Saturday, April 19, 2014

Emerging from Hibernation

I'm renewing my commitment to write more frequently. Writing used to be important to me and it becomes easier with practice, so I have moderately high hopes that I may write something mildly interesting if I keep trying for several years. And given my readership of approximately 5 (give or take 4), I'm sure when that moment of semi-brilliance strikes, the post will go viral.

New York is slowly thawing and moods are quickly lifting. The streets are filled with smiling kids on scooters and dogs who've suffered without long walks for too many months. As winter finally melts away, I'm reminded of the endless opportunity the city affords. Parks, theaters, arenas, restaurants, bars, museums, cafés, stores. Record shops, thrift shops, coffee shops, book shops. Clubs, meet ups, pick up games, sporting events, organizations, charities. And everything inbetween. I say this every year as I'm certain many New Yorkers have before me, but it still rings true - I don't take advantage of all the city has to offer. Movie nights in Tomkins, free concerts in Central Park and on Randall's island, kayaking in the Hudson, activities near Chelsea piers, Smorgesboard in Brooklyn, bier gartens in Queens, horseback riding in the Bronx. The list goes on and on. 

As I walked to Penn Station today past a long line of tourists eager to reach the top of the Empire State Building, I was reminded of how much I haven't seen and done in my own backyard. I've traveled thousands of miles away to explore foreign lands but I've never felt compelled to play the tourist in the remarkable city I call home. I don't have a favorite antique book shop and I haven't discovered all of the hidden back alleys and local secrets. I don't know the history of the beautiful architecture or where Melville and Salinger found inspiration. 

It's high time I begin to really appreciate this great city; time to open my eyes to the wonder and mystery of the place I call home. I pledge to actively participate in all that New York has to offer... to learn something from the city that has given me so much. 


... I guess I might as well start with a Yankee game :) 




Sunday, March 23, 2014

The city is the art


The world works in mysterious and unpredictable ways. Fortunately there are a few constants that we can always rely on. Without fail, travel has the subtle yet powerful ability to highlight those timeless, uplifting, universal truths - tomorrow will always be a fresh start, someone somewhere in the world is inevitably facing struggles similar or greater to yours, and you are fully in control of your own life and how you spend your time. Travel is fatal to prejudice and narrow thinking of all kinds. It expands our world and opens our minds to ever greater possibilities. It encourages us to harken back to a different time, whenever that may be; our own version of history, infused with foreign and familiar impressions that give us courage and unleash our imaginations. An ever-present unifying force becomes more tangible when  we immerse ourselves in a new place, a new people, a new part of the world. We remember to appreciate our commonality  with one another, while celebrating difference. To me, the profound effect of travel can only be described as magical. 


I traveled to Paris for the first time this past weekend. It's a beautiful city filled with mesmerizing people. As we walked the cobblestone streets, popping into shops and pausing at cafés, I knew I was surrounded by an unparalleled aesthetic; one that only an entire culture of keen artistic eyes could cultivate, but one that is far superior in it's sincerity. Every Parisian falls into his or her place seamlessly, each flower and building and car plays its role in the work of art that is Paris; a city that is itself a masterpiece. 



This dramatic, wildly over the top description of Paris's beauty is seemingly an exaggeration. But it isn't to me. Because that is my Paris and it is unlike anyone else's Paris. It is based on my experiences, my history and my understanding and preferences and expectations. Perception is reality. And I choose to see the beauty. 





Monday, September 2, 2013

Trip Photos

Photos are mine and Ashley's. Iceland and Stockholm uploaded. Helsinki and Tallin to come. Titles / captions at the bottom.

Iceland

Stockholm

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Best Exotic Brooklyn Borough

A thought for consideration (if only to prevent this blog from becoming even more stale than it is). Went on a brief staycation today in Brooklyn and am as convinced as ever that Brooklyn is not only a worthy component of New York City, but is, in itself, a city independent of the other boroughs. After a trip to the Botanical Gardens, lunch outside at a cafe, and an afternoon in Prospect Park, it occurred to me that Brooklyn doesn't need Manhattan to draw tourists in. Brooklyn is the destination.

