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Monday, 22 June 2009

By royal appointment

If you have tuned into The Tudors on Showtime, you will probably be familiar with the romantic castles and estates of England. On a trip to London recently, we took a detour to Leeds Castle. It was almost like revisiting history textbooks from my university days in the most romantic way. Days of intrigueSet on an island in the heart of the Kent countryside, this moated castle has a history framed in romance and intrigue, conflict and majesty. It is a great holiday destination for lovers of history and a must-visit for those with a penchant for dog collars. Built in 1119, it became the palace of King Edward I in 1278 but its most famous royal connections are with Henry VIII. In the times of the Tudors, Henry VIII transformed the castle into a palace to rival the beauty of French counterparts. The classic era was followed by the austerity of the Second World War, when the castle was turned into a military hospital and secretly employed to develop weapons and safety systems. The monument is a marvellous piece of art and reflects the English heritage.Henry VIII had the castle refurbished for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. His daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, was imprisoned there during the reign of her sister, Mary I.‘Loveliest’ of the lotIt was Fiennes Wykeham Martin who redesigned the castle frontage, turning the Jacobean portion into the style Henry VIII wanted. The result prompted Lord Conway, the famous castle historian, to comment that this was “the loveliest castle in the whole world”.The last private owner of the building was Lady Baillie [also known as Olive, Lady Baillie], who bought it in 1926 and established the Leeds Castle Foundation, the objective of which is to preserve the castle and the park for the enjoyment of the public and enable its use for national and international meetings, particularly for the advancement of medical research and the furtherance of peace. The castle was opened to the public in 1976 and since then, visitors have thronged every year to the monument, which includes an aviary, a maze and an annual hot-air balloon festival. The museum was a surprise. The Dog Collar Museum at the castle’s Fairfax courtyard houses a huge collection of antique dog collars. It has almost 100 collars spanning five centuries and traces the history of canine neckwear from the medieval to the Victorian times and later.It was originally assembled by the medieval Irish scholar John Hunt and his wife, Gertrude. It was Gertrude who presented the collars to the Leeds Castle in 1979 in memory of her deceased husband. The museum is also a tribute to the castle’s last private owner, Olive, Lady Baillie, whose love for dogs inspired Gertrude to make the offering.Spike protectionCollars dating back to the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries were designed keeping in mind the dangers hunting dogs had to go through. Wolves, bears and wild boar roamed the forests of Europe then. The collars — broad iron bands with spikes — acted as shields for the throats of the dogs.One of the notable exhibits are German and Austrian Baroque leather collars from the 17th and the 18th centuries, decorated with metalwork and velvet. The collection includes a typical example from the mid-18th century, which bears the emblem of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. Also on show are engraved silver collars from the previous century, some designed by leading silversmiths of the day. These bear some interesting inscriptions.Getting married there would be a dream come true. Rising majestically from the still waters of its moat, with its beautiful black swans, Leeds Castle is an idyllic setting for the romantic event. A choice of venues both inside the castle and outside, on the grounds, are available for marriage celebrations.Photographer’s delightLeeds Castle is a photographer’s delight. Set in the valley of the River Len in the heart of the Garden