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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Where dreams crystallise

Last summer I was lucky to enjoy a visit to the sensual kaleidoscope of the famous showrooms of Swarovski crystals in Austria.
One of my all-time favourite movies, Sound of Music, was shot in many locations in the country — Schloss Mirabell with its splendid gardens where Maria and the children sang Do-Re-Mi, the church where Captain Von Trapp and Maria were married, and so on. This movie kept me dreaming about the Alps for a long time.
My longing to be in the lap of the Alps came true last summer.
Nestled amid alpine serenity and superb beauty, the crystal kingdom in Wattens was too good to believe.
All that glitters...
In the crystal kingdom, a subterranean landscape made of thousands of crystals, be prepared to embark on a journey that drifts between dreams and reality, where you will meet fairytale characters and mystical creatures.
The underground Chambers of Wonder that were built under the aegis of multimedia artist André Heller in 1995, houses a collection of fantastic installations and glittering works by great artists.
Since its opening, the Crystal Worlds have enchanted young and old from the world over with sparkling installations.
You can also find the crystal replica of Indian maharaja Rana Pratap’s legendary horse Chetak’s armour.
Jim Whiting’s mechanical theatre
This is a mysterious and magical movement that is synchronised with music and light to captivate the audience. Clothes, figures and other everyday items are brought to life as if by magic.
This macabre and surreally beautiful show combines many magical transformations with the artist’s love of mechanical precision.
Crystal Dome — nature reflected
What’s it like to be caged inside a crystal? Experience this feeling while stepping into this dome with a million mirrors.
Here, a thousand beams of refracted light dance around the faceted walls to the sound of music by Brian Eno.
This sea of mirrors gives the impression of a space that never ends. Standing in the crystalline Chamber of Wonder, with its geodetic dome made up of 595 elements, is like standing at the very heart of a giant crystal.
As soon as you step inside, you find yourself in a deep blue chamber, far removed from everyday life.
Crystalline works of art by Keith Haring, Niki de Saint Phalle, John Brekke, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol surround the centrepiece of this space, the Centenar — at 300,000 carats, the largest cut crystal in the world.
A wall of crystal, 42 metres long and 11 metres high, leads to a wonderland of even more mysteries.
Silent light — a winter dream
Freshly fallen snow couldn’t be more beautiful. Designers Tord Boontje and Alexander McQueen have made winter dreams come true with their sculpture Silent Light, which is made of hundreds of crystals.
A moment of complete stillness can be so very healing. Just lean back and gaze at the ever-changing crystal formations reflected in the 440 facets of the largest kaleidoscope in the world.
Crystal calligraphy
The poetry of light can say more than words ever could. This blue-green fantasy, written in light, was created by the American glass artist Paul Seide, who dedicated it to the Expressionist poet, Georg Trakl.
Crystal theatre
The space presents an iridescent as well as magical scenario by stage and costume designer Susanne Schmögner.
Your imagination can roam free in this world, with scents created by Jane Haidacher. Here angels are made of flowers, the sun dances with the moon and there is even a crystal devouring plant.
Ice passage
Trust your intuition to guide you along Oliver Irschitz’s dark Ice Passage. Each step creates light, sparkling crystals appearing beneath your feet. You create the trail as you follow it!
The giant’s magical story
A giant travels around the world, but he’s not alone; he carries with him a walking stick, a ring, his gloves and a gigantic accordion.
And who is this giant? Why is he here in Swarovski’s headquarters? The guide explains: “The story is that the giant is believed to be guarding the precious crystals.”
Poseidon’s puzzle — Expressionism of the deep
Brilliant colours and crystalline geometry pay tribute to Expressionist art.
Glittering pebbles and beautiful undersea creatures appear and disappear between floor-to-ceiling panels, allowing visitors to enjoy the play of light and sound.
A diva makes a special guest appearance
In the Crystal Dome, by the light of Swarovski crystals, world-famous soprano Jessye Norman sang Thy hand, Belinda, which is the final aria of the opera Dido and Aeneas.
Visitors can enjoy her performance in the Chamber of Wonder, where a second star, a giant mountain crystal from Madagascar, stands next to the artiste, unfolding its secretive layers of power.
Virtuoso interaction
A collection of names from the world of artistic creativity of the last two centuries is represented here in paintings, photographs, drawings and prints by Marc Chagall, Erté, Gustav Klimt, Peter Kogler, Joan Miró, Walter Navratil, Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol and other artists from the Swarovski Kristallwelten collection.
A gallery for temporary exhibitions presents works from the contemporary art scene.
55 Million Crystals by Brian Eno — the transience of artA place that feels like music, this is Brian Eno’s artistic intention.
In 55 Million Crystals, Eno has captured the transience of music in a video installation. This is music for the eye of the beholder!
Crystals for a bargain
Needless to say, shopping for jewellery in these showrooms is a must when you are here. I bought a crystal bracelet with edelweiss strung together in memory of the song in Sound of Music.
Art in the park
What would the Giant kingdom be without his garden? An aesthetic park landscape, with sculptures, installations, the famous green labyrinth in the shape of a hand and an adventure playground, is the place to make discoveries.
Driven through the Alberg Pass — the highest point of the Austrian Alps — which was covered in snow was anther high altogether.
Bus ran through the tiny independent principality of Liechtenstein and arrived in Switzerland, in the lap of another alpine beauty at Engelberg.
Go there ... Swarovski headquarters
From the UAE ... From DubaiInnsbruck is the closest airport to Swarovski headquarters in Wattens.
Austrian Airlines flies daily via Vienna. Fare from Dh3,460

