Sundae Bloody Sundae

Wheelie bag: check; backpack: check; wallet, sunglasses, hat, tickets, keys; yup, that’s everything.  Well probably I should take one last look. Daunted, I peer down the thirty-meter long corridor; leaving this enormous hotel room is like going through a house closing. It’s so big and has so many cubbyholes, I found myself walking hundreds of feet every night looking for my chargers or my Darjeeling teabags. It was long and thin, like Vietnam, but in a good way. As well traveled as I am, I was curious enough to pace off the dimensions: thirty by eight meters. That’s 240 square meters or about 2,500 square feet in Kansas. It did include a sitting room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, entryway, and a few hallways. And another hidden bathroom that I stumbled upon when leaving.

When I checked into the Marriott Bangalore, the friendly lady at reception welcomed me and as she handed over the key, she mentioned, kind of by the way, that she was giving me their biggest suite. However, I hear that or something comparable from time to time and it doesn’t always resonate, oftentimes it just means you can clamber safely out either side of the bed with ease. I would never say this room was too big. Never. Just wouldn’t go there. But it was enormous: just for me, my tiny travel bag and three sets of Journeyman-approved travel apparel. The suite traversed one side of the building to the other so it experienced both sunrise and sunset, and the views were stunning—overlooking Bangalore’s naturally beautiful “Central Park.” I could live here I thought, but then again it’s Bangalore.

Anyways, with my frequent travel I’m always appreciative of a well-equipped hotel room or suite. Occasionally, for some unexplainable reason, I’ve found myself wondering, who had this room last night, last week, or before that? My attention somehow turns to the sensibly upholstered armchair between the bed and the window, as I attempt to visualize the previous guest plopped there like me with legs bridged horizontally to the matching fabric poof.

Occasionally, whether I like it or not, I get a little unintended insight into my fellow guests, neighbors and roommates. Recently, in one of my go-to hotels at New York Times Square I was sitting in the timeshare armchair when the incessant barking of a small dog pockmarked my concentration. Snowy might have been dozing when the humans snuck off to the elevator but he wasn’t now. Masterfully, without migrating from the Captain’s Chair, I marshal my psycho syntheses to filter Fido while remaining engrossed in a fabulous New York Times article on the democratic progress of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi. But other erratic sounds gatecrashed my attentiveness as the chatter of police radios, loud door knocks, and raised voices became the definition of commotion followed by a conclusive sounding kerfuffle.

The plight of Burma would have to wait I thought, as I arose gingerly from my commanding view of midtown Manhattan. I sauntered across the art deco room and opened my door slowly to silence, apparently having just missed all the action. There was no more barking from the little dog from hell, no police radios, no door-knockers, and no crowds of people in the hallway. Only Martha the maid who gave me a little half-smile look of innocence that kinda said, “oh did you hear all that?” “They kicked the dog-people out,” I concluded, nodding my head understandably. “Oh, no, not them,” she replied, “they threw out THESE guests,” motioning with her head to the open door behind her. “Why?” I exclaimed. Shaking her head disapprovingly, she broke from my gaze and looked down at her feet, whispering, “crazy people, crazy people.” “Ice cream and blood,” she continued, “ice cream and blood, everywhere.” “Ever-y-where.”

To this day I try to imagine the events in the scenario leading to the bloody sundae grand finale in room 1264 in Times Square: A food fight with dessert and knives, a scene worthy of Natural Born Killers, perhaps? I will never know.

Other times I have met my roommates face to face, mano e mano. Working in Canberra, Australia, I arrived after a very long flight, as Australia is distant from anywhere really. The front desk attendant hands me the key and I wander through an endless labyrinth of unremarkable corridors to reach my room, which seems to be as far from reception as one can get. I put my key in the lock, turn it, and upon entering, I sigh loudly, clunking down my bags while making my way wearily from the entryway into the room. Glancing to my right I notice a bunch of non-standard looking hotel bedroom accessories. Looks like a regular TV all right on the dresser, but next to it appears to be a stack of radio receivers; black boxes with various dials and displays and a muddle of connecting wires, and then there is clearly a microphone or two and some other blackish well-used military-looking equipment. Huh, very strange, I think. What is all this stuff I wonder, as I stare at it trying to fathom the situation?

“What the fuck you wanting, mate?” thunders a voice from my left. I turn to see a half-naked figure in the bed. Only then do I realize the room is dimly lit with heavy curtains drawn in the early afternoon. I squint my eyes and see a shaved-headed guy who looks like a mean Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers, but with more tattoos. “Oh,” I say feebly, adopting the most cowardly posture possible. “I must be in the wrong room. I should, I should err, go,” I ramble. “You fucking should, mate,” he commanded. By this point he was channeling Woody Harrelson and I was Woody Allen. I left purposefully, crouched, head down, slowly walking backwards, blindly grasping my bags with both hands without stopping. Turned out I was in the wrong room, but my key apparently also opened the gateway to hell. I’m glad to report that I managed to spend several days at that hotel without ever running into that guy. Who knows what he was doing. Would the Jackal have let me live?

Now my good friend Vanessa was a Vice President at a large hotel chain. I told her these stories and she instantly dropped her friendly smile and said, straight-faced and eyes unblinking, “you have no idea what goes on in hotel rooms.” I nodded. “You. Have. No. Idea,” she reiterated louder with emphatic verbal punctuation. I nodded again conceding, “yes, I know.”

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My Musical Memorabilia Stratum

I enjoyed a Cobb Salad and Virgin Mary at Bengaluru’s new-looking and purpose-built Hard Rock Cafe; a veritable welcomed oasis of western civilization in an otherwise pandemoniacal megacity. Overall a great experience, my only suggestion or comment to these cafes outside of Europe and America: offer non-alcoholic beer. Aging fake rockers like me love fake beer as well as fridge magnets.

