Saturday, March 28, 2009

From Faith to Fashion - the story of Monica Socolovsky

Last week I was invited to the Fashion Show of the famous Argentine designer Monica Socolovsky at Hotel Sheraton. I was impressed by her new styles and creations. Her designs are not just about novelty and innovation. She connects the dress to the body with an enchanting aesthetic taste based on a profound cultural and spiritual perspective. She combines the machine-made fabrics with the exquisite hand-made designs and embroideries of India. Her designs have won recognition and market in London, Paris and Milan among other fashion capitals of the world. She holds her Fashion Shows twice a year regularly in Buenos Aires and also holds shows in Europe.

I was fascinated by Monica´s blend of Indian culture with Argentine glamour. I was curious.
I asked her about her India connection and inquired how many times has she visited India. I was taken aback when she said ¨more than 80 times¨. She has been making, on an average, three trips every year for the last thirty years. She is going to India next week again.

I became more inquisitive. How was her experience with India? What took her to India in the first place? She said it was Faith. It was the call from Sai Baba.

Here is the story, as she described to me:

She started her career as a manager with Bloomingdales, NewYork. She used to get dreams of a Guru from India. The dreams recurred for as long as twelve years. But she could not figure it out since she had never been exposed to India or any Gurus. One day, when she was browsing in a bookshop in London, a book fell on her from the shelf accidentally. She took it up and there was the picture of Sai Baba. She realised instantly that it was the same image which she was seeing in her dreams.

So, she took the next step of setting out on a journey to India in 1979. At the Delhi airport, she was waitlisted for the Indian Airlines flight to Bangalore as 231st. But she was desperate to catch that flight for her meeting with Baba. She did not know what to do. She prayed to Baba. Miracle! Her number moved from 231 to number one and she got the flight !

Sai Baba blessed her and told her that she would do business with India. So, she started Sathya Fashion, the design company and started buying materials for her designs from India.

The birth of Sathya, the company, was followed by the birth of Sathya the new baby. This was another miracle.During one of her trips, Baba told her that she would get a baby. She could not believe. Her doctor had told her that she could never give birth to another baby because of some complications caused after she gave birth to her first child. When she reported Baba´s prediction to her doctor, he said let us see if Faith can overcome Science. Sure it did. She was blessed with a baby girl, whom she named as Sathya. Since the baby was born in Kodaikanal, India, she wanted an Indian passport. But she encountered the Indian bureaucracy which challenged her faith with all kinds of procedural problems. She prayed again to Baba. Another miracle! The owner of the hotel, where she was staying, happened to be a member of Indian parliament and on his recommendation Sathya got an Indian passport immediately. Of course, the Indian immigration officials, look puzzled every time Sathya visits India. They look at the blue Indian passport and the blonde Argentine face and shake their heads in disbelief , unable to comprehend the miracle behind Sathya. A boy child followed Sathya and he has also been given an Indian name, Prem.

Monica´s faith in Baba and her business with India has made her passionate about India. Her eyes sparkle whenever she talks about India. She is keen to promote collaboration and exchanges between the Indian and Argentine fashion institutes and designers.

Here is Monica, exuding Indian spirit and Argentine glamour:

Here are some photos of her Fashion Show:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

ice blue fiesta in Argentina Lake

I was treated to a fiesta of ice blue ( blue is the clour of my inspiration) by the icebergs and glaciers in the Patagonia region of Argentina during my visit there last month.

It was a full-blue experience. Glacial Blue of the huge glaciers, Prussian blue of the Argentine Lake, Crystal Blue of the icebergs. And all these covered by the sky in grey blue.

The blue colour emanating from the cleavages of icebergs and the crevices of the glaciers was breath taking. The density and shades of blue changes with the size of the icebergs; soft blue balls of baby icebergs floating and playing on the lake; the massive solid blue mountain-size icebergs sitting as though they are meditating; the medium size icebergs drifting around like the middle aged men; and the artistic ones like architectural beauties with sculpted shapes.

The large Argentine Lake itself is in a mystic and milky glacial blue colour, changing its hue with the sun. The lake is sixty kilometres long and has depth upto five hundred metres. The lake and the icebergs are set in the backdrop of the majestic mountains and the arid and barren Patagonian landscape.

