Friday, March 31, 2006

Ceremonies and Stuff

I have been a student of a Korean sword form known as Gumdo for over two years now. Those who know me well know of my passion for "Star Wars" and my desire to learn swordplay a la "Star Wars" movies. I originally considered fencing but it wasn't as appealing, Kendo but it was expensive what with all the armor and all. I happened upon Gumdo through a friend whose son attended a school that taught Gumdo. I went in for a trial lesson and two years later I'm a black belt!

I actually took the test on a cold morning back in November. I passed though I had some rough spots here and there. I think the combination of being nervous and trying too hard to do a good job on the test led to my difficulties. Be that as it may, I was very excited once the test was over. The belt itself is a regular black belt, but they send it to Korea to be embroidered. It has my name in English and Korean. It will also state (again in English and Korean) that I am a 1st Dan in Gumdo (which is the first level of Black Belt). Because of all this fancy stitching, my receipt of the belt was delayed. The first black belt ceremony in our school was scheduled for December and unfortunately, my belt had not arrived by then. The next one was this one in April; the belt arrived weeks ago but I'll officially get it this weekend. I'm so excited!

I'm also excited because I'm following in the footsteps of my family in terms of our theatre activities! I have acted in several Hindi plays before and I have loved being part of our theatre group here in DC called NatyaBharati. I served on the Executive Committee for three years. I have worked on many productions and now, I am finally ready to direct a play! I translated and adapted a Marathi play and I'll be directing it this summer and fall. It's currently scheduled to be staged in October!

I've been doing a lot of pre-production work on it over the last few weeks. I have selected music, done preliminary set designs and started gathering sound effects. My next step (most important of all) is getting a cast! Auditions will be held in July most likely and that's when I'll start rehearsals. I think it would be a fascinating thing to maintain a kind of production diary blog on this site and that's what I'll do once I start moving further along into the process. I'm really looking forward to it.

Formula One is in Melbourne this weekend! Honda has been looking quite strong in the practice sessions thus far and who knows, maybe this could be Jenson's race. I guess depending on how Qualifying turns out tonight, we could have an interesting race. Still and all, I have only two things to say.... Go Schumi and Go Kimi!

Dad is back home and getting better. He often talks about his business trips to Italy and how wonderful the food was. He didn't get a taste of authentic pizza while there and we've always searched for a rough equivalent but we were hard pressed to find one. My good friend Heather introduced me to Don Corleone's in Sterling! Decorated with movie posters and original paintings of scenes from the movie, the place is a taste of authentic Italian Pizza. They use a true wood-burning brickoven which just makes the pizza taste divine! There's nothing like it! If you have a chance to go I recommend going immediately and trying it. Once dad gets a little better or once he and mom are in the mood for it, I think I will order a couple for them to try. It's bene!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Misguided Love and Guilty Pleasures

I'm rather curious to see the number of folks who end up at this blog based on the rather dubious title I have given today's posting. Before I plunge into today's posting, a little aside for those of you who have been keeping score. My dad will be going home today to continue his recovery at home! Yaaay!

Now then, on to today's random topic. I was going through my DVD collection the other night when I ran across the Stallone movie, "Driven". This is where the guilty pleasure part of my title comes from. "Driven" is probably one of the most poorly reviewed movies in recent memory. For those unfamiliar with the story, it start Sylvester Stallone as an aging and semi-retired CART driver who is brought back to his old team to help a young and promising rookie become a better driver. The story had true potential but once one actually sits down and watches this film, it becomes apparent very quickly that there isn't much more to this film than meets the eye. Stilll, it's one of the films that I will sit down and watch on occasion, either to grumble and groan about the utter silliness of the film or to marvel at the fact that people funded this film and wanted to see it made.

Before I plunge deeper, a little background on this film and me. As you may come to realize, Formula One racing is one of my passions and it is a passion shared by many around the world, even those in Hollywood. Folks like Nicholas Cage, George Lucas and Sylvester Stallone have been known to frequent the races and hobknob with the greats of yesterday and today. That being said, it is not surprising that someone, in this case, Sylvester Stallone, would decide to make a film on this sport. Now believe you me, Stallone is a fanatic about the sport. In the time leading up to his writing the script, he was a veritable fixture at the tracks in Europe. He researched and studied and studied and studied.