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As I sipped my virgin I wondered: How many outfits has Steven Tyler worn on stage anyway? And what’s with John Entwistle’s endless bass guitar collection? Bass guitars are kinda same-same are they not—I mean, once you’ve got a Rickenbacker and a Fender Precision that’s about the range of sounds, n’est-ce pas? Unless you want to go fretless, but that would’ve muddied Pinball Wizard.

You don’t necessarily think about that when you just pop briefly into a Hard Rock for a drink or a snack. But I found that I started analyzing it a little as I made a point of visiting many of them throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas. While all the collections are certainly different there did seem to be an awful lot of Tyler outfits and Entwistle basses. However, the numbers add up I suppose if you do a little bit of math; it really wouldn’t be that difficult to find hundreds of items displayed from the same rockers that had toured relentlessly for decades. And what’s Steven Tyler going to do with the fringy leotards when he’s not on stage anyway? I doubt he wears them around the house; although I don’t know that, I’m just coasting on assumptions here. “Fedex for Mister Tyler.”

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Sometimes you have to read the fine print closely: Ah the guitar was merely signed by Ritchie Zambora, and Jerry Garcia only played that one in his hotel room. Well Ok, there are varying levels of authenticity: a musical memorabilia stratum if you will. For certain, what I don’t want is, “similar to that used by,” or “the style used by,” and so on, although I’ve only come across that once or twice, and I’m going to have to call them out on that going forward I’ve decided. If I’ve gotten anything out of this American presidential election cycle it’s that I should just speak my mind if something bothers me. Anything at all.

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In my rhythmic collectible stratification, drumsticks and guitar picks don’t even make the cut: those I categorize as supplies. For me, that would be like displaying an actor’s used eyeliner brush at Planet Hollywood. And the more I think about it, what would be my pinnacle rock n’ roll collectible, my ultimate boogie bric-a-brac? Indisputably, that would be Brian May’s original guitar, the one he made as a kid from an old fireplace and then went on to play that killer riff at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody. Other than that, the stuff at the Bengaluru Hard Rock Café was pretty good.

Korma Karma

From the briny depths of a dark mysterious ocean a tiny air bubble begins a determined journey and races immediately towards the distant surface. Adhering firmly to Boyle’s law, the volume of air expands swiftly as the growing bubble ascends more and more rapidly. From a tiny bead it quickly becomes the size of a pea, to a marble, then a golf ball, an apple, a coconut and finally a watermelon before it bursts ferociously at the surface. I wake up gasping violently from this nightmare with the burning sensation of a man who just had a broken car battery emptied down his throat.

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It is my peculiar, present-day Indian food jinx: my Korma Karma. I love it but it considers my gastrointestinal system unworthy. In this culinary caste I am cast away. I am continually bullied by Biryani, menaced by Madras, and, worst of all, victimized by Vindaloo. It wasn’t always this way, being a proud alumnus of Khan’s Restaurant in Bayswater, London. My old Indian flame, she flirts and taunts me but I cannot indulge in her forbidden spices lest I revisit Mysore stomach in the wee hours in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere. And that is a price too high to pay in any currency.

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Given my lifelong preparation and culinary upbringing in Glasgow, Scotland I am surprised at my present lack of fortitude in these matters. Although not an overly ceremonial place, we did have certain cherished traditions when it came to spicy food. On the last Friday of the month it was typical to enjoy a fish supper, drink until closing time at the local pub, then eat Chicken Vindaloo with Poppadoms and chutney at midnight. Of course, these meals were always take-out, usually consumed outdoors within 100 yards of the premises, regardless of the weather. It’s fair to say that it’s more of a guy thing. (Hey Dave, remember your twenty-first birthday?).

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Visiting many temples throughout Mysore, India, as you do, I was inclusively invited to pray to the Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva. And with everything going on in the world today that merits an idolic plea, I must admit that it crossed my mind to footnote curry tolerance on my way out the door. Could be worth a try, I thought. Probably a very reasonable, albeit minor request given the broad scope, magnitude and severity of appeals these gods have to deal with. But I stuck with world peace, which, in my mind annexes poverty, disease and climate change. I’ll just have to go heavy on the yoghurt sauce tonight.

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India Report: Peanuts and 100-Year Rains

Traveling around India for a few weeks is as colorful, entertaining and intimidating as attempting to sample the entire menu at Khan’s Indian Restaurant in Bayswater, London. Some of it is truly amazing, certain parts you don’t really want to experience, some you genuinely shouldn’t, and in the end you realize you’ve only skimmed the surface leaving much for future exploration. This was my first trip back to India in about ten years, and I was told matter-of-factly upon arrival that it had changed significantly.

I suppose it had—one of my many travel e-books was the rather dull McKinsey Institute’s India’s Urban Awakening, which laid out all the scary growth statistics on charts far too small and cluttered for an iPhone 6 Plus. One of my takeaways is that India is on course within a few years to have six megacities each with over ten million inhabitants. These cities will have larger populations and GDPs than many countries. And all the other growth and consumption indicators are equally staggering, e.g., close to 70 cities with over one million folks and so on.

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Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I was here for the 100-year rain in Tamil Nadu, which shuttered airports and trains in the region. I didn’t experience one of those ten years ago. Not quite up there with seeing the Hale-Bopp Comet but memorable nonetheless.

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Complete with my bindi third eye I attended the annual peanut festival at the 16th Century Bull Temple in Karnata. The bull was the mount for Lord Shiva, one of the three main Hindu gods.

I went to see a fascinating exhibit by the Delhi born artist Radhakrishnan who specializes in bronze figure sculptures.

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Unbeknownst to me I smudged my bindi, but continued to pose proudly for photos. No one had told me. I guess the show must go on.

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