London and Its Lit: Sir John Soane’s Museum

Today, after discussing the Beggar’s Opera in the morning, our class went to the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Aside from getting a wee bit of heat stroke from waiting in line outside of the very small museum, I really enjoyed it. It’s a really charming building that used to be a mansion, and the man who lived in and owned it, whose name I’m sure you can guess, started a very eclectic collection of art. The pieces range from anywhere from frescoes to Roman sculptures, and even to an Egyptian sarcophagus on the lowest level. The particular reason we went to it for our class is because of the Picture Room, which is exceedingly unique. It is a very small room, no more than 20 feet across either way, completely filled to the brim with paintings, some by Sir John Soane himself. What makes it so unique are its walls, which can unfold to reveal more paintings several times over. Inside the room are many paintings by Hogarth, a propagandist painter who utilized corruption as the subject of his works, hence the museum’s connection to the Beggar’s Opera.

The rooms of the building itself are very charming, and the library in particular was exciting for an old-book lover like myself to encounter; two walls were literally blanketed in books behind glass cases, with most of the books older than the early 1800′s. You obviously aren’t allowed to touch them, but I would be too afraid of damaging them to do it even if I was. There were also several pieces of art incorporated directly onto the surfaces of the building itself. In the selfsame library, the ceiling is partially covered with a depiction of the Greek pantheon of deities. Unfortunately, guests aren’t allowed to take photographs, but I might be able to scan in the postcards I bought when I get back in the states!

For now, I’m tired and interested to see what my Shakespeare class has in store for me tomorrow; out of all the Shakespeare I have read, Taming of the Shrew is my least favorite. It actually borders on hate what I feel for it, which is pretty much the opposite of what I feel for every other of his works! I do have to turn in now, or I’ll be absolutely incoherent for our discussion of Taming of the Shrew, which I want to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe studying it will help me get past all the misogyny, but it might very well be my least favorite of the plays we see and study. Until tomorrow, good night and happy Fourth!

Shakespeare: Reading and Performance: Begin!

I think it’s no secret that I’m an ENORMOUS Shakespeare fan. I mean, not only do I have two books of his collected works and individual books for over half of his plays, but I also have Shakespearean Insult Gum, post-it notes, and a book called Filthy Shakespeare, which outlines all the naughty things hidden in Shakespeare’s texts. Needless to say, I like Shakespeare, so today was more than a little bit monumental for me!

This morning we had a general introduction to Shakespeare’s life, London at the time, etc, but this afternoon was our bank-side along the Thames! Guess what I got to see? (And if you’ve read the London and Its Literature first post, don’t give away the answer!) I got to see the Globe!!! YAY!!! Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, the bank-side walk was very enlightening. We stopped by London Bridge, which was the only bridge across the Thames at the time, the Globe, which is not a giant ball near the river, and the Golden Hind, which is a replica of a trade ship from the late 1500′s. It was really cool to visit, but a lot of people bumped their heads because of how low the ceilings were. We did, however, finally get a small taste of true London weather, so I might have jinxed it in my last post… Regardless, I got a very good insight into London at the time of Shakespeare’s career from my knowledgeable and awesome professor, Dr. Foxton. I think the most interesting thing I learned from him was that the land below the Thames was not a part of London at the time. The reason the Globe is built on the lower bank is specifically because theatres were outlawed in London proper, but the proximity to London Bridge made it easy for people to cross and go to a show.

I had a very nice day out by the river, and though it was rainy and muggy, seeing the Globe more than made up for it. Tomorrow is back to London and Its Literature with a visit to the Sir John Soane’s Museum, but until then, “a thousand times good night!”

London and Its Literature: Begin!

Today was a pretty relaxed day, especially because it’s one of the few class days we have without a field trip into London during the afternoon. In the morning, we just had a general overview of what we’ll be doing in the class, which can pretty much be summed up by its name. During the afternoon, we watched a video rendition of The Beggar’s Opera, which is the first text we’re studying in the class. It was a very interesting movie, but then again, the text was a very interesting representation of London’s lower classes in the later 1700′s. Calling it satirical doesn’t even begin to touch on how over the top and amoral it is; throughout the text, promiscuity is hailed over marriage, unless the wife intends to murder the husband, and gold is the driving force behind almost every character’s actions. It’s a very unique text, and our discussion of it on Wednesday should be very… Well, interesting!

Kingston is a really lovely town, and its proximity to the Thames, illustrated in its full name “Kingston-Upon-Thames,” makes it a very nice place to spend time outside in. We haven’t really gotten all that much rain yet, so I’m starting to wonder when the London weather is going to kick in. I’ve been carrying an umbrella around for basically nothing, but I really shouldn’t complain that I’ve stayed dry over the past few days. Tomorrow is my first day of Shakespeare: Reading and Performance, and I am absolutely ecstatic about the walk we’ll be taking in the afternoon; our first visit to the Globe will come during it! Anyway, it’s time for little college students to go to bed, so until tomorrow night, ta-ta!

A Saturday To Remember

So, I’ve experienced a lot of things in my life, but the nine-hour adventure I had yesterday is definitely going up in my books as one of the greatest days of my life. Basically, here’s how it happened:

I woke up at a reasonable hour, something like nine ‘o’ clock in the morning, had breakfast, and tried to figure out what I wanted to do that day. Well, it turns out that the cleaners were about to come in and do turn-down service, so I quickly through my stuff together and left without a definite plan. That could have ended badly, if I hadn’t picked up a tourist book in Waterloo Station. So, I sat down in front of the London Eye, seeing as though I couldn’t think of a better place to plan what I wanted to see, and I started going through the entire Central London map. I picked out literally every attraction I wanted to see, and I got started on my day.

