Finally, last morning I finished the last of the Foundation novels ‘Foundation and Earth’. Thus comes to an end a five month relationship with a series that kept me preoccupied on treks, travels, office lunch breaks, signals at the road, late nights and early mornings till Hari Seldon seemed like a close friend. I almost cried when I read the novel where he dies.

It all began with Foundation. Hundred pages into the book, I kicked myself hard for having waited this long to begin the book. Foundation is more fiction and less science. And how magnificently so. Asimov focuses on the way human civilization thinks and moves. The story begins many thousands of years from our present days. Pretty much the whole galaxy is under the rule of a giant galactic empire based in Trantor. Unfortunately, the galactic empire is crumbling and the likely consequence is a plunge of civilizations into the dark ages till another empire takes its place. This process should take atleast ten thousand years. Except that the series’ unconventional hero, Hari Seldon, has developed a tool called psychohistory to contract the period of the dark ages into a mere thousand years. To enable this, Seldon forms a colony of scientists, technicians and other such people called the Foundation. The novels trace the challenges the Foundation faces and if it eventually reaches the happy conclusion that Seldon meant it to.

The first novel, Foundation, describes the process of how settlers fit in and they begin colonization through religion and economics. Somewhere halfway down, you suddenly realize that it is almost like reading a book on civilizations of the world – fiction inspired masterfully from a rational view of reality. Panting for more, I grabbed the second and then the third books. Asimov manages to keep the level of interest high in both by introducing various conflicts in the path to the formation of the second galactic empire.

A young Asimov had written the first three novels in his 20s. Apparently the series languished for a while as its original publisher had not really done much in terms of promotion. When a more popular book house acquired the international rights, the series exploded onto the bestseller lists. Naturally this lead to a lot of offsprings and four other foundation novels emerged. In all four novels, Asimov, works in characters and references from his other books of fiction. Two are set before the Foundation saga actually begins and talk about how Hari Seldon makes psychohistory his life purpose. Prelude to the Foundation and Forward the Foundation are both compact works that gives the curious reader another piece of fiction inspired by reality – the struggle of early days when testing a new concept right up to the problem of being viewed as a doomsday soothsayer.

The last two novels Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth were written about thirty years after the original trilogy. Not surprisingly, the novels are more philosophical than fictional. Asimov begins to question the whole premise of the Foundation series, and thereby the premise of normal empire building. Sadly, for me, the endless discussions on single organism vs a single person began to sound quite repetitive and finally the logic for the choice made by the hero of the novels seemed quite inadequate. Infact the distant murmurs of a standard Hollywood pinning for a sequel could be heard.

As a series, Foundation is certainly a masterpiece. A fact, which has been testified by its cult like popularity. And it being an inspiration to some real cults around the world (including the crazy one which gassed a Japanese subway many years ago). Asimov is without doubt is a storyteller par excellence.


Blast from the past

One of the buildings I visited before I left Mumbai for Chennai in mid 2003 was a dilapidated, heritage building in townside. It was typical of such buildings. The lift was cranked by hand and could be operated only when the liftman was around. The stairs were worn so smooth by years of use, that most of them were shallow. The plaque near the entrance said ‘Lakshmi Insurance, Lahore , 1921’. It could have been Lakshmi General Insurance and it definitely was some other year, but I am sure about the name and the era. I do remember my busy day grinding to a brief halt as this living proof of an India before partition came to light. It was like stepping into a moment in history when Lahore based businesses must have had branches in Mumbai and when Hindus living in Lahore must not have worried about the next riots.

I had forgotten all about this till I was surfing yesterday and came across this article http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/mp/2006/04/10/stories/2006041000110500.htm

The article is about a man called Santanam. Santanam was pretty well educated – he had studied in Cambridge, cleared his civil service exams and eventually gave that up in favour of law. Unfortunately, the conservative Tamil Iyengars back in his hometown, Kumbakonan (in Tanjore, Tamil Nadu) were not willing to hobnob with him or give their daughters in marriage (The article does not say why. Obviously the penchant for NRI grooms is quite recent). Santanam promptly pushed off to the North, and the rest as they say, is history. He found a bride and plunged into the non-cooperation movement. Eventually at the behest of Lala Lajpat Rai, he founded the Lakshmi Insurance Company, which had offices in Lahore, Delhi and present day Mumbai. This company later merged into the present day LIC.