For the people

Published: December 23, 2007, 17:16
I returned from my annual leave with two nagging feelings: a haunting nostalgia and a lost opportunity to visit Delhi — the epitome of India's glorious past and a promising future — during my recent trip to the country.
It's difficult to move on to Janpath — meaning "people's boulevard" in Sanskrit — from the bigger canvas of Delhi. Mile-long bazaar
Situated in Lutyens' Delhi, Janpath is popular not because Sonia Gandhi stays at 10 Janpath but for the mile-long haat (bazaar). The place is true to its name and feels like it has been around since time immemorial.
Here you will find the small market stretch bustling with activity. Shoppers and tourists explore the plethora of shops that sell goods ranging from clothes to costume jewellery and other accessories. Food stalls quench the tired shopper's hunger and thirst during the gruesome Delhi heat or spike the chill in the notorious winters with ice-candies. Adding to the enigma is a cluster of Tibetan antiques shops, which bear the typical mark of the kingdom.
The law that rules Janpath's lanes is: "Ask and it shall be given unto you; negotiate and it will be at the rates given by you". The market is frequented not by visitors but old-timers and tourists. The buyer-and-seller chemistry is fascinating and may seem like a tested relationship — a kind that exists between old friends.
Known chemistry
The friend who took me to Janpath for the first time interacted with the vendors there as if they had known each other for ever. The man quoted Rs500 (about Dh50) for a kurta (shirt), to which my friend snapped back: "What brother? Do we look like firangis [foreigners] to you?" And the following tête-à-tête finally fetched us the kurta for just Rs50 (about Dh5).
Some elements have long been associated with Janpath. There are the village women from Gujarat who sell embroidered wall hangings and hail customers in French, Spanish, Italian or German, much to the surprise of baffled passers-by.
The urchin, nagging shoppers to part with a coin or two while eyeing their milkshake from Dee Paul's, flashes a mischievous smile as he tries hard to hide his right hand inside his shirt to exhibit an ostensible handicap. Adding to this crowd is the blind beggar around the corner, who can see!
Between blazing summers and harsh winters, there is the occasional drizzle of rain as well as of luscious black jamuns (Indian blackberries) that pour down from the trees along avenues — an experience that belongs solely to Delhi.
When Kate Winslet, after the success of Titanic, visited India in search of nirvana (inner peace), she visited Janpath. And — can you believe this? — she went unnoticed. No one is a celeb here; this place belongs to the commoners.
Shopping and snacking from roadside vendors is typical of Delhiites, whether you are a millionaire's kin or a sarkari babu's (government officer) daughter.
Some people occupy their particular spots every day — the panwallas (who sell chewies wrapped in betel leaves nailed with a clove), chaatwallas (who sell a delectable sweet'n'sour mixture), golguppewallas (who sell mouthful-balls of fried dough with sweet-and-sour fillings), the chuskiwallas (sorbet-on-stick vendors) and tikkiwallas (selling hash browns with mint chutney). There are also kulfiwallas and jalebiwallas selling Persian sweets, reminiscent of the Mughal days.
Designed to please
Another unforgettable attraction at Janpath is the mehendiwallas (herbal-tattoo artists), who are sprawled out on the pavement and offer, for a pittance, to apply intricate designs on your palms. And, they do this within 15 to 20 minutes! The sweet scent of the ground mehendi leaves mingles with garlands of pearly white jasmines set off by deep fuschia-pink roses — the bouquet is sweeter than the best perfumes in the market.
One can spend hours just observing Janpath's motley crowd. I remember the fruit vendor who managed a windfall from an over-enthused foreigner who paid Rs100 (about Dh10) for bananas from the holy land of Benaras.
I searched in vain for a glimpse of Janpath while walking through Dubai's Meena Bazaar. Janpath is unique. For now, I tell myself as I look forward to my next annual leave … Delhi is not far.