My nine-hour adventure started, obviously, at the London Eye, which I had already seen during the Photo Frenzy. After that, I crossed Westminster Bridge, got more than enough pictures of the Houses of Parliament (and Big Ben), and then looked at Westminster Abbey and Cathedral from the outside. I didn’t feel like being cattle-herded inside either of them, so instead, I made my way for the Tube and headed towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Once I arrived at Blackfriar’s Station, from where I immediately got lost, I stumbled across a church hidden away behind several taller buildings in close proximity. I can’t for the life of me remember it’s name, but after all the things I saw, I’m not surprised! After I did that, I continued to be lost until St. Paul’s basically appeared to me. Seriously, I just turned a corner, hoping I was going the right direction while burying my face in my map, and there it was. It’s really quite an impressive building, and it takes a lot to make someone as well-traveled as me say that. They were having an ordination of deacons at the time, so I didn’t get the chance to peek in, but I did get to hear them ringing the bells, which was pretty sweet. Discovering I was hungry, I went into a restaurant called Yo! Sushi, which was very different from the other sushi places I’ve been to before. It had a conveyor belt at this large, rectangular bar, and little color-coded containers of sushi (say that five times fast) passed around on it. You snag whatever looks good, and depending on what color it is, you pay a certain amount for it. They also had individual faucets so you can serve yourself both flat and bubbly water, containers of soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger built into the bar’s surface, and a button that let’s you call the server if you need help. I walked out of that restaurant full of sushi, eating green tea ice cream from a little plastic container.

Hopping on the Tube again, I made my way towards the Tower of London. Coming out of the station, I came across a beautiful World War I and II memorial with a lot of stone work and a very solemn pillared building at the edge. I paid my respects and moved on towards the Tower of London, which isn’t just a really big tower near the Thames. It’s a complex of castles and structures that have been completed over the past 1000 years, and though I wanted to go inside, it was, again, too crowded for my tastes. Instead, I passed by it and walked to Tower Bridge, which is not the same thing as London Bridge. This is a common misconception, but London Bridge is a much less ostentatious bridge now in the Western United States; they have since replaced it, but a businessman in (I believe) Arizona bought it thinking it was Tower Bridge. It’s funny the things you learn from stones in the ground. Anyway, instead of crossing Tower Bridge, I actually discovered that there’s an exhibit in its upper walkways, so I went in there and got some amazing views of the Thames. They also had panels of the past Olympics games in addition to magnificent bridges from around the world, but I was much more excited about seeing the steam engines in the underground section of the exhibit.

Upon leaving Tower Bridge from the opposite side, I passed by a shopping center along the river, as well as what is colloquially known as the “Armadillo.” I also passed the Shard, which is the tallest building in both the United Kingdom and Europe. Being the jaded New Yorker that I am, I’ve seen better skyscrapers, but it’s still a very interesting building, particularly for it’s slanted edges. Walking near the Thames back towards the center of Central London and looking for London Bridge Station unsuccessfully, I passed another church that I can’t name and then crossed London Bridge itself. I walked a little farther and came across the Monument, which is the tallest, isolated, free-standing column in the world. In short, it’s a really tall pillar, but next to it were a couple inebriated people around a very random piano. So, I sat and listened to the man at the piano play, which was surprisingly well considering the amount of alcohol they had with them.

Finally, after another short Tube ride, I went to Baker Street in the attempt of finding the closest point to 221B, which I eventually did. Before stumbling across a statue of the pointy-nosed detective himself, I stopped by a couple souvenir shops for random gifts, and very nearly bought a deer-stalker (the hat which is infamously associated with Holmes). When I did finally stumble across the statue, I realized that traveling alone through London makes it very difficult to get pictures of yourself, so I did the Facebook-esque self picture with him and headed back to Surbiton.

As you can see by the novel I wrote, yesterday was a very long, interesting day full of little discoveries and really sore feet! In the course of nine hours, I saw about half of the things I still needed to see in London, though not necessarily as thoroughly as I might have liked. I do still have some time to explore London more, though I spent today lazing about my dorm and getting caught up on my class reading. Then again, I really only have one weekend to do things, seeing as though my two four-day weekends are filled with trips to Scotland and Paris. I’m hoping to go to Stonehenge during that open weekend, but we’ll really have to see. For now, I have to go to sleep and wait with bated breath to see what my classes are like on a normal basis. Good night, all!

Orientation To Kingston, Its University, And The Metropolis Containing It

In contrast to my first day at Kingston University, which was pretty lax and minimally active for this jet-lagged nineteen year-old, Thursday and Friday were quite intense. In fact I have been so busy the past three days that I have had yet to document anything substantial about my experience here. I’ll leave today’s nine-hour adventure for another blog entry, but the schedules of both Thursday and Friday were rigorous.

Because Thursday was our first official day in the summer program, it was the day we had our official orientation to the school, its procedures, grading policies, etc. I won’t go too into the nitty gritty of what we discussed, particularly since it’s basically the same stuff you hear at the beginning of every semester, but it helped me figure out a lot about Kingston University that I needed to know. One of the coordinators spoke about health forms, enrollment, ID cards, travel cards, how the Olympics will affect us at the end of the course, and other important things that will come in handy with the “study” part of my studying abroad.