Ah. The pleasures of everything falling into place serendipitously


Idiot Box

I have confessed it in the past. I say it again. I turn into a TV maniac at the first sign of a cable connection and a remote control. Last weekend was typical. Uncle and Aunty were sitting by me and trying to suppress yawns. Their beloved niece and houseguest, moi, sat transfixed by the Travel and Living channel. Finally giving up all hopes of having a conversation, they turned in for the night. A fly may or may not have wandered into my gaping mouth. I would not have known. I was only aware of clutching the TV remote and pressing it regularly like a monk turning rosary beads.

This shameless behaviour is probably because we don’t own a set top up box. After months of watching/not watching news, Tamil and other free-to-air channels, HBO and Star World make me react like a pop star about to fail rehab yet again.

The Singapore trip was no different. The TV in my hotel room was on non-stop. I got to watch reruns of Friends, Seinfeld, a Chinese serial and some Chinese pop music. Given that I was diversifying into other languages; it wasn’t really surprising that I managed to watch a reality show (marginally higher in the food chain than stuff you don’t understand). The show was called ‘Superheroes’. Participants had to do superheroic stuff like running across a field full of wild dogs. Wow. Did those chaps have an invisible wall around them or could they fly? It turned out, neither. They were stuffed into well padded costumes that made them look like giant potatoes with helmets. Then they kind of hopped across the field while brushing away the canines. The sort of stuff you don’t want to record to play back to your relatives when they visit home.

We all were kindly given a break by the TV. I managed to snap out of my reverie and do essential stuff like packing my bags. I came back just in time to watch the eliminations. All the participants had changed out of their potato clothes. Instead they were wearing super hero costumes, clearly designed by an eight year old high on reruns of Batman and Wonderwoman.

Was I the only person in the world who realized people in their 30s look like losers in such costumes?

Apparently the biggest challenge in the programme was not to laugh at yourself and your co-stars. A really tough thing to do. One of participants was actually eliminated when he cribbed about how the short skirt made him look like a gay Roman gladiator (Alright, he did not say it. He sure meant it). The next one immediately caught on. When asked to describe how her costume made her feel, she gushed ‘I feel powerful. I feel like I can change the world. I feel like a..like a..like a.. superhero’. Eloquent.

The show finally came to an end. The next week’s preview promised the introduction of a villain in a superb Bombay Dyeing bed sheet tied around his neck. I was not too disappointed at the thought of watching this twist in the tale.

Occasional venturing into the cable TV world reminds me of why we don’t subscribe to cable in the first place.


Falling in love

She says: Who is this strange guy you are setting me up with?

She says: Mom, I am sorry but I absolutely refuse to meet his parents. This chap has not even replied to my mails yet.

She says: They are visiting our house?? And I still have not heard from this chap. I am not going to be there for sure.

She says: No, Aunt. I can’t drop into his dad’s office and say hello.

She says: Alright. If he plans to visit us with his folks, I will certainly not embarrass you by throwing a tantrum. Please don’t expect me to dress up and act coy

She is polite and nice. He is polite and nice. She talks to his parents. He talks to her parents.

Two days later she figures out that he deserves a chance though they met under very traditional circumstances. So she fixes up for coffee sans parents.

She says: Sorry about last time. I am not too comfortable with four adults wondering if we will get along

He says: I totally know. It is crazy


She says: Yeah I love reading. Mostly fiction though. And Indian authors

He says: Oh. Actually I like reading too. Mostly science fiction though.

She says: Really? Like whom would you recommend?

He says: I guess it is best you start off with Issac Asimov and Arthur C.Clarke and move onto Stephen Baxter.

He never calls back.

She picks up Asimov’s IRobot.

And that is how I eventually got around to reading more Issac Asimov and fell in love with the Foundation series.

I would rate that date a 4 on 5.


Beg, borrow and buy

One of the sure signs that you are a bookaholic is a tendency to pick up books wherever you go. You could have ten unread books in your cupboard and yet when you see something interesting, you grab it like a refugee reaching out for a food packet in a famine. Friends who gush about a book they have read in the recent past usually know I will request to be put on the list of people who is going to borrow their book. Libraries regularly make their income because I borrowed stuff I just had to read and then realised that I was actually in the mood for reading it a good one month later.

