Of Historic Homes, Red Pianos and Pyramids in Iowa

Of Historic Homes, Red Pianos and Pyramids in Iowa

Gracious, warm, super-smart and very generous. My hostess is all that and more. Her home mirrors the same.

I’ve seen pictures of D’s 1800’s home, but they don’t do it justice. From the outside it looks like many of the other houses in the ‘Historic District’ of this small town in the Midwest, but only until there. D’s home is disarmingly charming, yet elegant. Everything is steeped in history. Everything is Country Chic. Everything is in muted/ sepia/ faded colors. Everything is casually thrown together, or seems like it is, like it’s not really been thought out, like that is just a natural sense of aesthetics, including the two Australian sheep dogs with one grey and one brown eye each .

Everything is in sharp contrast to the chaos of the last forty-eight hours of my life. Or more. Mumbai- London- Chicago- Iowa. Actually it had started a lot before- Never listen to airlines and travel agents who insist that a two hours gap between changing international flights is enough at O Hare. That is plain optimism and good luck, and as we did some very distressing bump and grind above the airport, our chances of making it to the connecting flight to Iowa required extra prayers: It’s a huge airport. Immigration procedures in a student month can be really long. The bags, even if through-checked, need to be claimed, carried, redeposited. You have to change the terminal.

I had fretted about this in the days leading to the date of departure. O Hare airport had been studied like I needed to pass an exam on its layout and procedures- so we would speed- up our chances to making that connection.

Of course we didn’t.

It was a day of lighting and thunderstorms over Chicago. Our connection was one among the scores that were cancelled that day.

What happened in Chicago is another story, but no, there were no free hotels or conciliatory freebies. Airlines will not do any of that if the cancelation is because of the weather. So there we were, stranded in the worst managed airport on a day of crisis . . . post traveling across two continents. Iowa would be another twenty-four hours away.

Who knew that driving under an expansive cotton-candy sky is all it would take to induce a forgetfulness of recent misadventures. Who would have thought that a red piano in a room flooded with sunlight is sometimes enough to feel a sense of joy that overtakes all else.

The last time I had lived in a home with a red piano was in a tiny village on the outskirts of Paris. As I settled down with my chai and English- French translation book, the very French Dr Pierre casually moved to the piano and broke into what turned out to be Kuch Na Kaho– a Bollywood song high on popularity charts in India- piano keys doing a delicate dance under his fingers. He knew no English, leave aside Hindi, and yet! It was an unforgettable welcome.

D’s welcome was perhaps less dramatic, but scored high on exactly what I needed. The pumpkin soup she had cooked from scratch was the kind you pay gourmet prices for- organic, smooth, creamy, wholesome and delicate in flavor. I didn’t know then that D had cooked for years for some of Hollywood’s royalty, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Sally Fields, Warren Beatty and his wife.

I also didn’t know then that I would be introduced to a life I barely knew- absolutely organic sans anything even remotely otherwise, not even a microwave – cooking from scratch in artisan cookware and antique contraptions, eating only with silver cutlery, buying produce from farmer markets and cooperatives and filling jars of homemade jams, sauces, cheese, purees and pickles.

And then I was led to the attic. It would be my abode under Iowa skies, my space where everything was built on a slant, where I would sleep in a cut in the wall, in a pyramid of sorts. It would be my cave where the sunlight split into patterns each morning, making books asleep since decades wake up and come alive.

As I crawled into it that night I wondered if this is what the Egyptians felt like if they were to wake up in the middle of being embalmed, just before being mummified.

I dreamt of the young King Tutankhanem and Egyptian treasure troves that night.