His passion drove him to seek permission from Formula One boss Bernie Eccelstone to approve the movie on the sport and allow them unprecedented access. That was about the time that I heard about the film. I got very much excited and my hopes were high that this would finally be a movie worth watching on racing. Hearing about how Stallone was going for true authenticity in filming the race scenes, I began having flashbacks to the documentary I had seen on "Le Mans" and Steve McQueen's passion for racing. I had high hopes.

Then one day, the tune changed. It was announced that the film would no longer be focussing on Formula One but rather the American off-shoot, CART. Now there is a bit of a difference between the two but I won't get into technical details about it. Suffice it to say that the story more or less remained intact and there was hope that perhaps the story would still serve to advance the cause of racing.

Alas it was not to be. Now here is where the 'misguided love' of the title comes in. In watching the film, there are instances where I can see that Stallone was very much going to show what life is like for a racer. You can see flashes of it in scenes like in the opening moments of the film, the press conferences, the drivers preparing for the final race. All these moments gave a bit of insight into the life. Then, there are the Hollywood moments that invariably made their way into the script. The love triangle, the jealous ex-wife, the sibling rivalries, and so much more. Cars flying through the air, crashes happening on every other lap, cars halting in a race to reverse direction and race back to the scene of an accident to help a friend.

These elements, if peppered into the script in bits would have been okay. It could have been a compromise with the studio to help sell them on the idea. But it almost seems that somewhere along the way, Hollywood bumped Stallone out of the cockpit and took over the controls themselves. Why else would we see a race through Chicago, at night, at over 200 miles per hour. Sure, if this were "The Fast and the Furious" I would say, 'bring it on!' but this was supposed to be a movie about the life of a driver. Instead we get the Hollywood version!

I am hopeful that someday we get movies like the old "Grand Prix" which showed us, a bit more realistically, what the life of drivers in motorsports is like. It's very true that the life we fans imagine will be somewhat fantastical, but still, I don't have visions of driving a Formula One car through the streets of DC (well..... maybe on occasion! ;-) ).

And before I end today.... just wanted to give a shout type out to two of my regular visitors, Heather and Darren T (g'day Australia!). Thanks for visiting and reading along!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tragedy in IRL

This past weekend I spent most of my time at the hospital with my dad as he underwent his surgery. On an ordinary weekend I would have spent that time in front of the TV with the channel tuned to a channel showing either Formula One, IRL or CART. This past weekend was the weekend when IRL was running a race, the Toyota Indy 300 in Homestead, Florida. I had every intention of watching but seeing as how I was in the hospital, I didn't get around to it so I was late to hear the news of racer Paul Dana's death on the track during warm-ups.

There have been numerous tragedies in the past and there will undoubtedly be more in the future but the crash of Paul Dana is one that resonated with me more than many others. I have long harboured fantasies of driving a race car for a living. I have the right build to sit in a racecar and keep the weight down. I have the penchant for speed and I love all the mechanics involved not only in driving but in building the car as well. I didn't grow up in regions where racing is a regular sport. Had I been in the south, I suppose I could have spent a lot of my time on dirt tracks or kart racing but be that as it may, that is not the case.

I went to college, earned my degree and I'm working towards earning my masters now. Paul Dana was quite similar. He earned his degree from Northwestern and became a journalist. Like me, he also had a desire to actually drive the cars he watched and reported on. He wanted to be one of those drivers out on the track every weekend. Paul Dana did it, he worked his way up and eventually became a driver for Rahal Letterman, one of the premiere teams in IRL. In essence, he was helping live the dream that many fans out there have. At age 30, he was a rookie who was on the verge of making a name for himself in the sport. It's quite possible that he may have never won a race, or even come close to winning the championship, but I'm sure in his mind, he was already a winner. He was doing what he had long dreamed of and was living the dream of many of us out there, myself especially.

I'm nearing the age of 30, not quite there yet but we all get there someday. I have sat down some weekends and watched re-runs or taped races just to catch up and during those times my dad and mom have often sat with me watching and trying to understand the fascination I have with the sport. They often see the gleam in my eyes as I watch these drivers drive in endless loops around tracks going faster and faster. They often tell me that perhaps I should consider pursuing my interest and trying my hand at something I feel so passionately about. I used to consider it impossible or improbable, but seeing Paul Dana out there made me believe that it can happen.