Lest we forget the “abroad” part, the coordinators then led us from KU’s Penrhyn Road campus (which is where I’ll be studying) and into the center of Kingston. Like Surbiton, the other town near our dormitories, Kingston is very quaint and historic with scattered elements of modernism throughout. It’s a really interesting juxtaposition, but I will talk more about that in a later blog post. The tour brought us around to the important destinations, including the student union, train station, bus stations, department stores, boat dock, and the Rose Theatre, where we will later be able to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics from if we choose to do so. Once we finished the tour, and snapped a few pictures at the falling phone booths art installation (which is what my banner displays), we went into the Kings Tun pub and had a bite to eat. After that, we were divided into teams and directed towards London, where we engaged in a Photo Frenzy, essentially a scavenger hunt with pictures and questions. It took us to several of the interesting destinations around Central London, including the London Eye, Houses of Parliament (which houses the bell Big Ben), Bond Street, Convent Garden, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square. It was quite an endeavor, since we lost half the group for about thirty minutes and were afraid we were going to be disqualified, but we made it to the second pub of the day, the Silver Cross, without any penalties for lateness. While there, I had my first serving of British fish and chips, which came with a lemon wedge, tartar sauce, and a bunch of peas with I awkwardly ate with a fork. The groups had disbanded by then, so I ended up heading home with a group of some of my peers (who aren’t used to riding the subway and needed the help interpreting the Tube’s map and the train system). I had a small dinner before hitting the hay, exhausted, but happy.

Friday was centered around the university in much the same orienting way as the first, just with more emphasis on our individual classes. In the morning, I took an optional tour of the library, which is very nice and actually allows food on the ground floor. They also have a self-checkout and return section where you, obviously, check out and return your own books through a machine. Once the tour was over, I went to the first meeting of my London and Its Literature course, which is going to be very interesting in my opinion. This was also the first opportunity I had to meet with my professor/”tutor”, Dr. Nicholas Foxton. We spent the class discussing procedure, grading policy, field trips, and other important things that, again, I won’t bore you with. After that, I stopped by the student union and bought a couple things, including an Olympics-themed bag and a couple of witty British greeting cards I thought were extremely funny. After that, I read in the library until the students of the summer program met for lunch. After that was the first meeting of Shakespeare: Reading And Performance, which is the main reason I’m studying abroad at all. Nick, as Dr. Foxton wants us to call him, is my professor for this class as well, and we had, in addition to the general overview of the syllabus, a nice discussion about Shakespeare, his works, and what people do and do not like about him. After that, I went home, took a nap, and spent a good couple hours sorting through my pictures so I can begin uploading them to the blog tomorrow.

With the summer program beginning this way, I’m ecstatic to see how the classes function. Our class time is made up about a third to half of the time of field trips, and with a historic place like London, each one will be the experience of a lifetime. I see performances at the Globe and Stratford Upon Avon, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, a Dickens Walk, and other exciting things in my future! Stay tuned for pictures of my adventures and further updates!

Summer Ramblings! The East Village

Happy Summer to you!
I’ve been enjoying my summer with fresh fruit, milkshakes, two summer classes and an incredible AUDIOLOGY internship. Plus, a trip here and there to the city, which brings me to Summer Ramble: The East Village.

Astor Place

Photo: Satish Krishnamurthy

A friend of mine made up for us to meet at a cafe in the east village. I haven’t ever really spent time around there, but the second I got off at Astor Place, I could feel the hipster in the air. People around me were decked out in all kinds of colorful and mismatched fabrics, with hairdos and footwear spanning the last 50 years of fashion.
As I crossed the street, I noticed a group of young people in exercise clothes with  yoga-mats over their shoulders, though you’d think they were high fashion purses, the way some people carried them. After that, I passed by some outdoor cafes and a yogurt bar whose sandwich board goaded, “Get your antioxidants here!” Quickly I realized that the plastic bag I was carrying was earning me some hard stares from the passersby. I was clearly in the East Village.

In the short walk from the subway to the meeting with my friend, I had that distinct feeling one gets while traveling, that sense of fascination followed by the desire to study and understand the micro-verse that is a neighborhood in NYC, as an anthropologist would.  My friend and I had a lovely time together, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had crossed over some invisible line that took me into a world that was clearly different to the one I’d been in at the other end of subway line back in Brooklyn.

Yoga mat.

Photo: William Ward

So wherever you may be, I encourage you to hop on a train, or bus or bike and go just a few neighborhoods over and you too may find something you didn’t expect.

Two Long Days And A Brittany

I’ve had a very hectic two days, and though I could just start at the beginning, I’m going to start here. I’m sitting on top of my desk, using my windowsill as a laptop rest, eating basmati rice with avocado out of a microwavable container, drinking green tea, and watching a field as the sky slowly grows darker. (Mind you, it’s already nine at night, but the sun has only barely started descending.) In order to get to this point, I sat for two hours waiting for my first flight to leave to Boston from JFK. After a quick thirty-minute flight, I hurried to my six and a half hour flight to London, which left around 6:45 PM and arrived at 6:25 AM. After getting about an hour of interrupted sleep on the plane, I then had to deal with customs (which was easy), and finding my travel arrangements (which was less easy). Eventually, after meeting some of my fellow students and taking an hour long ride in a van, I made it to the dormitories where I’ll be staying for the next month.