The last few weeks have been a nice combination of beg, borrow and buy. The buy list started with the Landmark sale this year, which was a stellar example of the ‘quality over quantity’ argument. They did not have too many books on sale. However, I found stuff I wanted to read at decent prices. So not surprisingly my book budget for the month was thrown out of the window and I went berserk. Here is stuff I picked up

Sideways by Rex Pickett – I had seen the movie and it was pretty neat. It is a ‘slice of life’ story about two friends on a road trip, checking out the California countryside. Going by the basic truth of ‘the book is always better than the movie’, this book went into my shopping bag

The 6th Lamentation, William Broderick – A friend had been recommending it for a while. Since I loved his last recommendation (Neal Stephenson – Cryptonomicon), this one was picked up

Interface by Neal Stephenson and Frederick George – refer comment above.

Four Blondes, Candace Bushnell – I don’t particularly like Sex and the City. I find all of them wimpy whinny types who spent most of their waking hours agonizing over the lack of men in their lives. However, allowances have to be made to the side of me that digs chick flicks. (I have since read the book and realized that this is worse than the series)

Dilberts – When you are getting a 50% off, you just buy them. Guaranteed to make you laugh.

The super-absorbent biodegradable family-size baby blues by Kirkman and Scott - for a friend who delivered twins about a month ago and is suffering from an acute lack of sleep. Hopefully this will help her see the lighter side of life at this stage. It definitely made my colleagues in office laugh a lot.

Foundation’s Edge – This was not on sale. However, my library has not been able to locate its copy of the novel and I am too involved in the series to patiently wait for my library to order it from its network

Best American Essays 2003, edited by Anne Fadiman– Ever since I read Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris I atleast knew that she had great taste in books. The first page of the first essay sounded quite promising.

Being Human by Mary and John Gribbin – to indulge the side of me that seriously believes that one day I will read all the science books in my cupboard.

All this for roughly 2000 bucks. Not a bad deal huh?

After this blitzkrieg, I managed to pick up Satyajit Das’s Traders, guns and money which was recommended by a friend in forex trading. The book is an absolutely hilarious look into the big bad world of derivative sales. Das is an insider and he has a wicked sense of humour. Sample this. Das believes the difference between buy side and sell side is that the buy side says ‘**** you’ and puts the phone down. The sell side puts the phone down and says the same. Anybody in any kind of a selling job would applaud this insight.

To this happy pile of books have been added two books from my library borrow list - Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow and Sleeping woman and Edward Luce’s In spite of the Gods. The latter’s blurb has positive reviews by William Dalrymple (wow) and Amartya Sen (double wow). More importantly I am hoping this has a balanced look at the hysterical cries about India’s super growth (in other words, that the writer agrees with my views)

Finally my friends beg list has not met its target. A friend to whom I gifted Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity was supposed to lend it to me and we both forgot about it when we met. This just reaffirms my policy that you must always read books that you propose to gift and avoid inconvenient logistics later on.

I am fairly confident that some of these books will probably be stored away for a few months, perhaps even a year before they make it to my bedside table where the current reading lists are piled. Which right now is the rest of Satyajit Das, Foundation’s Edge, Orhan Pamuk’s ‘I am red’ (intriguing historical mystery – the only way I can read history) and Sylvia Plath’s Bell jar that is a terse account of an American girl before her breakdown. Plath is very depressing and it is no surprise she killed herself after writing that book. I am sure I can never finish the rest of the book but I don’t have the heart to put it away either. After all she died writing it and you have to commemorate that.

The really cool moment was an addition to the beg, borrow and buy categories, viz unexpected gift. As I mentioned in my last post, I was gifted Khalil Gibran's The Prophet.
It has been a happy few weeks.


Hampi 2

We had decided to get started early to beat the crowds and the sun. The Laughing Buddha guys had to be woken up from their slumber when we landed there for breakfast and to their credit managed to rustle up a good breakfast with all sorts of leftover stuff. As usual we consumed the yummy and calorie heavy Nutella (possibly one of the world’s most divine food additives) sandwiches and pancakes.

Our transport for the day was a giant ‘Vikram’, a mutant auto that could seat all eight of us, as long we did not mind the sundry body parts hanging out of it. We went straight to Hampi’s greatest wonder, the Vithala Temple.