I was fascinated agin by the bluish hue of the Perito Moreno Glacier during this visit, as I was during my visit last time in 2008. Here is what I wrote last time

Here is a picture of the Glacial blue:

Afterwards, I took the All Glacier tour in which they show three glaciers including Upsala, the largest one. More than the glaciers, what was even more interesting was the icebergs floating on the Argentina lake. It was an amazing experience to see so many icebergs in different shapes, sizes and blue colours in the backdrop of the mountains and glaciers. Here are some pictures of the icebergs:

getting up to see the mountain?
doing stretching exercise above the water?

who did the sculpting?

oops .. still can´t the touch the clouds?

like a light blue island

massive like mountains

Argumentative Argentine icebergs?

The tour boat trying to listen in to the iceberg arguments?

Monday, March 09, 2009

kissing queens and sipping wines in the Mendoza Festival

Yes.... this was one official duty I performed dutifully with the beautiful queens of Mendoza... with my heart, soul, mind and body and in the fullest spirit.

I was one of the Ambassadors invited last weekend by the Mendoza provincial government for their annual Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia (The Grape Harvest Festival or Wine festival ) which is held in March. On friday evening, at a cocktail, we were introduced to all the 18 beauty queens from the various districts of the province of Mendoza. I had to kiss them one by one ...and by the time I reached the end of the lineup ... hmm I was drunk even before touching the wine. And I reached heaven after sipping the wines ..

And the the tall beauties made me remember what Economist wrote about former President Menem. It said¨Menem was fond of blondes twice his size and half his age¨. He married a taller Chilean blonde, Cecilia Bolocco , the 1987 Miss Universe. She was 36 while Menem was 71 at the time of their marriage in 2001. The marriage lasted till 2007.

No wonder some of the Ambassadors in Buenos Aires never miss the Miss Vendimia event and take the diplomatic job of promotion of cultural relations more seriously.

Las Reinas( the queens - in English) were there literally all over Mendoza; on the parade floats, on the TV, in the cocktail parties, at the theatres, in newspapers, in the banners and fliers and in the streets. The Mendocinos have the perfected the art of marketing of their wines with the beauty queens. Selection of the Vendimia Queen is the main event of the festival and all other activities are built around it.

Each of the 18 districts of the province elect their beauty queens and bring them to the provincial capital for the Vendimia. On saturday morning each queen gets on the float of her district and parade through the streets.

It is like a Carnival with music,dance and fireworks. But a Carnival with difference. It is sheer elegance, style and taste. No nudity, no freak out. But a delectable blend of queens and wines. While Carnival is an explosive blow out, Vendimia is an aethetic appreciation of beauties in the same way as one savours the aroma and taste of the wine suavely, smoothly and subtley.

The Mendozinos claim that Vendimia parade is the largest open-air festival in the world with 200,000 to 500,000 participants. The numbers and claim get exaggerated after each glass of wine !

The selection of the Vendimia queen is the central part of the show at the amphitheatre on saturday night in front of an audience of 40,000. This year it was Candela, the one from San Martin district who got selected. Famous bands and singers participate in the show before and after the queen selection.

Here are some pictures of the parades:

The Reinas throw grapes and other fruits including big melons at the audience on both sides of the street.

Cowboys and folk music and dance groups parade on saturday morning, along with the beauty queens. The tourists are joined by the governors of the neighbouring wine-growing provinces, national celbrities and the vote-seeking political leaders.

The wineries invite foreign importers to the festival and tour of their production units and vineyards.