I spent the majority of today struggling with simple concepts while loathing the effects of staying up two days straight. In fact, I’m surprised I was able to get through it with as much laughter as I did. To begin with, though the suite I’m staying in is adorable, the four flights of stairs up to it are not when lugging a 37-pound bag. The proportions of everything are also smaller than my Manhattan apartment, so wrestling with the logistics of unpacking got to be a bit frustrating. Again, I love my suite, and frankly, this is the best dorm set-up I’ve been in. I have a desk, bed, end table, desk drawers, mounted wall shelf, wardrobe/closet thing, and my own bathroom! The bathroom, however, has a very temperamental shower that floods the floor if you aren’t careful. If you don’t know how to work the temperature and water pressure knob, as I didn’t when I tried to wash of my jetlag, you end up scalding yourself on really, really hot water! Outside the at times difficult bathroom, I also have a wonderful view of this field (where I just saw a fox) and the roof of a really quaint, traditionally British house. Unfortunately for me, I decided to go out to the benches in the middle of the field to enjoy the day just when they changed two of the three locks I encounter getting into my room. It was sorted out pretty quickly, and after that I got a free packed lunch, a mobile telephone (which I upgraded to make free calls to certain US numbers), and a tour of Surbiton, the town where I’ll be doing my shopping. Our tour guide lefts us to our own devices after bringing us to the supermarket, so I visited a 99 pence store for some really cheap food. If I wanted to, I could have gotten two pounds of spaghetti for 99 pence (which is only about $1.50), and I got other good quality foods for cheap as well. After that, I went to the supermarket and headed back to the dorms, but not without almost getting lost first. I ended up asking for help from one of the coordinators, who was conveniently heading the same way I was. After that, I spent a good hour trying to figure out how to work the internet, since I couldn’t remember the password I needed. Finally, I got everything in order and discovered how nice a writing spot the top of my desk makes.

Needless to say, it’s been a really long day, and I really need to get some sleep! I have to wake up early for orientation tomorrow and hope it’s less difficult than today was. All little hassles aside, I’m really looking forward to my time here. I was a bit nervous about it before arrival, but I’ve figured most of the weird stuff out already. I’ll add a separate blog entry about the cultural differences I’ve experienced in my brief time in the UK, but for now, I think it’s time for a well-deserved sleep.

The Journey and Arrival In Photographic Terms:

So long, New York!

Heading through the outer boroughs towards JFK.

Boston, with a miniature filter on!

Boston Airport is definitely nestled in one of the more beautiful areas of the East.

What do you do when the touch screen on the seat in front of you doesn’t work? Here’s your answer.

I’ve heard there’s some sports event going on in this arena in a couple weeks, but I can’t remember the name of it… Something with an “O”… Octopus?

An aerial shot of the Thames

The Shard (the pointy building) is apparently the tallest building in Europe.

The London Eye from above!

My first introduction to the London Tube happened before I left the airport… Interesting, no?

This is the bathroom connected to my room, which I think serves me just perfectly.

This is my window, as well as my field outside of it.

This is my wonderful, unpacked (and momentarily organized) room!

This is our adorable kitchen which, aside from a few quirks, has served me well.

Clay Hill Halls of Residence is really quite quaint in its buildings’ facades.

Reynard the Red paid me a visit my first night here; let’s hope he didn’t sneak away with any of my valuables!

The Day Before

You know what I did today, the day before I leave for Europe? I went to a taping of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on the Band Bench. That’s right, I will (potentially) be on TV the night before I leave to study abroad. I would upload a screen shot of myself, but I can’t view US videos from outside the US to get one. Still, I got to watch Alabama Shakes live and see Jimmy Fallon interview a reformed Charlie Sheen. I’d call that a good last, full day in the city for a few weeks.

What’s This, You Ask?

Who says you have to pack heavy for a six-week trip?

So, you ask me what this is, eh? What am I doing with a loosely packed, medium-sized suitcase if I’m going to be gone for a large suitcase’s worth of time? Well, I give you three good reasons why my medium-sized suitcase is going to serve me well in my six-week journey to Europe:

1. I only packed two and a half weeks of clothing. Now, I know that seems like a ludicrous amount for six weeks, but access to laundry machines makes 18 plus days worth of clothes more than adequate for my trip. Two sessions of laundry and my minimal clothing becomes an extended-use wardrobe.
2. Space saver bags. Yes, when I say space saver bags, I mean those “As Seen On TV” oversized Zip-loc baggies with the specialized air valves. They have a travel version which I decided to try and believe it or not, they actually work. Instead of vacuuming, you roll out the air from the bag through self-sealing holes in the bottom. I pulled back some of my stuff in the suitcase to show it off in the above picture. While it’s true that my clothes are probably going to be extremely wrinkled, I brought a spray bottle to fix that and will be enjoying the extra souvenir space on the way home. I also get to use them in my over-sized backpack for my weekend travels, since I really don’t want to roll around the suitcase for my four-day trips.
3. As a continuation of the last bullet above, I don’t want to lug an enormous suitcase around Europe! Seriously, using a medium-sized suitcase is going to make my airport experience super easy, and with all the ferries and buses I’ll have to deal with in Ireland, it’s just easier to have the one, condensed bag.

In essence, I took what I needed, including options in wardrobe and footwear, without exacerbating my scoliosis. I think that’s a pretty good deal in the grand scheme of things, and besides, it’s going to end up overflowing with new, interesting things from around Europe regardless of how big it is.

The Week Before

Looking ahead to my departure Tuesday, I’m drawn back to the months that have lead up to my trip. My idea to study abroad this summer actually came from a winter trip back to my parents’ home in Texas. My parents had traveled to Europe over the summer, and I spent a night with my mom just looking over the photos from their trip. Seeing those fragments of a trip I had never really experienced made me crave something more than my past travels. While it’s true I’ve been out of the country many, many times, with one of those trips landing me in a week-long summer camp in Spain, I haven’t been to England, or France, or Scotland, or any of the other countries my parents were able to visit. Looking toward my love of Shakespeare, I determined to study abroad in London, and I spent the next day exploring study abroad options.