Built by Krishna Dev Raya, this temple is the pinnacle of Vijayanagara art. The temple is constructed largely using granite. The main mantapa has 56 musical pillars that produce various sounds. Played together, they served as the King’s personal surround sound stereo system. Today the main Mantapa is in a state of ruins and modern day concrete slabs reinforce a lot of the structures. Visitors are not allowed into some of the parts and are not encouraged to tap the musical pillars. Our enterprising guide showed us a few sounds on the pillars of adjoining structures. It was dazzling listening to stone sounding melodious.

Apart from its musical abilities, the temple also had other interesting features. Some of the carvings were three-dimensional. One carving for instance looked like a bull when seen from the left and like an elephant when seen from the right. There are various panels depicting stories of the legends and also pictures of life back in the 15th century. The temple, like other Vijayanagara architecture, borrows heavily from all sources. The most unexpected element is the roof that curls up like the South East Asian Pagodas, with dragons present on some of the walls. Some of the panels depict pictures of Chinese and Arabic tradesmen entering Hampi. It is certainly worth hiring a guide who can show you the intricacies.

We walked about for a while excitedly tapping the musical pillars and admiring the art work on the granite slabs. From there, the walk back to the Hampi Bazaar is about 3 kms. On the way, there are several famous structures. We were thrilled to see the Kings Balance where the king used to weigh himself and give out the same measure of gold or food to the villagers when he felt generous. Guess the citizens must have felt jubilant getting an unexpected tax refund. The Kodandarama temple is also nearby. Hampi is famous as the spot where Rama killed Vaali in the famous battle back during the Ramayana days and the Kodandarama temple is a commemoration of this event.

The walk can get quite perspiring if it is a hot day. Having foolishly forgotten my cap, I was finally forced to borrow an umbrella and spent the rest of the day looking like a teacher in a small village in Kerela, a fact which was pointed out mercilessly by AT.

The Hampi Bazaar is flanked on one side by the Virupaksha temple and on the other by a Monolithic Bull. The Bull’s statue had attracted other animals like monkeys and dogs. As we got closer to take a snap, the lot of them started growling slowly to enforce their territory. We quickened our pace and began the walk to the other end. Going by the stone pillars, it was obvious that the area had been a bazaar back then too. Life seemed to be going on, with new shops having sprung up to replace the old ones. AT, SM and I had fallen into step and we soaked in the colourful atmosphere, debating about various things. Suddenly an old gentleman appeared from nowhere and after politely waiting for us to finish our conversation, gave us a polite sales pitch. He ran a book cum handicrafts cum mini toiletries shop. AT followed him into the bookshop, mesmerized and began to browse through all books on Hampi. I twiddled my thumbs for a while, poking at the new stylish bottles in which mundane stuff like mosquito repellant was being sold. SM seemed to have found a syringe serving as a ink filler fascinating. We decided to ignore the fact that we were already 45 minutes behind our original schedule and had no clue where the others were. After all what is a holiday if you do not browse old book shops. Eventually AT bought one and then decided to buy copies of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet for the two of us, gushing about its philosophy.

Hurrying our pace marginally, we checked the Virupaksha temple, had coconut water and then decided to make our way back to the jetty wondering if we would meet the others there. And just like that from afar, we could see familiar looking clothes crossing the river in a boat. We waved like mad and could see the others gesturing us to come. The boat turned around and began to make its way to our side of the shore. Racked by guilt, the three of us broke into a run and clambered down the steps, landed in the boat breathless and squirmed when we found out the others had been waiting atleast forty minutes for us.

After reaching the guesthouse, it was time to bathe, pack, check out and make one last trip to the Laughing Buddha for lunch. The Bombay guys were planning to stay in Hubli that evening so they would not have to leave early for the next day’s flight from Hubli to Mumbai. So after crossing the river again, the rest of us had pretty much nothing to do. We took turns to explore the bazaar, which befitting its status as an international tourist destination had the ubiquitous Kashmiri Emporiums. After a while, AT wandered off to get a foot massage, the other three decided to recheck the shops and I volunteered to look after the luggage. Parking myself at the foot of a shop, I could occasionally look up from my book and catch sights of a small town life. The sun began to set, lighting up the Virupaksha temple and giving it grandeur not evident in the daytime. And I watched life go by.

It was time for us to pack up and go to Hospet to catch the train. Hospet station was not too exciting, which was particularly sad since we were hoping for a good dinner. A cart salesman told us about a small shop selling lemon rice and curd rice. After a while he came to us and updated us again on the availability of dosa on the platform. He seemed to get as much pleasure giving the news to a very hungry AT as AT got from hearing the news.

