of diesel and sweat mingled with cigarette smoke
visit to Tintagel
A guide to the city of Washington where the promise of civilisation and hope for mankind was manifested as an American Dream
By Ammara Ahmad
Many European capitals can give you a history over-dose. Yet Washington DC less so because of its heritage and more for being the capital of the world's only super-power. The fact the US is a relatively recent empire is deeply embedded in the city which, sadly, has little heritage. The Jefferson Memorial is inspired by the Romans, Lincoln's Memorial by the Greeks, White House and Capitol Hill are imbibed in the European flavour. The House of Representatives is adorned by frescoes, murals, and sculptures of Greek and Roman gods. Washington has no high rise buildings because legally no building can be taller than the Washington Monument since Thomas Jefferson wanted an 'American Paris'.
The Washington Monument -- the tallest stone structure on Earth -- is a white coloured symbol, pointing to the heavens. It overlooks a body of water called the Reflection Pool. The city pays tributes to its former presidents and wars of the last century. Did America go to war to add gravity to its history?
The White House is small. The most powerful man on the planet has a small house because the founders didn't want him to have a kingly palace -- a profound thought. Though one can see the American surge for security on its roof, with huge men, telescopes and cameras, you can walk fairly close to it. Unless you try to climb the railings, no policeman guns you down.
Inside the House of Representatives, there were long lines. In the visitor's gallery we could see below us four hundred-plus chatty members in a huge hall. In the centre was the speaker's seat [on which the deputy speaker chaired that day], and voting was in session. The number of votes, in favour of or against the bill, was updated and displayed on a huge screen. Moving in the hall was a familiar figure in a crimson dress. Later, we confirmed it was the celebrated first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Ever wonder what a 21-feet tall Einstein would be like? The Albert Einstein Memorial is the answer. The Memorial is made of many burgundy studs, each representing the relative position and size of the celestial bodies in the sky on his birthday. What made me happy was that Einstein had been creative, self-assured and unusual (perhaps crazy). My childhood fancy of playing in Einstein's lap became real, though I doubt it made me any better in physics.
In the Jefferson Memorial was the 19-feet tall President Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of USA, cast in black stone. The statue instilled fear due to the height. I was reminded of my own country where no elected government has completed its tenure, martial law dictators routinely become presidents, and few are worthy of earning a tribute like Jefferson.
The Vietnam memorial is widely considered a stirring memorial. It is a jade tinted wall, bearing the names of all the American soldiers who died, or went missing, during the Vietnam War. The wall, though poignant, is ironic. All those fifty eight thousand plus names were once youngsters, energetic, hopeful in prospects but now reduced to an engraving on the wall through a foreign policy blunder. The Indian granite was chosen for the wall owing to its reflective quality. The names represent the past and the images reflected the future -- depicting the new war in a land across the ocean, distant enough to make the suffering invisible but near enough to transfer the dead names to maintain record. An existence wiped out but the name preserved. Does the wall reveal why it all happened? Placed on high stools near the wall are record files for public viewing, confirming that several soldiers were adolescents. How many more walls and names are expected? How many more futures in graves? Plus, where is the wall for the departed Vietnamese?
The Three Soldiers' statue is part of the Vietnam memorial, representing the Whites, Blacks and Hispanics, unified in war. Can you trace a trauma, illness or a suicide note in their features? No. They are tough combatants, narrating a tale of heroism, not war wounds and crippling. Do they understand their mission? The bronze faces are adolescent but the task is enormous.
Lincoln Memorial is where a larger than life 6 metre tall, white and over-powering Lincoln greets you with deep-set eyes, a pointed stony nose and a grim, brooding look as if over-viewing the century. He has an authoritative gaze, more like an emperor than a democratic president. Not the charming boy he was in Springfield, Illinois, his birthplace. The sculptor didn't know that the height of the statue was insignificant to Lincoln's half-inch signature on the Emancipation Proclamation. He was the true American dream, not an elite 'ivy-league grad' but the son of an uneducated farmer, living in poverty and eventually taking the leap no president had taken by banning slavery.