The Argentine wine has been steadily gaining attention and space in world markets in recent years. Earlier, the argentines were content drinking all their production ( per capita consumption had reached as much as 90 litres per year, but has come down now) and did not bother to market abroad. Now they are investing in marketing and production of high quality wines. Their wine exports were 850 million dollars in 2008. Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world and has still untapped potential. Malbec is the signature wine of Argentina.
I visited some wineries and enjoyed the wine tastings. I was impressed by the Salenteine winery at Uco Valley, which is an architectural beauty. It is a masterpiece in the middle of the vineyards against the backdrop of the Andes mountain range. It has a restaurant for fine dining with some great wines including a Pinot Noir to go with the lamb and trout, the regional specialities of Mendoza. The Catena Zapata winery also stands out majestically with its Mayan architecture.
Behind the queens and wines, there is the Medozino character of hard work, determination, pragmatism and vision. They have converted the desert land into vineyards and fruit orchards with irrigation. They even irrigate the trees which cover every avenue and street of the city. Mendoza should have the maximum number of tress per every inhabitant of any city in the world. During the wine festival, the wine institute made a presentation of their strategic vision upto 2020.
Cheers !!!... to the Mendozinos, for their workculture which is a blend of hard work and vision !!!
Cheers !!!... to Mendoza for the delicious and aesthetic blend of queens and wines !!!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

return to sender - novel by Julia Alvarez

I have just finished reading the latest book of this favourite writer of mine from Dominican Republic. This time she has chosen a new theme- about Mexican immigrants in US. She has given the title ¨Return to sender¨since the undocumented Mexicans in US are sent back to Mexico like the post office does.

The story is about the Mexican girl Maria whose family migrates illegally to US in search of work and the American boy Taylor, whose family employs Maria´s father to work in their farm in Vermont. Tyler´s family is unable to work the farm by themselves, especially after his father meets with an accident. They hire Cruz, the father of Maria, an undocumented alien and puts him up with his family in a trailer in their backyard. Maria and her two sisters go to the same school as that of Tyler. But the Mexican girls are teased and mocked as illegals by the American kids. They also provoke Tyler accusing his family of violating American law by employing illegal immigrants. Both Tyler and Maria are angry, confused and unable to comprehend the complexities of the immigration realities and government rules. Maria´s grief is compounded by the disappearance of her mother while crossing the border with Coyotes. This makes her as the little mother to her two younger sisters. This is in addition to her role as an interpreter for her father who does not speak English. She finds solace in the friendship of Tyler. But Tyler´s friendship is tested by his realisation and guilt that his family is violating the law by employing Maria´s father. The story comes to an end with the Immigration autorities catching the Cruz family and deporting them to Mexico.

The confusion and torment of Tyler and Maria brings out the new reality of US which needs and uses Meican immigrants but is in a state of untenable denial. The book highlights the American stereotyping and prejudice about Mexicans. At the same time it shows the way how the gap is bridged by understanding, empathy and appreciation between the families of Tyler and Maria. The parents and relatives of Tyler educate him about the need to understand and respect other cultures. The book should be made as a text book in American schools to educate the kids about the need for understanding and appreciating other cultures. Whether they like it or not, the white Americans have to live with the 50 million hispanics who are growing in numbers.

This book is meant for young readers. Oops... I enjoyed it.

The Mexican immigration should be seen in the historical perspective. Many parts of the southern and western USA were originally Mexican territories which were annexed by USA in 1848 through war and other means. If it was not for this annexation, California, Texas,Utah and Nevada states as well as parts of other states would have been part of Mexico and the Bush family would have been Mexicans.

This reminds me of the story of a Mexican stopped while crossing the border by the US Guard. The Mexican responds¨señor, I did not cross the border. It was the border which crossed me¨.

I love the way Julia Alvarez inserts spanish words into conversations and while describing situations. Maria, for example always says por favor after please and amigo after friend. The spanish words add more emotion and feeling than the sometimes wooden English words. The Latin American spanish is especially more expressive. Abrazo and beso are more than hug and kiss. These are said and done with a Latino touch. Or may be I am partial because of my passion for Latin America.

Julia Alvarez compares the Mexican immigrants into US as golondrinas... swallows, the migratory birds which travel across countries without visa. She recalls the song La Golondrina by the Mexican composer Narciso Serradel Sevilla. It is a popular song of farewell and a favorite of expatriate Mexicans. It is often requested at the funerals of Mexican-Americans

A donde irá veloz y fatigada
La golondrina que de aquí se va
O si en el viento se hallará extraviada
Buscando abrigo y no lo encontrará.

Where are you going , swift and weary
Swallow, why are you leaving here?
Oh, what if you lose your way in the wind
Looking for a home you will never find

here is the Youtube link to La Golondrina sung by Karina, the Spanish singer