Because my inquiries started over Christmas Break, I wasn’t able to apply for the program yet. In fact, I wasn’t able to do much of anything related to study abroad until the Macaulay Access Period started. My experience with that was not only hectic (mostly because of a three-hour wait in the Financial Aid office) but it also happened before I’d fully applied to the program! I received my study abroad check before I was even offered a place in the program, which made for some difficulties when gathering the necessary documentation. Needless to say, I sorted it out, but not without a few pushes from my Macaulay advisor.

By the time I’d received my check from Macaulay and the acceptance letter from Kingston University, finals was upon me, so I had to put my study abroad rush on hold for a full three weeks as I hammered out over 60 pages of final essays. I won’t go too much into the workload, seeing as though I am a Creative Writing major, but it inevitably forced me into a mad dash to get things ready for my six week long trip. In the course of just under four weeks, I had to organize my life into a suitcase, make arrangements for travel and other related plans, read two classes worth of books in advance (totaling about eight books including four Shakespearean plays), set up notifications with several institutions, and pretty much put my summer on hold. It’s now three days to go, and I’m still rushing to get everything in order before I leave.

At the end of the day, or several crazy months, I still think I’m incredibly privileged. Without the financial help of Macaulay and the really understanding support of so many great people, I probably wouldn’t be leaving this Tuesday for the experience of a lifetime. Sure, I’m arriving in the UK the same time I normally go to bed over the summer, but the things I get to do while I’m there are worth a little (extreme) jetlag and bureaucratic finagling associated with travel for long periods of time.

I’ll probably update this blog again either just before I leave or after I arrive, so stay tuned and expect lots of pictures! Once I figure out the easiest way to insert mass quantities of pictures to this website, I’m going to be smothering the server in pixels of England-y goodness. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the other side of the pond!

About MacBlog

I wrote for the MacBlog from October 2009 to December 2011, chronicling my experience at Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Hunter. Though the primary audience was prospective students, it was real widely within and outside the Macaulay community. Below you will find copies of all my posts for MacBlog. The blog is still active–click here to see the most recent posts!

Eulogy for my Grandfather

For 23 years – my entire life – my grandfather has been one of the greatest sources of strength in my life. No matter the occasion, he could always be counted upon to provide stability, keeping us tied to the real world – encouraging us to dream ever higher while simultaneously keeping us planted firmly in reality. In short, he was the very definition of the rock upon which our family has been built, and just as rocks may give way to countless pebbles while retaining their integrity, so my grandfather’s life has been the foundation of lives led by three amazing children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren who he could not have loved more or been more proud of.

Had it not been for his belief in America, the American Dream and American ideals, perhaps none of us would be here today. Indeed, none of us would be here had my grandfather not had the foresight and desire to see his progeny live lives that were impossible in the old world – lives defined by individually-based success, achieved regardless of one’s past and independent of the successes of one’s ancestors; lives defined by outstanding scholastic success – where no one ever gets left back; lives defined by beauty, both inner and outer; lives defined by a compassion that knows no bounds, where whatever is in one’s power is used without question in helping loved ones; lives defined by a companionship and love for one’s partner that permeates through every cell in their bodies, creating relationships that last into eternity and are the envy of many a people.

These, of course, are the intangibles of life – the things we cannot define with one simple example, that we cannot touch, see, or hear, that we may only feel in order to understand. In looking through our pictures and memories over the past week or so, however, we’d inevitably see one or more of four very beautiful and very real things with him: a smile upon his face, a glass of wine in his hand, a grandchild or his amazing and wonderful wife – my Nonna – by his side.

Where such things – both the tangibles and intangibles – define a man’s life, you’ll find a man who has led an amazing, successful life. It seems only fitting, then, that all of us – the pebbles grown into rocks, as it were – might honor him by forming a new foundation steeped in the values of the rock our family had been built upon all those years ago.

Goodbye for now, Nonno – we’ll love and miss you always.

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The Semester After…

your study abroad.

Like so many college students I find myself at the end of a long semester. As I prepare for finals, I also reflect on how this semester has been different from others. Last semester I was in Melbourne Australia, adjusting not only to a new country but to different educational practices, especially different academic expectations. But these thoughts are not about my semester abroad but rather about the first semester home after being abroad.

Studying abroad has three stage: pre-, during and post-.

While the semester before was riddled with antsy-ness and anticipation for my trip, and the semester abroad with childlike fascination, it’s during my semester back home that I find myself relishing familiarity. I walk around campus with a sense of ownership, remembering the discomfort of being new and unsettled in a foreign university. Even riding the subway, which is a surprise-filled adventure every time you go, carries a type of what I like to call a “present nostalgia.” That feeling you get when you are just fully in the moment and imagining how you’ll look back at this moment in the future.
I’ve had all semester to really process the experiences I had in Australia and rather than feeling them slip away into past memories, I find I am integrating what I learned throughout my journey and affirming those lessons into life back here in Brooklyn.

Endless Manifesto

Endless Manifesto 

Size: 6X6 ft.

Material: Charcoal, acrylic paint.

“Ok, I said, it is time to evaluate the difference between the things we have and the things we want. I want that — it — you — maybe. I want go, stay, inconclusiveness, and confusion. I want to write endless manifestos that declare one thing, which inevitably leads to another. I want security and reassurance to cover some of that daddy issue. Ask me if I love you and let me ask you, 10 times a day, if you love me and miss me. I want you to be a tad bit dramatic about how much you need me in your life. That’s it…”

What I Will Miss About Florence

20+ things that I will miss about Florence, after 6 months of living here.

