Sunday, 11 July 2010

Half-way down 2010 already

About the experience of going on a hot-air balloon ride, about trips to Prague and Vienna, and how different they were, and finally a few thoughts related to the Football World Cup currently taking place in South Africa.

Time just goes by -- can't believe that I haven't updated my blog for so long. For the first few months of the year I kept grumbling about the incredibly long and hard winter, and now, without half a chance to change gear, we are plump in the middle of summer -- with temperatures that can well compete with the summer heat in India. Only difference being that here there are no fans, no air conditioning and no coconut water to be found. But enough of grumbling... to other things...

The high point, by far, of these last months, happened at the beginning of June when we went on a hot-air balloon ride from Volkach. High time too, for we had been trying to find a date when the weather would be right to go on the ride for more than a year; we had already had to cancel three times. But June 4th was a perfect choice. And it was a great experience -- one that I would highly recommend to all of you.

It was simply strange and also wonderful to find the three of us high up in the sky, literally in a basket, with only the wind and the warm air inside the balloon to keep us afloat. The only control Klaus, our pilot, had was the switch to the gas cylinders, with which he could adjust the height of the balloon -- for moving horizontally he had to depend solely on the wind (which differed in strength and direction at different heights).

The funny thing was that after the huge amount of time we spent before take-off helping to set things up and being told what to do in case of various eventualities, I hardly noticed when we actually took off -- it was only when I saw people waving at us from below that I realised that we were off the ground. I felt a little cheated at first but soon the spectacular views of the area around us, the initial excitement of trying to float right over our house, of trying to identify the various little villages around Volkach and of being amazed at the sheer beauty of the many little loops and bends of the river Main around this area kept me completely spell-bound till it was almost time to land. I had not realised how pretty the area around here is till we actually got high enough to get a panoramic view -- and believe me, Google Earth is no match for what one sees from a balloon up there -- I heard me telling myself -- By Jove, our earth is really beautiful.

We had been told that we had to steer clear of the vineyards -- they were too dangerous to try to land in. That took us almost all the way to Iphofen. We finally landed in a field of baby cauliflowers and it was amazing to see the skill with which Klaus Bernhardt tried to steer clear of the plants and direct the balloon in order to land precisely at the crossroads. His wife Edith and son Alexander had in the meanwhile followed us the whole way in their big and sturdy station wagon, and were right there to receive us, at the crossroads, in the middle of a field of cauli-flower plants, next to nowhere we had ever been before.

But nothing had prepared us for what was to come after we landed -- but I will not tell you more about that here, in order not to spoil the fun for those who plan to go on a balloon ride -- the only hint, we were treated like royalty in the end!

In the last three months I've also been to two of the prettiest cities of Europe, Prague (end May) and Vienna (end June); both are spectacularly beautiful but I don't want to go into the details as there is nothing I can add to what you can find out easily from elsewhere -- just two old lessons based on my actual experience of the two cities -- first never visit such a city as a tourist during a weekend during the tourist season -- you will see nothing but other tourists and never want to go back there again, and second, it is much nicer if you can find someone, who actually lives in such a city (and has nothing to do with the tourist industry), to show you around -- then you will seen what not many tourists have seen and will come away having a real feel for the life of the city.

Two cultural tips however: while at Prague, do go to see a show of the 'Black Light Theatre' -- it is something very different, very aesthetic and very creative. I enjoyed every minute of our "Yellow Submarine Show" in a tiny and quaint little room filled with dozens of puppets, that served as the theatre. And in Vienna, there is a huge screen set up outside the State Opera House which screens every performance that is going on inside, live, for free. There is easily space for at least a couple of hundred people to be seated in front of the giant screen. Of course you have to bring your own chairs or towels to sit on, but you don't need to dress up, nor do you have to abstain from eating,drinking or talking, during the performance -- highly recommended!

Another thing also happened, or at least started to happen in the first half of this year -- the Football World Cup. The football mania gripping Germany, and perhaps other nations too, is to be seen to be believed. I have often wondered at how the normally sane and self-controlled Germans can become so loud and boisterous when it comes to football... But maybe that is precisely why -- for the first time in a long while, the Germans have something to celebrate, to be happy about -- football seems to have given this nation a new and positive sense of identity.

Good for them, and also for South Africa! And almost automatically, without any big effort,I find myself happily sharing in their excitement. It is a very good feeling. I caught the contagion only gradually though, understanding very little about football. At first, it meant little more than trying to locate the 32 countries on the map. But soon I found myself worrying about the outcome of the matches, and empathising with the heart-break of the losers, as well as with the jublation of the winners, that I saw on the faces of complete strangers at the end of a match.

I can't imagine what will happen afterwards,though. I wonder if the beautiful stadiums that have been built there will ever be made available for use by the local people. Reminds me in a sense of the National Games that were held in Guwahati a couple of years ago -- wonder what has happened to all those stadiums and the other facilities that had been created for the Games -- are they being put to any real use to encourage sports in the region -- I am not sure. I guess, Indians on the whole, don't think sport to be really important -- if they did we wouldn't do so miserably in almost every international event. Of course, cricket is important for many Indians, but more for the glamour, less as a sport, I guess. Cricket in recent times has become more like Bollywood Cinema -- all about money and beautiful people -- I don't quite understand it anymore.

But, to end on a happy note, if it weren't for the terribly annoying Wuvuzelas and the fact that India does not figure anywhere in the scheme of things as far as football is concerned, I couldn't have hoped for anything more from this World Cup. If one believes what one sees on TV then it has brought all South Africans together, and the rest of the world closer to Africa and also to one another. It has been the only good news we have had for a long while, in a world where only disasters can make it to the news -- for example all that oil that is gushing out in the Gulf of Mexico, to name just one. Let me not get started on that, else this wish to end on a happy note will get choked too...

Tonight is the final between Spain and the Netherlands, the oracle octopus Paul has already predicted who will win, let me try to be stupidly unoriginal and say, that doesn't matter at all as long as it is good football...

1 comment:

  1. About that Oracle Paul, some mathematicians are saying that Paul's score of 8 on 8 is a mere chance event and people do get three aces when cards are distributed, which is actually stranger in terms of probability! Marine biologists are claiming Paul was trained to pick up a particular box as Octopuses are gifted with exceptional memories. And no, there are no scopes of worry that Paul may be used by politicians to predict their election outcomes as, displaying a saintly indifference to all the headlines and countless Facebook status messages including mine, Paul is retiring ! He is back to the thing he likes best - delighting little children.

    So let us retire him in peace now. No need to bother with the fact that in Euro 2008 Paul predicted that Germany would win all the matches. Germany lost to Spain in the final.