Can other newly popular cities across the states — Boulder, Portland and Asheville to name a few — provide more entertainment for a long weekend than Brooklyn can? I personally doubt it. I'll happily vacation often in the exotic borough.



cherry blossoms


Monday, March 11, 2013

Roll Away Your Stone

Apparently women are accommodating, nurturing, modest, subtle and considerate. How awful. We're taught to value the happiness of loved ones over material things and we ensure everyone in a room has what he or she needs before taking care of ourselves. Really disgraceful. Thanks, 21st century philosophy, for opening my eyes to these atrocities and wagging a finger at me for lacking self-interest. From now on we will all be bossy and narcissistic to make the world a better place. No more "really, it was nothing…" and "I'm fine with whatever you want." The days of softening critical feedback by also highlighting a strength are in the past. From here on out, it's every [wo]man for himself as we step on one another in the race to the top.

March is Women's History Month. I've yet to hear anyone talk about the struggles that women have overcome in recent years (we American women only got the vote in 1920) or, perhaps more importantly, the struggles that women continue to face all over the world. Women were only granted the right to vote in Saudi Arabia in 2011 (it didn't make front page news). The next major election there is not until 2015. So in that very wealthy country with which the United States regularly conducts business, roughly half of the population has been disenfranchised until now. And even that is a success story compared with the horrors that women continue to face throughout the third world.

But by no means should we discount the tremendous strides women have taken toward gender equality in the past several centuries. In fact, given my own nationality and education, I'm more privileged than most in that regard and have only very rarely been made to feel inferior to a male counterpart because of my gender. But in this country, where we're much closer to equality than elsewhere, the dialogue has shifted so drastically that we may be missing the mark. Rather than continuing to pressure those in power (be it the government or men in our society generally) for suffrage or anti-discrimination laws, we've turned on ourselves. The laws no longer distinguish between men and women (for the most part), so we can't yell at the government. Starting salaries (note: starting) don't differ drastically between men and women, so we can't yell at our employers. But somehow men still seem to hold most of the powerful positions in society…

… so it must be our fault. For guys, the pressure is off. They no longer need to actively ensure everyone is being treated equally because the laws say we are. Doesn't matter that typically female qualities aren't valued in society and typically male qualities are. The 21st century solution to achieving equality for women is making women act like men.

Be assertive.  Be direct.  Look after yourself first.  Don't let emotions come into play.  Be overt about your accomplishments. Know that you deserve things (whether earned or not).

The list goes on and on. Obviously not all men reflect these qualities; I'm oversimplifying because we are taught that certain qualities typify either men or women, but not both. These commands are specific instructions that are repeatedly given to women. And there's merit in some of it.  If half of the population doesn't appreciate or even recognize subtlety, then one could justifiably argue that being more obvious and direct will clearly convey a message to a greater number of people. Sure. But rather than encouraging women to abandon our natural state, why not encourage men to embrace it? Has anyone yet launched a training course that praises a woman's ability to express her feelings? I've yet to hear anyone stand in front of a room and say, "To all you managers, here's the thing. Men are terrible at talking through how they feel. If only they'd just cry when they need to and tell us why they're upset, then you'd know where they stand. But since they won't, you're going to have to go to great lengths to gauge their emotional state while they're sulking or storming off, so here are a few tricks of the trade…" And while there are several best sellers about "nice girls" getting stepped on, no one has recommended a book to me with a name like "Reading Between the Lines: How Women Skillfully Say Things Without Saying Them."

These assets are overlooked and under-appreciated (whether possessed by a man or a woman). And until the dialogue shifts to the innate and distinct value that female qualities bring to the table, rather than the ways in which women can learn to exhibit typically male qualities, we will not live in a truly equal society.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Story Worth Telling

"We're here! We're here!" we shout to Ashley as we sprint to the gate, out of breath and frazzled. "You know this one likes to be fashionably late," I whisper loudly enough for Jess to hear, smirking.

Polite but anxious, Ashley smiles at us and quickly hands the attendant her ticket. "6:00 a.m. Right on time."

We scramble onto the plane and fling our bags into the only remaining overhead bins. I sink lower in my chair and close my eyes. Okay. Seatbelt fastened, seat pulled forward, iPad turned off. Let's go. The faster we get to New Orleans, the sooner we'll be away from New York. No work. No school. No rain and cold. Just sun and jazz and friends.

"KRIS. How long has it been?" I open my eyes. Jess's head peaks out at me from the seat in front of me, her lime green "baussy" eye mask resting on her forehead. "Why are we still sitting here?"

I look at my watch, which hasn't moved in 8 years. I check my phone instead. "7:15. We're delayed. Has the pilot said anything?" Jess begins to speak as we hear the static of the PA kick in.