1. Having gelato at 10:45 P.M because the gelateria closes at 11 P.M.

2. Eating lampredotto (cow stomach) and trippa (tripe) sandwiches, yet still look sexy in the eyes of Italian men.

3. Having wine in the morning, noon, afternoon, and night with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No AA meeting required.

4. Making gourmet dinners with friends, using .40 cent pasta, € 2.40 wine, .99 cent pasta sauce, .79 cent baguette from Conad, while chuckling at how Mario Batali we all have became.

5. Fully understood why “… when the sun hits your eyes like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” 

6. Saying when in Rome, when in Rome.

7. Having a brioche or cornetto (croissant) with a cappuccino at 9 A.M in a bar because no Italian would do that after 10.

8. Buying 10 artichokes for €1 during the season at the market.

9. Kissing on both cheeks while saying Ciao, Buongiorno, or Buonasera because I look like a local doing it.

10. Riding my bike while talking on the phone and wearing heels on cobblestone streets. Without wearing a helmet.

11. Putting prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomatoes on a freshly-baked focaccia, while thinking that people outside of Italy have no idea what a real sandwich tastes like.

12. Using the Duomo as a landmark to get home from a night of dodging creepy men on the street.

13. Hiking up the Piazza di Michelangelo without sweating, while calling it Mike’s Piazza. Like a boss.

14. Always on a constant search for the best — gelato, panino, vino, pasta, pizza, ristorante, bar, cafe’, etc…

15. Using YOLO and Cinco de Mayo as reasons to make every unjustifiable action a justifiable one.

16. Wearing Converse and Toms to the club, because — really — no one cares.

17. Starting a sentence with Allora because saying “OK” is so back in the States.

18. Having a constant fear of going back to America, because the food and wine can’t be half as good.

19. Making risotto at home because it is so easy, why would you order it at a restaurant?

20. Walking by the real gypsies while singing “I’m a gypsy…” by Shakira.

21. Buying plane tickets from Ryan Air because €7 can get you a one-way ticket to Ibiza, Paris, Barcelona, etc… and €40 can get you back to Pisa, Bologna, and other places outside of where you actually live.

22. “I’m staying in Florence this weekend because the train station is having yet another strike.”

23. “Oh, you still HAVEN’T SEEN the real David yet? He is HUGE!”

24. Having a picnic at a 16th-century garden because it is a lazy day.

25. Giving nicknames to Renaissance artists like Michel and Leo.

26. Giving up on the idea of working out because my weight will shed when I get back home.

27. Looking at the sunset over the Arno while contemplating La bella vita.

God Bless the Little Crayola

I was reading The New York Times yesterday, and I accidentally stumbled upon an article on children drawing the news. Out of a Facebook habit, I started to read the top comments from the readers, and one in particular stood out to me. From Manhattan, New York, Perley J. Thibodeau wrote, “God bless their little crayolas.”

And really, God bless the little Crayola, because we all have tried to launch back into our childhood — searched through it — to figure out who we are today. We look back at the scratchy lines outside of the border. We dive into the pool of Jazzberry Jam, Purple Mountain’s Majesty, and Unmellow Yellow. We ransack whatever we have left inside ourselves, so we can put the pieces together and hold on to our past, present, and future.

So this is a homage to the little Crayolas that have helped us express ourselves, in ways that words could not encompass. This is a “Thank You For Everything You Have Done” note card to — Paper, Charcoal, Markers, Color Pencils, Crayons, Walls, and Sidewalks — for giving us a fortress to come back to, in time of adulthood.

One Comma

While working on my painting for a contest under the theme of “Beyond Graffiti,” I found these lines going over and over in my head. Words and colors. Words and colors. Words and colors.

One Comma

Words – I said to him in 2 lines, one comma, and one period

Words have no meaning,

Words have no meaning.

Until the moment that he looked at me

Hands on his left hip, head tilted 20 degrees to the right

Legs slightly protruding half inward and half outward

He said to me,

In his international accent of inability to care,

You talk like your mother

 

So I keep on going through life

Using those exact 2 lines, one comma, and one period

To tell him, and the likes of him

That I,

In my hoarse, rollercoaster voice

That I got colors tattooed across my body with my signature under it

Deep, blinding yellow for 35 degrees Celsius under the Equatorial sun

Fields of never-ending greens and orange of poverty, napalm, separation, and lineal unification

Red for the bodies that are buried by the World Bank’s debts and US’s “provoked” intervention

But I had blue, for hope.

And he told me again,

That I sound like my mother

So I looked at him and whispered,

At least, I still have a motherland. 

JFEW Spring Retreat- 2

This year’s JFEW Spring Retreat was as inspiring and relevant as last year’s event (previous post): We kicked off the day with a session led by Ben Messner about “Strengths,” focusing on directing our lives based on our greatest talents. We had all taken an online evaluation that defined our top five strengths and during the session we learned how to use those words to articulate how our particular strengths can benefit us in our professional lives.

The cohort of motivated and ambitious JFEW scholars were then treated to a dialogue with MHC’s Macaulay Honors College Dean Kirschner and Shelley Fischel. They shared their educational and career paths, contrasting the “driller” vs. “gypsy” approach to building a career. A “driller” being one who remains in one job and goes deeper into that particular field for many years, developing an expertise in a niche and a tight-knit, internal social network, while the “gypsy” stays in one place and with one interest for a short time and then hops off to the next new and exciting project, forming many and varied professional relationships. I enjoyed listening to these two successful women recount their joys and struggles of being both accomplished professionals and dedicated mothers.