of England, as Kent is also known, the castle is unrivalled in its spectacular scenery and backdrops. A trip on the hot-air balloon provides magnificent aerial views of the castle. However, I had to miss out on the opportunity because we were running late for an event at the castle, Music on the Lawns — The English Chamber Orchestra, that evening. Leeds Castle is undeniably the perfect holiday destination to make this summer regally special in your memories.Go there ... Leeds Castle ... From the UAEFrom DubaiLondon is the closest airport.Virgin Atlantic flies daily. Fare from Dh2,825Qatar Airways flies daily via Doha. Fare from Dh2,655From Abu DhabiEtihad flies daily. Fare from Dh2,035— Information courtesy: The Holiday Lounge by Dnata. Ph: 04 4380454Getting there
By road: Leeds Castle is located near Maidstone at Junction 8 of the M20 between London and the Channel ports.
By rail: It takes approximately an hour from London to Bearsted Station. A connecting service is available at a small charge.
Sea: Dover, 61km; Ramsgate, 77km
Channel Tunnel: Eurotunnel Folkestone Terminal, 40km (www.eurotunnel.com)Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) has connections to Lille, Brussels and Paris.
Satellite navigation users: If you are using a satellite navigation system, please follow the brown and white tourist signs once you reach the A20.
Timings and booking
Leeds Castle is open throughout the year. Please check the website for possible closures during the year.Till September 30
Opens: 10am daily
Last ticket sold (last entry): 4.30pm
Gates close: 6pm
Castle open: 10.30am-5.30pm
Last entry to the castle: 5pmOctober 1, 2009- March 31, 2010
Opens: 10am daily
Last ticket sold (last entry): 3pm
Gates close: 5pm
Castle open: 10.30am-4pm
Last entry to the castle: 3.30pm
The office is open 9am-5.30pm on weekdays.
Pre-booking is recommended. There’s no payment required to made prior to the visit.
Things you just can’t miss
The gardens and grounds Relax in 500 acres of parkland, woodland walks and gardens, including the quintessentially English Culpeper Gardens and the Mediterranean terraced Lady Baillie Garden, which has exotic and subtropical flowers and plants.The AviaryThe Aviary, which offers free tours daily at noon, is an international breeding and conservation centre for rare and endangered species of birds. It is home to approximately 100 species of birds.The DuckeryA peaceful environment for the castle’s ducks, swans, geese and birds, visitors can also feed ducks.Falconry displays There are free falconry displays daily throughout summer, in which visitors can watch the birds of prey demonstrate their power. Weekend displays are available only from October to March. The Maze and Grotto This is great for visitors of all ages. Lose yourself in the yew maze as you spiral towards an underground grotto of myths and legends.The Dog Collar Museum This is the world’s finest public collection of dog collars, which features exhibits that date back more than 500 years.The vineyard Four acres of grape vine are located near the original vineyard site listed in the Domesday Book in 1086. ShoppingTwo traditional gift shops offer a wide range of products, which reflects the attractions and events at Leeds Castle.The golf courseThe scenic 9-hole pay-and-play golf course allows spectacular views of the castle. This is suitable for societies, corporate golf days and residential golf weekends.ArcheryThis is a new addition. With the castle as the stunning backdrop, archery provides an ideal group activity. Pre-booking is now allowed. The Castle Craft CentreDiscover your creative side at the new Castle Crafts Café near the Knights' Realm Playground and try your hand at T-shirt and pottery painting. These activities can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
HighlightsEvents to look forward to this year at Leeds Castle:Food and Drink Festival: September 5 and 6Tudor Flower Festival: October 7-11Half-Term Heraldry Event: October 24-30Festive Fair: November 21 and 22Christmas at the castle: December 12-24

