to bed, promising I would wake them up when the fireworks spectacle began.

I never woke them up.

Elise and I were in bed ourselves by ten or so, knowing that everyone would start stirring by six. We soon fell asleep. The fireworks and firecrackers, when they did come, were mild compared to Brazil with the exception of three to four resounding booms that shook our house and sounded like artillery shells going off overhead. They very well may have been. I was told later that the Hindu celebration of Diwali, the “festival of lights”, is when the big guns will roll out. We had just missed it.

The next morning, as predicted, everyone was up by 6:15, clamoring for breakfast. I groggily obliged, flicking the switch on the coffee maker I had the foresight to prepare the night before as I walked into the kitchen.

About mid-morning, we decided to walk a mile to Sangeetha Fastfoods, a restaurant Elise had previously visited after one of her Sunday morning photowalks. When we arrived, the sidewalk was crowded with Indian men in white shirts and khakis, drinking tea. We pierced the crowd, and I followed Elise to the back. Under no less than a dozen ceilings fans spinning furiously like the blades of a helicopter preparing to take flight, we ordered vada, spiced urad dal batter and fried in donut shape dumplings, idlis, steamed rice cakes, and dhosa, a crepe-like pastry made from rice flour, all served on banana leaves with coconut, mango and tomato chutnies for dipping. Elise and I ordered tea.

Sam, who somehow was already versed in the South Indian breakfast, ate like a native Tamilian, using only his right hand (according to Elise the left hand is considered your “bathroom hand” and is strictly not used for eating).

Hot and now full, we decided to take an auto rickshaw (just “auto” for short) home, a three-wheeled tuk-tuk powered by a lawnmower motor. It careened around corners, and the wind blew through the kids’ air. Everyone squealed in delight, Clementine included. 

More naps soon followed (which Sam and Peter skipped), and the cooler afternoon afforded Elise her first opportunity to go for a two-mile run around the Boat Club neighborhood.

For dinner, she prepared her new no-fail recipe, a Thai soup made with coconut milk, fresh lemongrass and cilantro, and chicken. Every one of the kids (and adults) gobbled it. We would have known it was a slam dunk just by seeing how little of it was spilt on the table. But if we hadn’t noticed the cleanliness around their plates, Pete emphatically raved about the soup through the entire meal. I am paraphrasing now, but it was something to the effect of, “This is actually super yummy, Mom.” (He’s been using the word ‘actually’ for emphasis actually quite frequently. Not sure where he picked it up.)

And so that is how 2014 began. Not too shabby. I would have to say we are off to a pretty good start, actually.

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