Photo A Day- Z for…..

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Beautiful Zebras!

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Deepavali aka Diwali !!!

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Deepavali has always been a big festival at home growing up. My brother, cousins and the neighborhood kids would be so excited about Deepavali especially the days leading up to the big day. My mom always made sure we had new clothes and my dad would take us to the market to buy crackers.As soon as we got home, my brother and I would go over to the neighbors’ house and all the kids would quickly do an inventory of what we have.We used to all share our flower pots, rockets and sparklers so we would have a 3 day supply and on the last day we would make a bonfire of all the cracker boxes.

Deepavali morning was feast day for us. We would have the works and it would be strictly a meat day after we got up super early and had an oil bath and wore our new clothes. Once we had stuffed ourselves with all the delicious food and unable to breathe, we would head over outside to start bursting crackers with our family and friends. Some of my friends would go home in the afternoon to watch the latest movies on TV. Watching TV was a big no for us at any point during the day so we would amuse ourselves with more crackers or eat sweets! I remember being on a constant sugar high the whole day and this was the one day my mom wouldn’t ask me to go easy on the sweets coz …well she was busy doing the same too!

Invariably based on the moon, the next day was our puja day which for my family was the the real event. Our whole house would get a wash and my mom and I( when I was older) would go to the market and buy all the puja things like flowers and fruits and the red thread and other things I still don’t fully pay attention to. The morning of the puja my mom would wake up at the crack of dawn and start decorating the idols (especially Shiva and Paravathi) at home and very rarely I would help with the decoration. To be honest, growing up I never enjoyed the puja food but now I love it! Maybe coz I don’t get this often enough. My mom always made all the sweets at home especially adhirasam and sooyam which should really be called sooyum!

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Around noon, it was time to read the story of Deepavali which was my dad’s forte, us kids would be starving having played outside all morning. The smell from the kitchen would be mouthwatering and we were not allowed to touch anything until the story reading and puja were over. I always used to think the puja would never end and everyone could hear my stomach rumble. Once the puja was over, my brother (always in a near faint around this time) and I would quickly wait at the dining table for our lunch and almost inhale the homemade sweets. After lunch, all the grown ups would go down for a siesta while my mom and grand-mom would continue to potter around the house for something or another. Friends and relatives would show up with even more sweets for us and we would do some rounds with sweets to our friends’ homes.

A lot of things have changed now and Deepavali doesn’t hold the same meaning to me as it once did. For one, I say Diwali now as its no longer cool to say Deepavali. This holds only for those of us from the South as it is our tradition to say Deepavali. Two, it’s fireworks or firecrackers now and not plain crackers coz that might indicate tea time to some. Also I think over the past ten years, people are more aware of how much pollution firecrackers cause and the danger to pets. Most importantly there is awareness now of child labor being used at the factories that produce these firecrackers and the hazardous conditions the laborers work under. Also, we can totally watch TV now.

Now to me  Diwali is just another day when I’m in the US although I remember to do a simple puja and make something easy special. All my friends would say the standard I wish I was in India for Diwali but none of us would really do anything festive at home or any attempts to plan a trip home around the festival time. But when I’m in India for Diwali and this year I am – it always means family, tradition, good memories and delicious food with or without a sparkler.

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New Orleans…The City Of Jazz! Part 1: French Quarter

New Orleans! The past few weeks I’ve been teasing New Orleans in a couple of my photo a day posts so I thought I’d share with you my trip experiences and my love for Nola. I’ve been to New Orleans twice, once around Christmas time with a friend and this past summer with my mom. We stayed in the French Quarter  both times at St.Marie, a charming little hotel which is a stone’s throw away from Bourbon Street so it was walking distance to everything yet away from the noise at night. One of the best ways to see New Orleans especially the French Quarter is by walking to all the sights so  Free Tours By Foot was perfect for us.

The heart of the French Quarter lies in Jackson Square, a historic park. Surrounding the park, I saw painters and musicians alike doing what they do best and having fun! By night, the square is totally transformed. There are palm readers fringing the park and the night and candles and hushed whispers make the scene a totally cool and eerie one! On two opposite sides of the square are identical red brick buildings called the Pontalba buildings built in the 1840s one of which is still open to view for all tourists. The upper stories are converted into apartments for rent for the rich and famous, well those who can afford it ! Don’t miss the history of the feisty owner of the Pontalba buildings when you visit!

Jackson Square Park and the cathedral

Jackson Square Park and the cathedral

I visited the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral which overlooks Jackson Square and it is a lovely sight at night especially around Christmas time when it is lit up and looking very festive. The highlight for me here was the beautiful statue of Jesus Christ in the garden behind the church. The shadow of Jesus Christ against the church is truly stunning.

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Don’t you think so?

For all you art lovers, there are a lot of beautiful galleries in the Quarter. One famous painting is that of the Blue Dog  based on a Cajun legend which catapulted the artist George Rodrigue into worldwide fame. And if you can’t afford any of the half a million or more dollar paintings you see in the galleries, snag one of the paintings you see on the street. They depict all the buildings and homes in New Orleans beautifully.

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I haven’t forgotten the shopaholics! I personally don’t like shopping for hours on end but Royal Street in the Quarter has an endless supply of trinket, jewelry shops,art galleries and departmental stores where you can buy pralines some even with bacon to take back home.

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I can’t describe how delectable the food is in New Orleans. All the Cajun and Creole dishes are so different from anything I’ve ever tasted. Although you see a lot of tourists in the Quarter, in my opinion people seem overall quite happy and very friendly. Of course they would be ! Coz there’s a constant flow of drinks and food and music ! I tried quite a few restaurants there and one was better than the other. I started my morning with shrimp and grits ( I’m almost drooling as I write this) and a mimosa. What? I was on holiday :). One of the best breakfast and brunch places there is the Cafe Fleur De Lis. One of the most famous cafes in the Quarter is Cafe Du Monde known for its beignets. Delicious as they are, you will be in a constant sugar high. Oh and helpful trivia -don’t wear black or anything dark colored if you are super clumsy like me. You will get powdered sugar all over you and when you try to dust it off with a tissue, there is an excellent chance that the tissue will stick to your clothes. Yes, exactly like Mr. Bean!  Also random fun fact: in winter the humidity in NOLA will cause you to have a bad hair day err.. like you see below.

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Beignets!

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Shrimp and Grits and Crawfish

Now, on to drinks of a different nature. You gotta try the Pimms Cup at Napolean’s house which is a dilapidated looking building named after Napoleon the Great. On the Quarter’s most famous Bourbon Street you will get a variety of sugary drinks. I would recommend trying the Hand Grenade cocktail they have simply because the drink looks pretty!

Napoleon House and Pimms Cup

Napoleon House and Pimms Cup

On my first trip out, I caught a jazz performance on Frenchmen Street which is the heart of New Orleans’ live music and night life. On my second trip this past summer my mom and I bought tickets to a jazz performance at Preservation Hall in the Quarter. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen.

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Have I enticed you yet into planning a trip to NOLA? Stay tuned for Part 2 which is all about the South- plantations and alligators galore!