We may never know the exact circumstances of why Paul Dana missed the Yellow lights and flags and why he continued on eventually hitting Ed Carpenter's stricken car. It could have been a rookie mistake, it could have been a problem with his own car. Whatever the reason, Paul Dana died doing what he loved. Thankfully Ed Carpenter has survived with a minimum amount of injury and he is hopefuly he can race again soon, but I can't help but feel the loss that IRL will suffer with the death of Paul Dana.

Dreams can come true.... even those that are dreamt at speeds over 200 miles per hour.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Good Friends....

This past weekend my father went in for an angiogram in preparation for an angioplasty. During the angiogram, the doctor's discovered four major blockages in his heart that, if left untreated, could have caused a major heart attack. The doctors decided to go in and do a quadruple bypass and fix the problems that had cropped up. It was the best thing to do in this case and would make aure that he didn't have any additional problems. Going into the operating room with the same cheerful attitude he always has, he constantly told my mom, brother and I that he had the easiest part. He would be asleep during the operation and time would fly by. For those of us still awake, the waiting would be long.

That fact weighed on me as I thought about how to pass the time. Having grown up here with a limited amount of family, your friendships and relationships take the place of actual blood relatives and our area of the waiting room was soon flooded with family and friends. The mood was light and jovial and I came to realize at that time that I am truly lucky to have such family friends who care about my family and me as much as they do. Never once was the mood down or dour, we laughed and joked together and the six hours that my dad was in the operating room seemed to pass by quickly.

Soon after the operation he came out and was taken to the ICU. Within a few hours he was awake and speaking. The next morning we returned to visit him and our friends were with us, as always. It speaks volumes to see how quickly dad is recovering. Sure he's in good health and sure it was caught in time, but the presence of such wonderful family and friends around him has made his recovery all the more speedy.

I came to realize too that I have good friends out there. Some of them I've known since childhood and some I have met very recently. But the notes I received, the calls I got, all made me realize that I've got lots of people to lean on and that I have friends who care about me as much as I care about them. You'll never know how much I appreciate it!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why People Don't Get Le Mans

There are lots of movies out there. One in particular has struck a chord with a handful of us out there. When we run across one another it's like finding a long lost sibling and the feeling of joy you have is something to be experienced. What movie might that be? Why it's Steve McQueen's classic, "Le Mans".

I discovered the movie several years ago when I was getting back into my interest of racing full time. It happened to be aired back when Speed Channel used to show movies. I caught it late one day and sat mesmerised. The sound of the engines, the cars zooming by, the noise, the glamour, the crowds. It was all so masterfully done. But most people out there don't get it. My good friend Heather, she does. We look up to the movie as exactly what it is, a tribute to the great cars and drivers of an era gone by. Days when racing was even more dangerous and the cars were just as fast.

Now what's wrong with a movie on racing you ask? I mean people have enjoyed racing movies since they first came out. When discussing racing movies the most commonly referenced ones are "Days of Thunder" and "Driven". I shudder to even attempt to compare these to a classic like "Le Mans" or the other great racing movie, "Grand Prix". But we're focussing on "Le Mans" here so let's stick with it.

"Le Mans" is difficult for a lot of people to get simply because they don't love cars as much as the rest of us. The movie is over two hours of driving punctuated by a few minutes of talk. In essence it's the opposite of what every other racing movie shows. They will try to humanize the drivers to a level that we try to understand why they do what they do. It's hard to put it into words. And when you have an hour and a half of talk and half an hour of racing, it's hard to get the point in. In "Le Mans" it's more like twenty minutes of talk, and two hours of racing, but the point is more eloquently put across. To quote the King, "Life is racing, everything else is just waiting." That quote resonated with me so much that I constantly quote it to myself.