***Ladies and gentlemen, we do have an update for you now. They're still checking on one of the engines underneath. Looks like this plane isn't flying any time soon. We're going to have you deboard while we change planes. We'll be sure to get you going just as soon as we can.***

We join the line of sleepy passengers slowly filing off of the plane like ants to sit at the mercy of the airline.  Hit by the cold as we re-enter the airport, we stand side by side when we reach the gate and gaze out at the prospect - Jess with her sunglasses on, Ashley with her Nicholas Sparks novel in hand, and me with my leather jacket slung over one shoulder.

"Over there." I motion to an alcove in the far corner of the gate. "Some room on the floor. Take my bag. I'll get us coffee."

I bypass the Juice King and Famiglia Pizza and head for Horizon Bakery. I'm second in line behind an older man with a Mets cap and trench coat. "I'll have a latte with skim milk and 3 Splenda."

"We only have sugar and Sweet and Low," the barista replies disinterestedly.
"No, I said Splenda."
"We don't have Splenda."
"I always drink my coffee with Splenda."
"Do you want the coffee or not?"
"Can you believe this guy? What kind of coffee place doesn't have Splenda?"

I've been gazing down the other end of the terminal, watching passengers wheel their suitcases, wondering where they're going. I'm aroused from my daydream when I don't hear a reply. Is grumpy guy talking to me? I freeze. Gingerly, I raise my eyes to his, still facing away from him.

"The pizza place might have coffee," I offer, holding eye contact. He looks at me for a minute, apparently trying to determine whose side I'm on. Then a quick look back at the barista and he storms off in a huff.

30 minutes and 3 lukewarm coffees later, we're assigned a gate at the other end of the terminal. Jess and Ashley take turns sending their suitcases rolling in front of them down the ramp and quickening their pace to catch them.  There's something about childhood friends together. Some feeling of youth and goodness that never goes away. Somehow it's impossible to remember why your big problems are so big… they seem only as important as  deciding what color to paint the treehouse or choosing bowling teams.

We sit and watch the clock. Jess is texting, sprawled across two chairs. Ashley's consumed by her romance novel. I'm scrolling for news that's actually new. I glance up at the board every few minutes, half expecting to see the flight disappear altogether. Destination: New Orleans. Departure time: 10:00 a.m. Boarding time: 9:15 a.m.

It's 9:30. I delve into Time magazine. The Emancipation Proclamation Turns 150 Years Old. It's 10:15. I look at my friends, both dozing off. Ashley looks up lazily. I smile and shake my head. "Dude, what are the odds they get us outta here today?"

***Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to begin boarding. We always board from the back of the plane. If your ticket says rows 21 − 25, we'll board you now.***

Take 2. This is like Argo. I won't believe it until I'm in the air. 40 minutes later and we're finally accelerating.  My heart races. I gaze out the window as we pick up speed. Bright sunshine. Faster. I feel the plane leave the ground. I hold my breath for a split second, waiting to see if it worked. Did we really lift this hunk of metal into the air? Amazes me every time. I sink down and close my eyes.

***The pilot has again turned the seatbelt sign on, ladies and gentlemen. At this time we ask that you return to your seats and fasten your seatbelt. We'll be able to deliver drinks when the seatbelt sign has been turned off.*** 

The plane shoots upward, then down. Left, right. Up again. Turbulence more extreme than I've ever encountered. My seatbelt digs into me with every jerk of the plane. Ashley and I exchange nervous glances. Jess is suddenly fully awake, adrenaline kicking in. She sits upright and fastens her seatbelt. I look around me. A woman across the aisle begins to pray. Others laugh nervously. A baby cries. I tighten my seatbelt.

More turbulence. The plane jerking every which way unrelentlessly. I hear a thud behind me as my body lurches forward. Seconds later a flight attendant rushes over with ice for the passenger's head.

***Good morning, ladies and gentlmen. This is your captain speaking. Because the flight was delayed, a pretty severe tropical storm has by this time started to brew near New Orleans and we're unfortunately heading for it. We're experiencing some turbulence now as we get closer. We'll see how it goes as we're flying through the heart of the storm, but unfortunately you'll have to remain in your seats throughout the duration of the flight. Thanks for flying with us. We hope to get you to New Orleans just as soon as we can.***

I turn on the flight map and watch us inch closer. Will it really get worse? Why were we allowed to take off?

Minutes pass as we sit, alert and upright, approaching the storm. No one speaks as we wait. The turbulence intensifies. Up. Down. Left. Right. Down. Left. Up. Right. Heads smack windows and chairs. Flight attendants sit quietly at the back of the plane. An indistinct noise emanates from several parts of the plane, followed by a stench.