In front of the Lincoln Memorial is the spot where Martin Luther King gave his historic speech in 1963, the sum total of the American Dream. Engraved on the ground are the words "I have a Dream." Stand by it and have a picture taken. Feet and the American dream. It became almost emblematic -- the place for the American dream is found beneath our feet now?
These days the Americans are living the ultimate materialisation of Luther's vision -- a black running for the presidency. Although King might be amazed at this accomplishment of his nation, he would be disillusioned by the level of apparent impartiality, the separate black neighbourhoods, the increasing black inmates, crimes, drop-outs and poverty rates. Do you know Mr. King that one third of the US army busy in Iraq is black? So is more than 50 percent of US male prisoner population. "All men are created equal"? Not in the capitalist economies, Mr. King, where some are created below the poverty line.
On the spot where he delivered his speech can you see the Washington Monument. This place was the memento of the actual power of the World, the people, their solidarity and ideological dedication. Reminder of the day when two hundred thousand people marched to attain equality, their power to protest together, brought a change more profound and permanent than a warhead or superpower. This is where civilisation and hope for mankind was manifested. This is the true American legacy.
Murree Mall's Road just does not cease to disappoint people. Our latest addition to the yearly list...
By Humna Bhojani
When Joni Mitchell sang, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot", she might as well have been talking about Mall road in Murree.
You see it all started with a parking lot. Now people had a place to park their cars. And when the cars started rolling in, those people required a place to stay. So they made hotels, now people had a place to stay. And when people had a place to stay they decided it was time for some sight-seeing. What better place to go than to the Mall Road in Murree?
Ah yes, Mall Road in Murree, a place where you could sit down and sip a hot cup of coffee, while you enjoy the breath-taking scenery around you or wander mindlessly without a care in the world. Wait a second, wasn't that eight years ago?
Let's fast forward to eight years ahead, shall we? It's a day in the first week of July. The distinct whiff of diesel and sweat mingled with cigarette smoke welcomes me with open arms. Bracing myself, I join the throng of chattering people and enter Mall Road. This time I have to jump over open sewage drains (need I mention the stench as well?), to get into the stores. It's a test, so that only the brave and worthy can shop. Though, once in the store, I find out that there was nothing there that I couldn't easily obtain in Islamabad. After that I go looking for my usual cup of coffee. I spot a vendor in a corner. While he occupies himself in making the latte I wonder where did the peace go. I look for a place to sit down, an empty bench, a rock, a chair (at this point in time, I'll even take a staircase) but to no avail. So I drink my coffee walking (because there's no place to stand) until a 5 year old crashes into me.
I'm left with an empty cup (sigh). As I search for a garbage can, jostled around by the indifferent crowd, I realise I may as well be searching for the fountain of youth or the Holy Grail. With no hope in sight, I discreetly drop the cup onto the ground, where it is trampled on by a stampede of leather boots and flowery slippers. Nobody seems to care about or notice what I have done. It seems that being surrounded by a sea of people who shamelessly throw litter provides a decent camouflage. When I finally manage to spot a dustbin, I noticed that the grey surface blends in so well with the wall behind, that had it not been for the overflowing plastic bags, I would have passed by it without a glance. I am too embarrassed to go back, bend down and pick up the cup (with the inevitable risk of looking like a complete idiot).
By this point I am angered at what I see around. I need caffeine so I march onto the nearest coffee-maker and state my demand. Before I know it I'm complaining and questioning the sanitary competency of the MKDA (Murree Kahuta Development Authority) I hear Mr. Coffee-maker say: "The cleaning staff comes twice or thrice a day, I see them often. I also see them sometimes slide the garbage into the already clogged drains."
It is at this point in time that I spot one of the cleaners.
I see that the sun is about to set, so I turn around and head back to the parking lot. On the way back I put in my headphones and listen to the words, "They paved paradise and made it a parking lot."