Behind the scents

Published: June 12, 2009, 23:40
Perfumes in attractive bottles are one of the best forms of art that can be collected when you travel to places that epitomise the pursuit of beauty — such as Paris.It was not surprising to find a museum for perfumes in Paris, the city of museums. Last year, I stepped into Musée du Parfum, a palace of perfumes, located near the Opéra Garnier. Grand interiorsOpen since 1983, the museum is run by the scent manufacturer Fragonard. The sweet news is that they offer a “behind the scents” tour, absolutely free.The Musée du Parfum occupies a lovely Napoleon III townhouse, which was built in 1860 by Lesoufaché, a student of Garnier. The architecture and the interiors — a gorgeous mix of gold, white marble, dark wood, mural paintings, mirrors and crystal chandeliers — belong to that era and, of course, the sweetest of scents. The museum showcases the history of bottled fragrance through the ages.Our museum guide, Laurence, had an Oriental charm about her, although she spoke English with a heavy French accent. She drifted from one exhibit to the other. The museum taught us a lot about the sweet smells in attractive jars. There are elaborate displays of the tools used in the making of perfumes. Laurence told us about the various perfume-making techniques and the raw materials. Over the years, perfume makers have developed various methods to obtain the purest raw materials from flowers, plants and other natural ingredients. Today, with innovations in modern chemistry, it is possible to produce natural scents in laboratories. Laurence guided us through the procedures of extracting and bottling of scents.DistillationThis technique is based on the ability of steam to capture essential oils. It was first used in antiquity but was perfected by the Arab civilisation in AD8 and is still used in traditional perfume making. The flowers or plants are placed on perforated trays in the upper part of the still; the lower part is filled with water. which is brought to a boil. As the steam rises, it captures the scent-bearing components and carries them into a container where the vapour is condensed by refrigeration. The mixture of water and essential oils is collected in essence bottles, called Florentine flasks. The essential oils rise to the surface and are used to make perfume while the scented water left from distillation, such as rose water and orange-blossom water, is used for other purposes. AbsorptionThis technique is based on the ability of animal fat to absorb odours naturally. Depending on how well the plant matter withstands heat, this process is conducted at either hot or cold temperatures.ExtractionExtraction using volatile solvents consists of adding the fragrance-bearing part of the plant to a solvent, which is boiled. This was practised in the 18th century using ether. Some methods include supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, where a carbon dioxide by-product is used as a solvent. Since this solvent is easier to eliminate, production costs are lower. Raw materialsThe raw materials of plant origin used to make perfumes are sourced from all around the world. Raw materials of animal origin are not very well known and have been replaced by synthetic products. The first perfume to use synthetic products was Chanel N°5, created in 1925 — one of its components is an aldehyde. Synthetic raw materials obtained through petrochemistry have as high a quality of fragrance as those derived from natural raw materials.Plant of many partsAlthough not always cheaper than their natural counterparts, synthetic raw materials are more desirable from an ecological point of view and ensure consistent product quality. There is also a perfume map on display at the museum, with pictures and details of each raw material and its place of origin.Depending on the species, various parts of plants or trees are used to make perfumes: petals, flower or leaf buds, roots, leaves, stems and stalks. Although cultivated internationally, some flowers are still picked in the fields around the Grasse region in France and used in the local perfume industry. The museum also has some huge, beautiful copper vessels traditionally used by perfumeries around the world. Perfume bottles made of glass, porcelain and granite, with elaborate handwork, complete the vanity behind the precious essence they contain. Don’t be surprised if you’re inspired to buy some at the end of the tour. A lot of them have their roots in Asia and the Middle East. Shop for giftsThe boutique shop offers gift ideas presented in admirable pick-me-up fashion. You can shop for soaps, cosmetics, home scents and perfume sets.I was intrigued by the variety of perfumes in miniature bottles, especially the Soleil collection. Laurence said soleil means “Sun” in French. The bottle’s cap was self-explanatory. I picked some lovely perfume bottles in gilded sets. Some of the world’s sweetest perfumes from the museum lingered as we cruised on the Seine River that evening. The Fragonard bottle stands out among other sweet-smelling cosmetics, singing Paris, je t’aime (Paris, I love you).Blooms, herbs and perfumeThe main flowers used are:
1. Rose, picked only at dawn when the perfume is strongest. The rose most commonly used for making perfumes is the rosa centifolia, or May rose. It is cultivated in Grasse, Turkey, Bulgaria and Morocco. 2. Jasmine, the white flower most used for many perfumes, helped establish Grasse’s reputation for perfumes and is also imported from Spain, North Africa and India. 3. Tuberose, native to Mexico, was brought to Grasse during the 17th century and is also common in India. 4. Orange blossom is cultivated in Provence, Italy and Egypt. When distilled, it produces an essence called neroli. 5. Lavender, fields of which cover the plateaus of Haute Provence. It is mainly used in fragrances for men. 6. Mimosa, found in abundance in the Grasse region during the end of winter, is a flower without petals. Its little yellow florets are composed of stamens. 6. Ylang-ylang is produced by gnarled trees found in islands in the Indian Ocean: the Comoros archipelago, Mauritius, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Republic of Madagascar. Aromatic herbsThyme, rosemary, mint and basil are also used to make perfumes. They are cultivated in France, Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, India and Madagascar. Fruits, roots and the restFruits and their peels add a refreshing citrus note or an exotic touch. Let’s take a quick look at where they are sourced from in bulk: 1. Lemon from Italy, California and the Ivory Coast. 2. Bergamot from Calabria in Italy, the Ivory Coast and Spain. 3. Orange from California and Spain. 4. Mandarin, native to China, is also grown in Italy. 5. Grapefruit from the US. 6. Vanilla, native to Mexico and cultivated around the Indian Ocean. Spices and seeds are used too:1. Tonka beans from Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil. 2. Coriander, cultivated and distilled in Russia, Hungary and North Africa. 3. Badian from China. 4. Cumin, native to the Mediterranean basin and India. 5. Ambrette from India and the West Indies. 6. Cardamom from India, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Central America. 7. Cloves from Madagascar, the Philippines, Indonesia and Tanzania. 8. Fenugreek, with its smell reminiscent of walnut and celery. 9. Nutmeg, harvested from the evergreen nutmeg tree. 10. Pepper, used mainly for fragrances for men. Some leaves useful to the perfume industry: 1. Patchouli, cultivated mainly in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. 2. Petitgrain extracted from the leaves of the bitter orange in Italy. 3. Geranium from South Africa, Egypt and China. 4. Violet from the hills of Venice; the leaves give a very green floral essence. 5. Myrtle, native to the Mediterranean region. Roots are prized raw materials: 1. Vetiver from the island of Java. 2. Iris, of which Italy is the biggest producer. It is also grown in Greece, India and Morocco. 3. Ginger, cultivated in India, Japan, China and West Africa.Wood, barks and mosses are also used to make perfumes:1. Sandalwood from India, Timor, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. 2. Cedar from Kenya and the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. 3. Cinnamon, harvested in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India and Vietnam. 4. Birch bark from Russia and northern Europe. 5. Lignum vitae from Argentina, Paraguay and the West Indies. 6. Oak moss from the forests of the Massif Central in France, Morocco and Spain. Resins and gums, secreted by plants (or trees) are used to form a particular note in a fragrance. Plant secretions from which perfume is extracted are: 1. Galbanum from Iran and Afghanistan. 2. Benzoin, produced in Laos, China and Vietnam. 3. Opoponax from Ethiopia. 4. Myrrh, a gum drawn from spiny shrubs found in Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and the Arabian Peninsula. 5. Labdanum, extracted from rock rose (cistaceae) leaves sourced from North America. 6. Tolu balsam from South America. 7. Frankincense is collected from a wild shrub mainly from Oman, Yemen and Somalia.Road and railFrom the Boulevard Périphérique:Exit at Porte Maillot and take Avenue de la Grande Armée to Place Charles de Gaulle, then Avenue des Champs Elysées to Place de la Concorde. Here turn left into Rue Royale leading to Place de la Madeleine, then right into the Boulevard de la Madeleine direction to Opéra Garnier. By public transport:Métro : Opéra station (lines 3, 7 and 8).

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

19 people lost their jobs

And most of whom I knew personally. I feel so bad and helpless. It is important that we accept change for continuity sake. But I feel bad for their shattered dreams, their helplessness, no matter how small it was.
Some say it is bad karma. Or is it the good karma? It is so difficult to say that. I think the challenge these days is to be sure of something. Anyone today who is sure is the boss. I don’t know what I am typing off, but I am perhaps typing off to do good to myself. To get rid of daunting thoughts.
I wonder if it was to do with the image that they carried as either not-so-good employee or the one as a difficult-to-manage-employee. Ofcourse the mail from the HR says that it was retrenchment due to some positions going redundant due to restructuring of the workflow etc, but I just cant stop thinking.
I cant stop thinking what am I being thought of actually. Come to think of that it worries me. Does my boss think I am good enough. Aw! It is so depressing to even tread that path. It horrible to be evaluated. I hate it.
Yes am sure I hate the feeling.