All of us were quite tired from the trip and just when I thought we would wisely go to sleep, a heated debate on the merits of Mumbai vs Delhi began. One by one the lights in the other compartments went off and the only other passenger in ours was trying to give obvious hints for us to shut up (such as ‘can you keep the noise down’). We quietened and decided to keep the discussion for the next trip. After all, you need to have an excuse to plan the next one!


Hampi 1

Hampi has been on my list of places to see for a while now. So the long 18-hour journey from Chennai to our resort in Anegudi was something I did not really mind. Actually, ‘resort’ would be an overkill to describe Shanthi Guest house. It was modeled on the sparse shacks found in South Goa and Gokarna. The circular room had two beds, one cement shelf and an attached toilet. The taps supplied murky water. We tied hankies to the tap to filter out the chunkier dust. Through the two day stay, Z and I shared the bathroom with an interesting snail-like creature. It looked like a lazy lump of a creepy crawly till it decided to take action. Then it would unfurl itself and sprout two antennas and keen eyes and slither away to a more convenient place. Notwithstanding the encounter with nature, Shanthi turned out to be as peaceful as its name suggested. All huts had a comfortable swing outside and on all sides we had gardens, farms, river and rocks. At walking distance we discovered an eatery called Laughing Buddha that provided amazing continental food, fresh juices and yummy deserts.

Eight of us were making the trip to Hampi and we were arriving in batches. By Saturday night, seven of us were present. On Sunday morning, we were up and about early to have a hearty breakfast and then catch the ferry to Hampi. Anegudi is across the Tungabhadra River from Hampi. A short ferry ride helps passengers commute. However, if it is pouring and the water is too high, you will end up doing a 50 km road trip to Hampi. We were lucky that the rains took a breather during our stay.
Most people go around the Hampi ruins on cycles or mopeds. Given the group’s general level of inability to handle these, we settled on a combination of using local autorickshaws and walking. We had mapped out the city into two parts. Day one was to be focused on the Queens Bath, Royal Enclosure and all structures near these two. Day two would be dedicated to Vithala Temple and the monuments on the three km walk from there to Hampi Bazaar. SM, traveling by bus to Hampi called us to say he would be late and would join us at whichever point we were.

Hampi architecture borrows heavily from various styles – right from the Dravidian temples of the south to Konark temple of Orissa with a smattering of Islamic architecture thrown in. This is not too surprising since the Vijayanagar kings had made their conquests in all regions. The kingdom was founded by two chieftans, Hakka and Bukka back in the 1300s. After this there were a slew of Muhameddan attacks, largely to plunder. The new dynasty which sprung up after these heists reached its zenith under King Krishna Dev Raya in the early 1500s, finally petering out sometime in the 1700s. The most impressive thing about the site is the number of monuments that seem to exist and are in a reasonable state of preservation. The Vijayanagar kings obviously spent a lot of their time building structures that 21st century tourists like me would gape at and admire. Today the site is a World Heritage Centre under UNESCO. This is reflected in the general upkeep of the buildings and the obvious effort at maintaining pretty gardens in all places.

We began our journey at the Queens Bath. The Vijayanagar kings had a particular fetish for plumbing and any books on the empire tend to mention the glorious water tanks, aqueducts and bathrooms built in this era. The Queens Bath could not have been built by any other race. Large and intricately carved, it could have ensured ablutions for an entire harem. After going berserk clicking snaps, we moved to the Chandrasekara Temple and the Sarasvati Temple, both built in the sixteenth century. This circuit ended at the Octagonal Pavilion.

The next stop was at the Royal Enclosure. Located in an area of 59000 sq mts, the compound walls enclosed forty three structures comprising an aqueduct (but of course), a huge eight metre high pavilion called Mahanavami Dibba that allowed kings to watch the Vijayadasami celebrations, various underground chambers, ruins of palaces and sundry buildings. The Stepped Aqueduct was a highlight. Carved from the delicate Schist stone (that is more amenable to carvings than the sturdy granite used everywhere), there were a series of large steps and small steps within them, all culminating into the water.