A Bavarian adventure

Published: November 12, 2008, 01:21
A fiercely independent lot, the Bavarians have always maintained a strong national identity. I enjoyed their hospitality this summer as I cruised the Rhine travelling south through Germany.
From the valley we went down the Romantic Road of Rothenburg to reach Munich, the capital of Bavaria.
The Rhine valley and the road to Bavaria offer a spectacular view of the region's vineyards, castles and ancient churches. And in case you think beer is all the Bavarians can brew, a taste of their white Riesling (dry, white wine), is a must to dispel this myth.
While the countryside is a romantic mix of lush vineyards and fairytale castles across the valley and the countrysides you can also see train-lines and roads running parallel to the river, transporting industrial goods to the cities and ship yards almost throughout the day. There is no escaping the influence of the Industrial Revolution.
But aside from the purpose of modern living there is always space for legends, and the Lorelei rock is evidence of that. The rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near Saint Goarshausen rises up almost 132 metres above the water-level.
Downstream the river is at its narrowest and deepest point, so the Middle Rhine at this juncture is difficult to navigate. This is also the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea and is infamous for its strong currents. The rocks in the area have caused many boats to capsize.
The fable goes that a siren called Lorelei bewitched the hearts of the sailors and when they looked up to the rock, their boats crashed and they sank to their doom. The main tourist attractions in Munich are Marienplatz, Glockenspiel, Saint Peter's church, Englischer Garten, Deutches Museum and BMW Museum.
Unfortunately, we (the gout of us travellers) couldn't catch a glimpse of the Glockenspiel, known to chime with life-sized statues rotating in a mock dance, as it was being renovated.
Instead we went to the café opposite, not surprisingly called as Café Glockenspiel, where we enjoyed some Bretzel and Bratwurst.
Day two in Munich saw us exploring Marienplatz and after a hearty Bavarian breakfast walking the quaint cobbled stoned pavements was just what the doctor ordered.
Once you reach the Marienplatz everything you need is within strolling distance. The Old and New Town Halls look down on the golden Mariensoul. Saint Peter's church, just off Marienplatz, is the oldest church in Munich, and for a fantastic view of the city, you could climb the bell frey tower.
There are local artists selling the city panorama in water and oil from the top of the church. The Englischer Garten or English Garden is a large park in the heart of the city and is famous for beer gardens and nude sunbathing.
Moving on from nature, in all her glory, to science and technology and a visit to the Deutsches Museum.
It is one of the famous technology and science museums in the world. Eight floors of displays from boats to telescopes to robots; which is a great stop over for scientists or people who love machines. The evening was spent outdoors, soaking up the last rays of the sun and the beautiful vistas of white houses outlined in dark wood.
And just before night descended in her inky blackness, the sky came alive with the vibrant orange and majestic purple hues of another day gone by.

List of good-byes

It’s been a while, years perhaps, since I got back into blogging. I was consumed in work and after work work at home. And then there was a sudden visit to India that left me shaken with many thoughts on one’s death, deadly decisions and future of retirement. Someone was almost on the deathbed but with god’s grace is revived and back home. Hospital can be such a dreadful experience to those tied down with oxygen masks and tubes running from and to so many body parts that need them there as per the doctor’s judgment. It is painful to see anyone in pain. More painful to imagine that helplessness strikes at an age when you are perhaps the eldest in the house. Yet more painful to know that the sick and helpless actually are more helpless than sick, actually! I will not bereave the dead so much from now on, but wail at the situation one has to put up before saying the final bye. In America you can opt to be put in tubes or not. Of course we all want our loved ones as long as possible with us. But I am sorry I think if it is my time to go, I must be let free.

Last week a dear colleague was terminated from work for underperformance and banned to work in the country for a specified number of months AND is not allowed to work for a competitor for 2 and a half years. Perhaps this is the only way the company can have its sweet revenge or retrieve the amount of time and money invested in flying in a candidate for the job. I don’t know what keeps the laws in place here. But I feel bad as it was a dear colleague how lost a job. I am the least of a leftist in my thoughts but this event awes me in directions I rather not spend time comprehending. All I can do is blog it.

Today I took a small break in between work to look at something which is not work-related and spent a few minutes reading a link sent by a mate who doesn like dynasty politics in congress and wanted me to have a closer look at Rahul Gandhi, as I once reflected my thoughts that I like him as the next Indian prime minister. So, hence, and therefore I have just read a write-up on the surge of Rahul Gandhi in politics. But I have nothing to say, anyone can make anyone a god or a devil. Especially the media. We are our own enemies in the kind of situation when we can be caught on camera etc etc…easier if u are the one media wants to quote and get more TRPs right!? From that write-up I liked the phrase called ‘baptized in fire’. To me it means that if u wr not born in a catholic family and baptized in water before ur senses came to senses…and are married into a catholic family, then they actually the life/time there on baptizes you in fire to get the evil spirits in u go as far as possible…ha ha ha whatever that means.
Anyway that’s that for Rahul, evil spirits and work force in the UAE. Let me skid into the next interesting thing I read today post lunch it was the recent post on big b’s blog, on his denial of the Australian doctorate after all the racist attacks on Indian students there. This leaves me thinking that even if Australia is the first among the recession proof three countries, others being China and India…am not seeing Australia in the radar as other colleagues who are fed up of Dubai especially since the season is gloomy, hot, not family friendly and highly-whatsoever-not-so-great-frankly.