There is this incredible surge of ‘advise’ that I suddenly see all around me. Random things have started communicating and want the world to pay attention to their advise. Why?
This phrase evolved to represent a global phenomenon. Across the world they appear like a rash and represent a combination of human inefficiency, poor quality, corruption and institutional apathy. Every year potholes cause accidents, mechanical destruction as well as create roadblocks that result in higher fuel waste and resultant pollution.
We have a proliferation of digital imagery, video and audio that will outlast us. Available through a smart phone that two billion of us shall possess in the next twelve months. All of this in addition to all the tools that our ancestors could access. I was struck by this thought recently when I was listening to music on the radio and most of the singers had moved on leaving their musical legacy for us to cherish. This is really a staggering testimony of our times and an important point of inflection in human history- footprints in the sands of time replaced with silicon chip enabled impressions for posterity.
I had the pleasure of having the most outstanding gelato recently in Milan. The smooth and creamy rich dark chocolate was sublime. The cone in which it was served was a perfect accompaniment and I was in heaven! I even had an ice cream burger- two scoops of delicious ice cream in a freshly baked bun with a merengue and dark chocolate sauce topping. A delightful example of human craftsmanship. Nowhere else have I had ice creams that have tasted better. The Italians have a rich history of gelato making and every town has its own traditions and flavours. There is a gelato store called GROM that’s opened recently in Dubai. Their cappuccino ice cream makes a frequent appearance in my dreams!
Of late my social conversations have been a bit gelato obsessed as you may have gathered by now. I was gushing about gelato with a rather knowledgeable foodie friend the other day who after hearing me patiently evangelising about the great Italian tradition of ice cream making had the following to say:
“The Chinese invented the ice cream in 300BC. As for the cones, they were invented in America by a Syrian immigrant who was a street hawker selling pastries. One day he came to his neighbours rescue who had run out of plates while selling his ice cream. He just folded a pastry in the form of a cone and gave it to his friend who placed a scoop of ice cream on it and the rest is history. The Persians had an ice cream culture too and so did the Romans. In those times it was a privilege of the rich until the industrial revolution in America enabled the commercial scale production of ice. The Italians have learnt well!”
So the journey of the Italian gelato has a Chinese origin and an American/Syrian/Roman influence. All I can say is that it’s an absolutely delicious consequence. I am a fan!
“I almost died three years back”, he said. I was all attention now. “I suffered from a massive heart attack while driving. My kids were with me in the car and I was lucky to drive myself to the nearest hospital. As a result I have three stents in my heart. It’s in my genes. My father died at the age of 41 from a heart attack and my mother at 50 from a heart attack too. I am sometimes reminded by my doctor that it’s a miracle that I am alive. I believe that if I am living a miracle then I will make each day a miracle as well for my family and me. It’s the attitude sir which makes all the difference”.
In my travels, I have come across acoustic creations which have left me baffled. The ancient world was full of unsung sound engineers who produced absolute marvels without the access to technology that our designers enjoy today. How could they reach such levels of sophistication? How did they process the complex maths as well as materials that are essential for this art to flourish?
I have no answers but here is a list of my favourite acoustic experiences:
Piped music at Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
The Taj Lake Palace Hotel is one of the most exquisite hotels I have stayed in my life. A 200+ year old heritage property set in a beautiful lake is a dream! No two rooms in this intriguing palace hotel are the same. As I closed my eyes lazing in my bathtub overlooking a beautiful part of the lake my attention was drawn to the gentle strains of flute. As I was getting dressed and subsequently heading towards the magnificent dining hall the notes seem to magically surround me wherever I went. I looked out for the music system when I was told that the engineering of the palace is such that the artist plays in the central courtyard and every corner of the hotel gets to enjoy the music! Apparently the sound waves travel through the channels carved out in the walls to every nook and corner of this ancient construction. Sublime!
Having a rock conversation at the Citadel at Amman, Jordan
Our guide took us to the ruins of an ancient roman theatre at the foothills of The Citadel in Amman. I have been to Roman theatres before and was happy to see the fact that this is a reasonably well maintained monument. All was well until the guide made me walk 100m away and asked me to turn away from him and speak into the stony walls of the theatre. To my utter surprise I started hearing my guide as I held my ear close to the walls. The engineering of this ancient construction (1000+ years old) was so intricate that the sound waves would travel through microscopic channels in the stone walls and carry across with complete clarity across a 100 meters distance and allow us to have a perfectly audible conversation. It is beyond my understanding how they could do this a thousand years back!
Clapping at Golconda fort, Hyderabad
The Golconda Fort in Hyderabad is amongst the biggest forts in India. It’s an ancient structure as well which was build almost a thousand years back. The fort runs along a mountain and hence has several levels to it. The sentry posts were at a distance and constructed such that the canopies work like the curvilinear base of our speaker systems and amplify sounds so that the sentries could warn each other incase of any danger. As we entered a sentry post we could hear the tourists in the other posts. While our guide clapped his hands to demonstrate this phenomenon I clapped too in sheer astonishment.
I have also enjoyed the musical pillars of Taj Mahal in Agra. Listened to the sounds of the Hindu Arti at the ghats of Benaras, a mystic experience that has layered chants and cymbals and bells that take you into a different world of trance. Not to mention the experience of a orator in Terragona Roman theatre where I delivered a grand speech to my family without a mike! I am not sure if they enjoyed my random afternoon sermon but I certainly felt like a Roman scholar!
I feel that sometimes when we have that breathless moment when we see a new technology we should not forget the notes from our past. The hills were always alive to the sound of music. It’s just that the tunes have evolved over time.