Author Archives: Nastassia

Posts by Nastassia

A Different Approach to Humanism

The selection of pieces in the African art exhibit of the MET seems strange. Our perception of strange, however, is subjective to the art that we have grown to appreciate. When we dream in paintings, we often visualize Baroque-style art that emphasizes each muscle, vein, and skin tone of the human body. To depict with realism, and perhaps to add a divine quality, was the norm for the multitude of artists that that created “European Paintings”, or at least, the corresponding exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

African sculptors depict the human body in a way that is radically unique.  Without focusing on the intricate details of the general human physique, they bring emphasis to the most important parts of the face. The “Sculptural Element From a Reliquary Ensemble”, as shown in the exhibit, is one of such pieces in which several facial features are dramatically depicted. With an elongated jaw, oversized forehead, and large ears that connect the disproportioned neck to the well-polished face, this piece epitomizes the stark contrast between African art and that of Europe. Unlike the people of Da Vinci’s paintings, the wood-sculpture does not convey emotion through its eyes. In fact, pupils are not even incorporated into the work, an effect that provides the eyes with a blank stare. Without an evident emotion to understand, this piece can be admired at face value and for its captivating design. It is this emphasis on geometric shapes that provided numerous 20th century artists with inspiration to create a whole new segment in art.

“Sculptural Element From a Reliquary Ensemble". Image provided by

“Sculptural Element From a Reliquary Ensemble”. Image provided by

As one of the prominent partakers of the Modern art era, Henri Matisse exhibited great reverence for African art. Taking the base idea of focusing on shapes rather than details, Matisse created “Female Torso”. Though identifiable with its inspiration, the bronze sculpture takes abstraction to a whole new level. The hands of the piece are little nubs, the head is without any facial features, the breasts are protruding, and the body is covered in indents made by the artist’s fingers. Without any hard edges or enough details to give this “torso” a specific identity, Matisse’s creation captures the essence of a woman.

A few strides down from the African art collection is an exhibit fully dedicated to Henri Matisse. Seeing the works in both exhibits draws a clear parallel between the seemingly distinct art-styles.

Matisse’s painting “Nasturtiums with the Pair Dancing” is astonishingly similar to “Female Torso”. It is possible to say that both pieces are of bodies, and but no further meaning can be derived from them. His painting shows several women, hand in hand, forming a circle. Though they are nude like his sculpture, they are painted in a bright pink color to signify that they are the main part of his painting. All parts of the body, from the dark head to the feet, are made with linear or curved strokes of the brush; creating what looks to be more like a silhouette than an actual representation of the body. Though his art does not represent reality, it has a very humanistic approach.

Matisse experimented with a few artistic styles to see which best brought attention to his human subjects. The MET’s exhibit, entitled Matisse: In Search of True Painting, conveniently showed his various attempts at creating the right depiction. Stationed along one wall, his three works entitled “Le Luxe” all portrayed the same scene with three different mediums and techniques. The first, oil on canvas painting, was vibrant with various colors and shades. The water in the backdrop appeared to vary in depth and the sky had distinct hues of blues and purples. The main subject in the foreground had clear facial features and well-defined fingers. Moving away from realism and into a more abstract area, Matisse used fewer colors in the second painting. This time using distemper, he made the background less eye-catching and the subjects more intriguing. Though possessing fewer contours, his subjects stood out like marble statues against a pale backdrop. Matisse took his modern approach even further in his third picture, this time, making it out of charcoal. Evidently using cubist techniques, he altered the bodies of his subjects to look more like geometrical shapes than flesh and skin. Remarkably, he was able to recreate the style of African art on his final attempt. Standing in the foreground, his main subject had a long, thick neck and dark eyes without pupils.


The three paintings of “Le Luxe”. Image provided by

Modernism, an artistic movement that dominates the contemporary world, found its root in an art form that was seldom noticed in the past.

A Dried Herring, Please

I recently went back to my hometown in Queens for some grocery shopping. I stopped by a little shop in Rego Park where I was sure to find smoked salmon and Russian herring.

Bringing our shopping cart to the cashier, we were met with the usual question: Would you like anything else?

The tall sales-woman looked like a giant behind the cash register. She was elevated by a platform on the floor.

My mom, who seemed miniscule in relation to her, answered that she wanted a smoked salmon. Not too large and not too greasy.

The cashier, slightly taken aback, cringed her face. “Don’t you understand, young lady, that salmon is supposed to be big and fatty?” she spat in Russian.

This was the first in a very long time that I heard the native Russian tongue. At home, my family speaks a hybrid language, infused with words from Russia, Belarus, and Poland. I forgot the funny little things about the Russian dialect that always made me laugh. First, this lady, who was probably younger than my mom, called her a “young lady”. Addressing somebody as a “young person” is quite common in the language, but in the moment, when her tone was so sour and her face looked so disapproving, it seemed strange to use such a flattering phrase. The latter part of her sentence, however, was what really got me.

I chuckled at forgetting that “big and fatty salmon” was the standard amongst Russian Americans.

In an instant, my mom fell into the routines of Russian culture, where all ladies bickered if they shared differing views. She went on to tell the cashier about her profession in the medical field and that she knew the difference between food that was healthy or not.

With an unsatisfied expression, the lady went to look for a salmon. She soon returned and slammed it on the top of the scale.

Three pounds. Not bad.

“Anything else?”

“Yes, a herring,” my mom replied.

“Do you also want a dried one?”

Now, I wasn’t going to stand there and let my mom have all the fun.

“Yes, the driest and most lifeless one that you can find,” I answered.

What’s important to remember is that Russian herring, similar to the one sold in American supermarkets, is submerged in some form of oil. By nature, it has to be wet and somewhat greasy.