The movie is not obviously for everyone. You can usually tell who will like it and who won't if after 20 minutes the first question comes up, "Why aren't they saying anything?" To me, the sounds of the cars and the race say more than what many screenwriters could say to convey the affection many people have for driving and racing. The movie is a true test of those who love cars and racing and those who don't. Those of us who love the movie are still in a relatively small fraternity, but there's nothing wrong with that. We will continue to watch the movie in our racing jackets, firesuits, and other paraphenilia, smiling incessantly and grinning at each car zooming past. So pull up a glass of root beer and toast to one of the best movies on racing out there. If you don't get it, don't worry, you're in fine company too! ;-)


Thursday, March 23, 2006

My First Blog!!!

You know, I am often one of the first to arrive for parties, I arrive early for appointments and I often arrive at places early enough that I end up waiting for everyone else to arrive. In the case of blogging, I have arrived relatively late. Why do I have this sense that within the next month or two that blogs are suddenly going to go on the downturn and we're going to be seeing a rapid decline? There have been many instances of this, 8-Track Tapes, DiVX, Speak and Spell (hey hey hey! Speak and Spell had a cult following when I grew up!)

Still and all, it's good to get in while the getting is good. So, this is my first blog. I'm not sure how often I'm going to be 'blogging' or how often I will provide updates. I still have one of my first web sites up on the 'net. If you do a search for 'The Domain of Jay Tipnis' in Google, you will find a link to it. I used to love to review movie soundtracks and post my reviews. The ones up there are by no means the only CDs I have; I've got a ton more but not enough time to post reviews of them all. A blog is something that is creative and spontaneous but doesn't require as much time (at least I hope) to update and maintain. We'll see what happens as time goes on.

So, my first blog and all I'm doing is blabbing. Well, that's the point isn't it? It's my space to blab and my space to say what I have to say or what I want to say! What to talk about for this first one?

One thing you will come to learn about me as time goes on is that I love to drive. I love the feeling of cruising down the road and making that perfect curve, hitting the apex and zooming off. I don't street race though the temptation is always there. I just love the feeling of driving in a responsive car and occasionally seeing what they can do. That being said, I would like to share the fact that my first car was a 1991 Ford Escort EX (known as the Blue Max); it had a top listed speed of 85 MPH and with traffic the way it is, I always had to be close to that when driving on the highway. At that speed it was like flying a jet through heavy turbulence. My next car was a 2001 Honda Civic EX (known as the Silver Streak). A bit faster, a bit more refined and a much nicer car. It was my first manual transmission and it gave me a taste of what old school drivers did while racing. Down shifting, heel-toe driving. All of it! I am now on my third car, a 2001 Porsche Boxster (known as the Silver Bullet).

One would think that now that I have a high performance car I would be zipping all over the place. Making hundred mile trips in less than an hour, but in fact, it has had the opposite effect on me. I keep pace with traffic, but I no longer 'feel the need' to constantly pass cars. I think it stems from the fact that I am comfortable in the knowledge that if pushed, I can outrun a lot of the cars I encounter daily. That being said, let me share with you an experience which I've had quite often (i.e. at least once every two weeks).

As I was coming on to the highway, I attempt to merge into traffic. Keeping an eye on the mirror and my blindspot I adjust my speed according to openings I see in traffic. As I see an opening I begin to merge when the guy behind me jumps in and speeds up to cut off my entry. Instead of slowing to let me in as well, this guy effectively speeds up next to me and prevents me from merging. With the merge area quickly ending I drop back and merge quickly, very nearly ending up on the shoulder. I pass it off and continue on my way. One thing I always believe in racing is that a fast car doesn't make all the difference, but a smart driver can make even a mediocre car fast. As such, I drive at a stately pace, keeping up with traffic and constantly scanning for openings where I move without having to reduce speed. Not weaving, elegant merging! ;-)

After a time I notice that my friend from the merge area is now stuck, as he sees me smoothly pass him, he gets it in his head that I'm somehow challenging me. He quickly cuts in behind me, rides my bumper and then speeds up to try and pass me. Hoping to avoid a rear ending (as my car can brake faster than his Hyundai) I move over, again my friend speeds past and cuts in front of me. End result? We both end up in exactly the same spot as we would have had he avoided speeding and weaving. It's just sad when you see drivers burning up fuel and ego for such small gains. Maybe my driving in my Boxster has elevated me to some sort of Zen state. One can only enjoy the open roads and contemplate! ;-)