Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Weekends!

Friends, finally, I’ve attained freedom! After being in the US for more than four months, I received my Drivers License. The weekends would no longer be dreary and I wouldn’t have to ‘time’ my shoppings to match that of my colleagues. And to add to the fun, my new roomie, Prakash, is always game for a drive!

So, here I was, driving to Houston on a bright Saturday morning with Prakash in a rented 2005 model Mazda 6. We reached the Kennedy Space Center around afternoon and quickly started our journey to space, (well almostJ). The Houston Space Center Museum is a fifteen minutes drive from the actual space center of NASA, which the visitors can watch from a distance. The launches, though, occur from the launch pad situated at Florida. The space center is full of information and was indeed an eye opener regarding the nuances about space exploration. But the highlight of the day was the presentation that talked about the crew and the preparations for the launch of space shuttle Discovery, the first mission in two years after the unfortunate accident of Columbia, which killed seven astronauts including Kalpana Chawla. Discovery is scheduled for launch at 3.51 pm EDT on July 13.

The night was spent at the home of Prakash’s friend Deepak. The next morning, it was time for to be religious as we went to the Meenakshi temple located at the outskirts of Houston. Oh boy, for half an hour, I felt that I was in the heart of Tamil Nadu. Houston is the oil capital of USA, with more than 85% of oil refining happening here (remember Enron). A lot of Indians work in the petroleum industry in and around Houston and it feels like a mini India. After having some excellent South Indian food from the temple, we left for the Water Wall. This is an artificial waterfall where water flows down 24*7 and has been the locale for a couple of Hindi movie shootsJ.

It had always been one of my dreams to watch a heavy metal band play live. It finally came true when I drove down to San Antonio’s Verizon Amphitheatre to watch Judas Priest, the British band from 1970s and one of the pioneers of heavy metal. The two-hour show was just thrilling, what with the chants of ‘Priest, Priest’ echoing in the air amidst the rendering of classics like ‘Breaking the Law’ and ‘ Painkiller’.

The much-awaited July 4th long weekend on the occasion of the Independence Day saw us driving to South Padre Island located on the border with Mexico. An ideal weekend getaway, the island is known for its water sports facilities and the long stretch of beach. We spent a good amount of time in the waves and I even slept on the sand for half an hour. But the real highlights of the day were parasailing and bungee jumping. These were two things which I had always wanted to do. It is an amazing feeling during parasailing, when one is more than 400 feet above the Gulf of Mexico and it is only the vast sea and nothing else that you can see till the horizon. Boy, what a feeling! And bungee jumping is a totally different experience that is very difficult to describe. The entire thing is over in a matter of 4-5 seconds, but this small duration is more than enough to send shivers through your spine. I loved it!

The other destination of our trip was the beautiful coastal city of Corpus Christi. The main attraction, apart from the beach, is the naval aircraft carrier ‘USS Lexington’ which served the Allied forces during World War II. The Lex, as it is popularly known, served the US Navy for 48 long years from 1943 to 1991 and holds the record for the maximum number of aircraft takeoffs. USS Lexington was decommissioned in 1991 after taking part in Gulf War and is now opened to the public as a museum. It was indeed a great experience to walk inside this huge piece of history. There were also a number of fighter aircrafts (Sky hawk, Phantom etc) on display at the flight deck of the ship. After spending about three hours aboard the Lex, we started our return journey, away from the soothing coastal belt of Texas back to its dry and hot cities.

The past few weeks have been very fruitful in ways more than one. I watched some ‘classics’ like Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane (voted the best movie of the century), Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece ‘Seven Samurai’, Guru Dutt’s ‘Kagaz ke Phool’ and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’. The amazing use of frames and the technique of narration in these movies created decades ago, make them definite masterpieces. So, that is it from my end for the time being. I’ll be back with more ‘action’ soon. Till then…

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Experiencing the past...

So, it’s been quite a while since I ‘post’ed. But, things have been happening for the past one month and it has been real good weekends. Let me start off with my visit to Minneapolis early June. I’d been to the Northern State of Minnesota on wok and got a chance to spend the weekend with Rajeev, my schoolmate for twelve whole years. He’s working with Guidant in the program management office after his after his post grad from Purdue University.

Friday night was customarily spent at a pub on the banks of the Mississippi river with a listening to a live band. The University of Minnesota is just a few yards away and the enthu of the young crowd added to the ambience. We had some real good ‘Mong’ food, which is quite similar to Chinese food (but tastier) at a restaurant owned by immigrants from Laos. They were brought into the US in return for their ‘favours’ done during the Vietnam War. Minneapolis also has a large population of people from Somalia, thanks to the immigration after civil war erupted in the African nation. People from these two nations have become an integral part of the community here, hmm, well almost.

Minnesota is known as the land of 10000 lakes (no, the number is not a typo) ! So, it was only natural that I went to some of the lakes around. Lake Calhoun and Stillwater were my favourites. Another of the attractions was the Saint Paul Cathedral situated at the twin city of St.Paul. The entire shrine presented a calm ambience and we marveled at the beautiful sculptures made at the beginning of the century. The last, but the most awaited of the destinations was the ‘Mall of America’, the largest mall in US. It is situated in a sprawling area of 4.2 million square foot and housing outlets of most of the leading brands of the world. It even houses a theme park for kids inside. After spending a couple of hours at the mall, I bid farewell to Rajeev and Minneapolis and was back to the heat of Austin.