***Ladies and gentlmen, we realize you're getting sick, but unfortunately we cannot help you at this time. We, too, are not allowed out of our seats. Motion sickness bags are in the seat pockets in front of you.***

Jess wraps her arm around the back of the seat and I squeeze her hand. "At least we'll go down together, Jessie," I say with a smile. Nervous laughter. I look back at Ashley and wink, as though that can assuage her fears.

The stench of sickness continues to permeate the air as passengers continue to ice their heads.

Up. Down. Right. Down. Left. Up. Down. Up.

***Ladies and gentlmen, this is your captain again. Unfortunately we won't be allowed to land until the storm has passed. We expect it shouldn't be longer than an hour and we're in no danger of running out of fuel yet. I'll come back on when we begin our descent.***

… yet? If I get out of here alive, I'm going to write this pilot some talking points. I sit, still holding Jess's hand, pretending to be calm. I'm nauseous... not because of the turbulence of the plane, but because I've willingly handed over control of my life to someone else. Why did I do that without a second thought, leaving myself no opportunity to flee? The vulnerability is eating away at me. Taking a flight is not like driving a car. When I stepped onto the plane, I put my life into someone else's hands and now look at what has happened.

Up. Down. Thud. Right. Left. Lurch. Still holding hands. Tapping my foot. Staring at the rain pounding the window glass.

***We've been given permission to land, folks, so we'll get you outta here in just a little bit. You'll still need to stay in your seats for the rest of the flight. The flight attendants won't come around to check that your seat backs are up, but we trust that you'll help us out and will also collect your garbage as you leave the plane so we can quickly turn it around for the next flight. Thanks for your patience.***

Jess releases my hand. I begin reading just to feel like I'm in control of something. We wait. Left. Right. Up. Down.

Eventually we land. Thud. People clap. I've always hated when people clap. Did you think we wouldn't make it? Cynical idiots.

I clap.

We get our bags and quietly file off of the plane. The three of us walk silently through the airport, desperate to leave this terrible memory behind and start our vacation. I smile like a kid as we see stroll past the statue of Louis Armstrong and his trumpet. We approach the exit and hear the rain from the tropical storm pouring down outside. Somehow I hadn't made the connection between the storm we flew through and the weather on the ground. We pause as we realize, then continue on through the exit, still without speaking. We stand in the pouring rain with our suitcases and look around for a taxi. We all see the sign at the same time and silently stare, too drained to have any reaction.

"Taxi stand closed. Welcome to New Orleans."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

At the End of the Day

Struggling to determine which is more inspiring: a pleasant and quiet Christmas surrounded by friends and family or a gory and depressing three hours of Les Miserables. Both were entertaining and, admittedly, predictable. But only one involved murder, betrayal and revolution. So I guess Les Mis was better. Then again, Russell Crowe's singing voice (or lack thereof) nearly ruined the movie.   So… Christmas wins.

Have had some time to think and read since classes ended last week, and have decided that to write better - or more creatively, meaningfully, [insert another adverb here] - I should broaden my reading horizons. So instead of reverting to 19th century English literature when I can't think of any other delicious novels to feast on, I'll try modern American lit or a magazine that isn't the New Yorker. Will read more non-fiction (though only while reading fiction simultaneously. How can anyone go on without some tragic hero to worry about?) or something Russian or post-colonialist or whatever. If nothing else, maybe I'll find a new favorite author. Have just started reading A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. So far, so good.

Speaking of favorite authors… a few photos below from the Dickens exhibit at the NY Public Library.



Chinese edition of David Copperfield. When CD's works began to be translated abroad, he was criticized internationally for some of his politically incorrect and racially and religiously offensive characters (such as "Fagin the Jew.") A highly sensitive author, Dickens ensured that in subsequent novels he corrected for any offenses he might have caused. Hence "the gentle Jew" of Our Mutual Friend. 


An illustration for a later edition of David Copperfield (published 1849). Dickens was highly influenced by the artist Hogarth, who depicted scenes of the working class where the details of the background (settings that spoke volumes about societal norms and hypocrisies) were as important as the characters in the foreground. However, by the middle of Dickens's career, the impropriety of Hogarth's drawings were no longer considered appropriate and more proper and innocuous illustrations (such as this one) became fashionable. 



Doesn't every kid want a Charles Dickens action figure? The pen is mightier than the sword, eh?