The day ended with a conversation with two MHC and JFEW alums who shared their own experiences navigating the world and their careers following graduation. Sasha and Catherine were open about sharing both their educational and professional trajectories as well as their personal journeys to where they are now.

Being a part of a supportive, motivated, and self-aware group of young women strengthens my own convictions in my own abilities and strengths. The retreat served as a surge of empowerment and a testament to the culture of support found in JFEW and MHC.

Thanks to all involved.
Lilach

Passover in Jerusalem!


Spending pesach with my family in Israel is something I’d never done before and was incredibly special. I hadn’t seen my grandparents in over 2 years, my brother, sister and adorable nieces in more than a year. Skype is great and having video chats made it that at least my little nieces recognized me and knew who I was, but sharing physical space and being able to steal a potato off of my sister’s plate reminds me that while technology connects us, it’ll never replace the real thing.

Enjoy the video and follow the links to see more!

Lilach

Comment Question: What kind of technology do you think falls short of reality?

To the Him of Yesterday

We had been walking together for the past fifteen minutes without speaking to each other. Sentences were left broken with excuses like you won’t understand and no explanation needed.  He looked at me once in a while when my cough distracted him from his own thoughts. His silence suppressed my ability to breathe, as he tried hard to make everything seemed normal.

There was nothing left to say between us. Our story is a mixture of an useless Romeo and Juliet plot, and an anti-climatic ending to “A Walk to Remember.” I wanted to apologize to him for how things had turned out, yet every bone in my body refused to give my jaw the energy to do so. From the way he looked at me, I knew that he understood what had happened. It was the natural push-and-pull theory; he tried to make the relationship work while I found reasons to run away from his protectiveness. He wanted me to be there indefinitely, while I wanted to stay temporarily without a contract.

We had talked for hours before on the possibility of spending our lives together. I have nodded and cooed back to every I love you. I had let my future plans go in his presence. For a year and a half, I wanted to make him the reason for living  — but failed to do so with every trip I took abroad.

Being there with him that day, after a thousand things had gone wrong, was my apology to him in the slightest effort. It was the unspoken and underrated sorry of how I had wasted his time with my disappearance and my selfish talks.

I am writing this now, and will again in the future, in hope that he might stumble upon this tiny letter of confession. I want to contain in this my faults, so by chance, he would understand that nothing was wrong with him… for I did love him in ways that should be flashed with warning signs of construction ahead. It is also a letter of hope — for forgiveness and for a future, in which he will someone new to spend countless hours with.

The Hunger Games: Review

Being a recently converted Hunger Games fanatic, I went to see the midnight showing of the film last night with my siblings and best friend. There are bound to be a million reviews about the movie and it’s relation to the book, but I figured I’d throw my two cents in anyway.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I am reviewing the movie as a companion piece to the book. It is frankly, impossible for me to do otherwise having read the series so recently and being such a fan. Were I to review the movie idependently, I might be more critical (it faced many of the problems that movies adapted from books have to deal with, such as reduced character development, because it assumes most viewers have read the novel(s)).

My verdict: it’s probably the best adaptation of a book I’ve seen. As long as you come in understanding that they have to cut and condense parts of the novel in order to fit everything into a ~2hour movie without sacrificing quality, you should be pretty pleased.

(SPOILER ALERT – Don’t read on unless you’ve read the book AND scene the movie)

What I didn’t like:

In the process of cutting and condensing, they significantly lessened the mortal peril faced by Katniss and Peeta. Katniss is hardly injured by the explosion of the Career’s food supply, Peeta’s injury is healed rather quickly, and the cut Katniss sustains while getting Peeta’s medicine is not serious.  Considering that the film does a good job of conveying the brutality of the games when it comes to all of the other tributes (without getting too gory) I was disappointed by this.  I think more could have been done to make you seriously fear for their lives (or well-being) as you do in the novel. I still remember thinking that Katniss was going to have to survive without hearing in her left ear forever (and was, perhaps naïvely, surprised when The Capitol healed this). In addition, Peeta being in mortal peril for a shorter period of time meant he and Katniss were together for a shorter period of time, and I would have liked to see more of them together to more firmly establish their relationship. The New York Times review somewhat echoes my critique:  the film “rarely suggests the terrors Katniss faces.” (Read the full review here.)

The segment of the film I had the biggest issue with was the ending. Through the fight with the mutts (which are not as depicted in the book, because really, how would they possibly accurately convey the terror of the fact that they had the eyes of the fallen tributes?) I was very happy with how the film was going. Then the announcement came that there could only be one winner. In the book, Peeta goes to throw his knife away and Katniss misinterprets his movement, putting a bow to his heart. This, to me, was a heartbreaking scene that clued the reader (and, I thought, President Snow) into Katniss and Peeta’s true relationship: despite Katniss’ growing feelings for Peeta, she is not in love with him as he is with her. This short moment is skipped in the film, and I didn’t understand why.

Then, right before the end of the novel Peeta and Katniss have a fight before their public appearance in District 12, as Katniss reveals she has been playing a part and is not really in love with Peeta. This fight never happens in the movie. There is an exchange of dialogue:

Peeta: What happens now?

Katniss: We try to forget this ever happened.

Peeta: I don’t want to forget what happened.

(Or something like that).

Then it cuts to them standing in front of a crowd at District 12. This, in addition to the short amount of time Katniss spends with Peeta in the movie overall means that the film gives a slightly different picture of the Katniss-Peeta relationship than the novel does. [EDIT: In retrospect, I realize they may have been saving this fight (or something like it) for the opening of Catching Fire, which would make sense to me.]