After being shooed away by the alert security guard from actually entering the tank and using the steps, we set off to explore the underground chamber. It was pretty dark and emerging into the daylight was a bit of a relief. Unfortunately, a ten year old kid had continued to remain in the chamber. AT generously volunteered DA’s torch to the kid’s dad to facilitate a rescue. The dad smiled gratefully, called his wife to join the endeavor and suddenly the rescue mission became a full fledged family bonding tour. AT smiled sheepishly at an irritated DA.

The rest of us had wandered onto some steps that lead to nowhere. One of the prominent features of Hampi architecture is the amount of defacing and destruction that had happened during various invasions. The steps had originally led to a hall supported by pillars. All that remained now were the sockets on which the pillars had been mounted.

Adjacent to the Royal Enclosure was the Hazara Rama temple, meant for private worship by the kings. Built in the 15th century, this temple had carvings of stories from the Ramayana. It was quite exciting trying to identify what scenes the panels depicted. Behind the temple were the ruins of the palaces of Krishna Dev Raya and Harihara. There was a mosque, standing out in contrast to the architectural styles of the temples and a band tower that looked similar to the mosque.

By now the midday sun and the tourists were beginning to fray our nerves. There was still no news from SM.

The final sightseeing stop for the day was the Zenana area. For some strange reason, you needed to buy tickets to enter this area. As usual Indians had to pay a measly ten rupees whereas foreigners had to pay USD 5 or the equivalent of INR 250 (Notice clever automatic exchange risk hedging mechanism). Z with her ultra-fair Parsi looks was questioned for the hundredth time in her life about her nationality. While the rest of us mused on lofty issues like India ’s racial diversity, Z was not looking too happy being brought forth like a performing monkey to utter a few words in Hindi.

This area housed the famous Lotus Mahal. With a South Indian style base and Islamic walls and roofs, the structure had an air-cooling mechanism where royalty chilled out. Beyond this were the elephants stables and the royal treasury (don’t know how that possibly ended up in the Zenana). After a while, stone fatigue began to set it and we decided to call it a day.

We walked gratefully back to our two autos and five minutes into the journey discovered that one of them had run out of petrol. This did not cause particular consternation to the auto drivers. The driver with the fuel rich auto stuck his leg out and pushed our auto with it. The motor was powering both autos and the groans of the autos plus driver was considerable in hilly areas. Suddenly the propelling auto braked and I cried out ‘stop stop’ to our auto. Z and AT, my co passengers burst into laughter and pointed out that our auto really would not go on a wild rampage on an empty tank. It slid to a graceful halt when momentum slackened.

We were finally put down close to the Ganesha temple and given directions to our lunch venue. Half of the team was keen on seeing the nearby Krishna temple and wandered off. AT discovered an adrenalin rush shooting pictures of the Ganesha Temple . Z and I were the only ones left and had to find our way to the Mango Tree restaurant through the Ganesha Temple . Ten minutes later we were not closer to finding a path. Spotting AT, we walked up to him only to hear a gushing ‘isn’t this fabulous?!!”. Realising AT’s direction sense, if any, would not be used in this enterprise, we wandered off again towards a potential exit path. Ten minutes later, we were retracing our step and looking at us AT cried out again ‘isn’t this fabulous??!!’. The sun was obviously not flagging his spirits. Calmly breathing and counting up to ten, we invited AT to our exploratory team. Eventually we discovered a path through some trash that emerged into the back of the Virupaksha temple. Shooed away by scandalized priests, we made our way to Mango Tree.

The Mango Tree finds mention in every guidebook on Hampi. The food is nothing great but the ambience makes up for it. The open-air restaurant is located in a series of steps constructed on a hill side facing the Tungabhadra. You can watch the river while you eat under the canopy of the mango tree. All of us sunk into our wonderful seats and dug into the meal. Halfway through, SM finally made his entry into the trip and tossing his bags aside after a sixteen-hour journey, joined the attack on food.

By evening, I mustered the energy to lie on Shanthi guesthouse’s famous swings and read a book while consuming various snacks. The sky was glowing pink and the insects of the evening were beginning to emerge. A lizard chasing them lost its balance and fell by me. I was too relaxed to do anything more than push it away. Sunset, book and food. Bliss.

Dinner at the Laughing Buddha was yet another winner. Over olive Zivo and Spitzels and various other yummy dishes, we played Taboo. When it was quite dark and late, we returned and went of to sleep dreaming off ruins and kings and rivers.