Walking in Howth

Jutting off the edge of the mainland, Howth is a wondrous coastal town a few minutes off Dublin. A working harbour, panoramic-Irish Sea views, drop-by at W.B. Yeats (coastal?) home and an exhilarating and nerve-wrecking Cliff Walk along the raw terrain outlining the coast, makes it a worthy visit.


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In early November when I did the walk, midst the misty rain, criss-crossing the multiple “Dangerous Cliffs” signs, I wobbled between moments of excitement on seeing exhilarating natural heathland views and, minutes of anxiety treading down the moss-covered slippery terrain often giddily close to steep edges and dangerously abrupt heights. Lack of proper guideposts or safety railings and no sight of people added to the excitement (or was it fear?), I continued on and I am glad I did because walking past abandoned cottages through weedy shrubs and purple bluebells, with the symphony of waves crashing on the raw rough sea crags I saw what perhaps would have led H.G. Wells to describe the view of the Howth Head as “one of the most beautiful views of the world.” The sun did not show up for the rest of the trip and I walked through the middle of the town to finish my walk, ecstatic and satisfied as I angled for a seat in the Fish and Chips stop outside the DART station.

The cliff walk

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Knocking on Yeats' door

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The cliff walk

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Blue is the warmest colour

London loves history. It does not take you long to figure out that once you are here. It all began with this interesting story about the place I am living in. So you see, the baroque mask is something that the UCL New Hall could not have gotten rid of as it was ‘listed’ as a result of which the new building had to come up around the old facade. The older the building, the more likely it is to be listed.

And this way of preserving heritage in the form of listing buildings extends to commemorating places where famous people lived by erecting a blue plaque in their memory. Blue plaques seem to be everywhere in London, and with about 900 blue plaques floating around it’s no surprise. The London Blue Plaques are sort of like The Hollywood Walk of Fame-except they are a tad more prestigious.

Blue plaques are placed on buildings – occasionally grand, often ordinary – where famous people lived and worked. Sigmund Freud lived and worked in fashionable Hampstead; Charles Darwin in UCL’s campus; Isaac Newton in Soho; Charles Dickens in private street of Camden; Mozart composed his first symphony in the elegant neighbourhood of Chelsea. As with all fame, of course, many of the Blue Plaques of London commemorate people the average person don’t know.

Such memorials provide a chance to stop and think about something because we’ve stumbled across a relevant point in space, in the same way a google doodle invites us to think of someone or something just because of a particular point in time.

You can find a list of all blue plaques in London here or can make a fun blue plaque for yourself here.

Discovering Street Art

My recent trip in Europe exposed me to a lot of art and culture through museums and galleries. Every stop of the journey visit was a cultural revelation but what has struck me most is the abundance of graffiti or street art across roads, markets and subway stations. From avant-garde improper scribbling outside Pompidou Center in Paris to more elegant stenciled work of Banksy in London, street art is perhaps, the best way of arriving at a deeper understanding of the local mindset in a foreign land. But as I explored further, what had started off as a rebellious cultural experience appears to have become a commercial brand in its own right.

Street art may or may not be as underground, rebellious, or “relevant”, I believe that it has a purpose. The street provides a kind of canvas that will never be replicated by any other medium including the internet. Street art is at its most effective when is occurs in unexpected places, subverting our routine experience with the urban environment. It’s hard to achieve that kind of “stumbled upon” effect on any other media, which is rather uniform in shape and size, and where much can be lost.

I think street art’s place in the future will be to continue to snap us out of our complacency with our lived-in reality, to surprise us, to allow us to see the suppleness of our surroundings, how readily the side of a building can become something else. Street art will, hopefully, also serve to bring art out of the cloistered world of galleries, magazines, etc., and put art in the way of people who might never go out of their way to see it.

 From my experience of visiting various art galleries, I assume the elitism we associate with the art world is caused by too many artists making art for other artists, rather than for a wider demographic to enjoy and this is where street art comes as a refreshing change to me. Street art, like most underground movements, has been bought into by the mainstream because of its refreshing edginess and rebellious nature. Similarly to music, these sub genres become saturated with mediocre content as people try to make money off them. The encouraging thought is that when this happens another subgenre splinters off in revolt and we can enjoy a new and exciting phenomenon.






The Jaipur Literary Carnival

There’s nothing in a literature festival more literarily stimulating than the carnival atmosphere. Plenty of words, wordplay, a couple of Nobel laureates but without the sense of magnitude and detail — crowds, durbars, tents, tented lawns, tainted halls and painted faces — how would the global zeitgeist be captured even by the convergence of so much literary genius on a historic locale for colour, continuity and mock controversy? Are these writers on holiday, or writers at work?

Needless to say, I had a brilliant time.

Desai in conversation

Supriya Nair has one of the best summaries of the festival here.

Mayank has the best pictures here one of which also features me 🙂

The videos of the sessions are here and here.
And the sessions which I enjoyed the most were ‘The Crisis of American Fiction‘ and Vikram Seth’s ‘The Suitable Book‘.