The moments between these scenes are drastically shortened as well – we see very little of the final interview between Katniss and Peeta, and the interview is quite different from the novel version, which I think is much stronger. Of course, one is almost always going to prefer the book to the movie, but the instances where I can’t understand why the changes were made bother me the most.

However, as I said at the beginning, I really enjoyed the movie! These problems I had all occurred within the last ten minutes of the film. So now, what I really liked:

The tone of the film was beautifully matched to the book, and the fact that it was from Katniss’ perspective was conveyed better than I could have expected. There are lovely, short and sweet flashbacks to her father’s death, her mother’s withdrawl, and Peeta giving her the bread. I’ve heard complaints about these from people who haven’t read the books, but again, I’m looking at the movie as a companion piece. After Katniss is stung by the tracker jackers the film is disoriented to give the audience a sense of what she is feeling. Moments before the games have muted sound that covey the numbness Katniss is feeling as she tries to come to terms with whats happening, or her stage fright during her first interview. After the explosion in the games, there are a couple of minutes where the only noise is the ringing in Katniss’ ears. As I said above, I never felt like Katniss and Peeta were in danger the way I did in the novel, though my anxiety for them before the games was greater than it had been in the novel. The violence of the games outside of these two characters is showcased well without glorification (or anything that would have endangered the PG-13 rating).

The casting was great – not only for the leading three, but for all of the supporting characters. Tthough I’m not on the Jenniffer Lawrence train, I wouldn’t go as far as the NYT did and call her performance “bland” – I thought she did a fine job. Liam Hemsworth (Gale) honestly didn’t really get enough screen time to seriuosly judge his acting chops, but again, a fine performance. The winner of the three leads was for me, Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), who I thought completely embodied his character. However, the cast of supporting actors was especially superb – Elizabeth Banks makes a wonderfully comedic Effie, Donald Sutherland (one of my favorite actors) makes a chillingly calculating and brutal President Snow, Woody Harelson is a perfect fit for Haymitch, Lenny Kravitz is captivating as Cinna, Stanley Tucci is hilarious and completely convincing as the host of the games, and the added character, the game master, Seneca Crane, is well done by Wes Bentley. The child actors who play Rue and Primrose (Amandla Stenberg and Willow Shields) also do a fine job (a relief, since it can sometimes be especially difficult to find adequate child actors).

Though the Capitol was not as I pictured it, I think it was beautiful and wonderfully done, and true to the novel. The same goes for the other settings: District 12 and the setting for the games themselves. Perhaps nothing could have accurately replicated the beautiful costumes Katniss and Peeta wear before the games, but the movie made a good effort.

I loved that the movie version allowed us to go places we couldn’t in the novel, such as the room where the game maker controls the games, which looked like a futuristic NASA control room.  I also loved the incorporation of a couple of events that do happen during the time frame of the first novel but that the reader doesn’t find out about until Catching Fire (riots in District 11, the death of the game master on the President’s orders).

Some specific scenes I enjoyed that I haven’t yet mentioned:

I was surprised at how well the cave scene was done. Though it may verge on cliché even in the novel it is actually somewhat better handled in the movie because it is shorter. Katniss first kisses Peeta on the cheek and it seems tentative and forced, prompting a note from Haymitch: “You call that a kiss?” The second kiss is a result of this prompting but perhaps something more. Then when Peeta tells the story of his crush on Katniss, he rushes through it in an earnest, desperate way that is very believable, considering he thinks he may soon die and wants Katniss to understand the truth (and they are still teenagers – they can be melodramatic if they want, though I’m not sure what’s melodrama in a literal fight to the death).

(There is a later scene in the cave not in the books where Peeta is applying salve to Katniss’ head – not such a fan of this, as it’s painfully awkward in a bad way, but it’s thankfully its a short scene.)

The moment between Katniss and Peeta that I really loved was after his recovery when they are hunting/gathering. Peeta makes a joke about taking Katniss’ arrow. It takes her a moment to understand he is kidding, but then she smiles, which is rare in the movie and rarer during the games, and it’s great to see that Peeta can bring that out of her. Then there is the moment when Katniss thinks Peeta has died, and she yells at him for scaring her and picking the nightlock. Though Katniss may not be in love with him, she has certainly come to care for him, and this scene is well done and conveys that information.

Finally, Rue’s death was beautifully done. Katniss’ distraught afterward is harrowing, and this is probably the highlight of the movie in terms of Lawrence’s acting.

I’m so excited for Catching Fire, but in the meantime I’m definitely planning on seeing the move again (and then probably re-reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay).

Happy Hunger Games!

 

My Favorite…Holiday! PURIM!

A costume holiday spent eating and exchanging food packages with friends, plus non-stop eating of said food packages, plus a holiday meal?!?!?! I’m in!! Purim is my favorite holiday!

You know I’m a fan of DIY (Do it Yourself,) so I put together this simple peacock themed costume, mostly as an excuse to wear these amazing earrings! Some thought I actually looked like a turkey- woops. But hey- here’s pictures so you could decide what you think. Leave a comment!

This year’s costume winner was Waldo!
Here’s my best friend dressed up as Waldo, very convincingly, might I add. I stole her awesome glasses for the picture though.

I stole Waldo's glasses!

Can you find Waldo?!?

Later, I saw a whole family dressed as Waldo’s and I hope they weren’t too frightened when I pointed excitedly and said, “FOUND YOU!!!”

 

 

 

 

 
Purim in Brooklyn is still the most amazing thing about living here. Last year, I made a more representative video of how great it is. Check it out here: (plus last year’s DIY costume!)
Well, the day for me was really about spending time with family, friends and celebrating happiness!
Lots of smiles!
Lilach