A day trip to a village located on the North Atlantic Coast of Cornwall in south-west Britain
By Usman Hayat
Tintagel was our destination for the day. Since the day we had had a look at its photographs in the brochure, our eyes twinkled and we -- us two couples that is -- set our minds to visiting it during our planned holiday in May.
Tintagel is a village located on the North Atlantic Coast of Cornwall in south-west Britain, just about 4000 miles from Islamabad. Fortunately, we didn't have to worry much about the distance because we were already in Cornwall.
But like all good things in life, our visit to Tintagel had to wait. The night before we had gulped down enough haleem, masterly prepared by my wife, to make it difficult for us to wake up early in the morning. The clock struck eleven and we were no where near leaving the house. The hangover of khumar-e-gundum, as Ibne Insha would put it, was too overpowering.
Then Adeel came up with the idea that now that we had gotten so late, we might as well make most of it and have some more haleem for breakfast, this time with parathas but skip lunch to make up for the wasted time. Behind this was the full force of Adeel's doctorate in economics and we found it difficult to disagree with a proposition as economical as this.
It was past one'o'clock when we drove towards Tintagel on a cloudy May afternoon, letting the voice of a GPS (global-positioning system) guide us to our destination. Some of the inner roads in Cornwall can get seriously narrow but the ones on which the GPS took us as we approached Tintagel barely had room enough for one vehicle. After having to reverse a couple of times on winding declines to make room for the oncoming vehicles, we decided to use some common sense in addition to the GPS and managed to reach Tintagel in just about an hour and fifteen minutes.
As we made our way from the parking lot following the sign boards for tourists, we knew we were in for something special. Soon we were mesmerised by the cool breeze coming from the Atlantic, high cliffs with seagulls flying about, enormous rock formations sticking out of the ocean, lush green fields, and the ever so lovely sight of clear blue waters. And there was more to make us merrier - a cheerful mood around the place produced by the many shiny happy holiday-makers and a winding path going up the hill to the remains of a castle.
Tintagel has plenty of history behind it and you can trust that the English aren't the ones who would miss writing down their history. We learnt that the castle at Tintagel belongs to the thirteenth century and had something to do with somebody called King Arthur. But that was just about as much history as we could digest and we stayed well clear of the rest of it. After all, it was a website devoted to Tintagel that said "it is always difficult to prove if Arthur did exist." More importantly, we were four professionals wanting a break from the work stress and we knew better than to rely on history to do that.
So we decided to have a walk around the place. One has to give full credit to the British National Trust for creating such a path around the site and preserving it so well (The Trust does, however, charge £4.50 per head if you want to get really close to the castle). The path gave us all the great views and just when we thought we needed to sit, we found a bench carefully positioned to capture the best sights.
We were in no hurry and took our time sitting at all the right spots to absorb the beauty around us. Watching the waves of Atlantic gently fall on rocks of Tintagel, we forgot all those little worries that occupy one's daily life and felt a connection with nature.
There isn't a lot that is left of the castle. Arthur wouldn't be too pleased to have a look at it today. It's mostly bits and pieces of stone walls without anything in between or on top, leaving a lot, an awful lot I should say, to one's imagination. I couldn't help wondering how life would have been for those living in that castle in the painfully long, bitterly cold, and dreadfully windy Cornish winters without even a central heating, leave alone electric showers and cable tv. I guess that apart from the kick that he got from being a King, Arthur had a lower quality of life than the average guy living in Tintagel today.
One of the things Arthur didn't have but we had was a hi-tech digital camera and, by the end of the day, we had taken enough photos to cover every angle of the place and perhaps everyone who went to Tintagel that day, including all the seagulls.
We had a walk around the village, which has some really beautiful luxury houses, with lawns opening towards the Atlantic, and the ocean itself just a big six away. There were plenty of pretty cafes and souvenir shops along the road. We ended the day on a sweet note with some great ice cream and made our way back with the sights of Tintagel appearing and disappearing in our minds like the waves of the Atlantic rising and falling on the rocks of Tintagel.