Our conversation was nothing but rubbish at this point, with each side ceaselessly trying to put the other down. It was pretty amusing, to see how even I changed my behavior when I was placed into that environment. If I was in an average store, I would not converse in such a way with the cashier, and I am sure that she would not speak with the same tone to her customer. It’s only when I descend to the basements of Russian supermarkets that I see the wild side come out of people. Perhaps it brings us back to the environment in which we grew up.

Assimilating to the American culture may be the dream, although full of toil and hard work. After being in the United States for twelve years, I had the firm belief that my family and I were fully integrated. It came as a surprise that lapsing back to our original behavior, even for a moment, was so easy and thoughtless.

People can adjust and change, but at their root, they always stay the same.

A russian herring.
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Garden of Metaphors

The gold of Katherine Vaz’s writing lies within her powerful metaphors. Strikingly unusual, her style takes her readers deep into their own imaginations. Though an experience within itself, reading Vaz’s stories draws a magnifying glass to only one pulley within the intricate mechanism of her thinking. To see the big picture, one has to close his eyes and listen.

When Katherine Vaz began reading excerpts from Below the Salt, her raspy voice was quick to convey the solemn tone of the story that was about to unfold. “They ate nothing but the music of birds”, she described the starving Trinidadian prisoners with a pain in her voice. Each word, pause, and breath revealed just how deeply she empathized with the characters that she had given life to. Through meticulously weaving in combinations of figurative language, she built a beautiful relationship between a mother and son who escaped a life of imprisonment and found a new land of erratic possibility and happiness. Though the processes of growing older and immigrating produced inevitable changes within her characters, Vaz was able to keep them grounded. As the family found a haven in New York, traces of their despairing past reemerged when they started to ponder about their future. In a heartwarming moment, the mother said that she would continue to caress her son even in death. Her body would transform into cobwebs after being consumed by spiders, and if her bleeding son walked through them, she would make his pain dissipate. With a moderate pace and a clear effort to enunciate each word of her story, Kathrine Vaz drove bizarre yet beautiful images into the mind of her audience.

In the following Q&A session, Vaz admitted that her talent of building a labyrinth of metaphors is also her biggest weakness. Looking into the distance and evidently thinking back to a prior conversation, she revealed that she must remind herself not to “hang a tassel off every sentence”. Her well-developed tone and self-monitored style is the icing to a cake well layered with research. With a smile on her face, Vaz recounted her time of travel in Illinois, the main setting of her story, and the challenging pursuit of information about John Alves, a soldier from the American Civil War. Even with the necessary information and inspiration, Vaz’s creation of Below the Salt spanned eight years. In a response to an aspiring writer, she said that the biggest challenge of creating a full story is developing a story line, and then asking yourself “how do I make it blossom out?” Even her speech, it seemed, was packed with dazzling images. Some were breathtaking and fantastical, while others were crude and funny. As her hands demonstrated shaking the figure of an upside-down saint, the audience burst with laughter at hearing how the Portuguese chastised their holy-figures for being disobedient.

The air of solemnity turned into one of relaxed conversation as Katherine Vaz explained how her experiences resulted in a varied and surprisingly realistic array of fictional stories.

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A Story Divided

Paying tribute to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is a noble task to take on. Marianne Weems had a vision of using modern day theater to bring Steinbeck’s story back to life by drawing a parallel between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the more recent recession of 2008. The director filled her production with several memorable moments, but unfortunately, the summation of the play did not meet any expectations. Even with the latest technology, talented actors, and a meaningful theme, House Divided was an awkward theater production to witness.

House Divided opened with a scene that was both unusual and immediately glum. As the sound of a ferocious wind filled the auditorium, a woman appeared on the left. Sitting on the dark stage, she slowly rotated the handle of an old projector. The machine shone the images of dark skies and wheat fields onto the surface of a house that stood center stage. A few solemn words of a narrator could be heard behind the wind, but before any sense of the scene could be made, the sounds were muted and the house’s canvas grew dark. Momentary darkness ensued, but bright lights and the bustle of a trading floor soon replaced it. Standing below a NYSE newsfeed ribbon, two workers burst into a talk, crudely greeting each other and typing away on their computers. Behind them, the Bear Sterns CEO walked into view and started a conference.

After a few short minutes, the format of the play had been established. Focus shifting from the hardships of the Great Depression to the financial chaos of the modern era, the production concluded without a clear and witty connection between the two. Sure, both times witnessed horrid economic conditions. People lost their homes and livelihoods. But what was the greater reason for joining these two events in one play?

That isn’t to say, however, that the individual stories were without a clear message or that the tech team did a poor job. If you drew your attention to the right side of the stage, you would witness one family’s gruesome journey during the Depression Era. Forced out of their farmland in Ohio, the family set out on a westward expedition to find wok. To show progress along the journey, the production crew would alter the house at the center of the stage. It would be repositioned, changed in shape, or selectively illuminated in one place to seem less like a house and more like destroyed property. The characters’ stories, consistent with the theme, would seem as tormented as the house that stood at the center of it all. As the family was nearing California, they met a man filled with lost hope. He too went to the golden state to find work, but his long and futile attempt saw nothing more than the death of his starved wife and children.

On the left, the story of a recent recession simultaneously unfolded. This time, the house at the center of the stage would look different, but tell a similar story. With white vinyl siding and large glass windows (again projected onto it), the house was symbolic of the optimistic era that expanded the housing bubble beyond all expectation. As the elegant bank worker in a beige pencil skirt and high heals calmly spoke to a frustrated homeowner, the contents of the house were taken apart and the man’s belongings were thrown out. Bear Sterns was doing great, but the average person was losing his home and livelihood.

There was an instance in which the stories began to develop a tie. The narrator spoke of the changes that the old Ohio home began to undergo once its owners left. The surrounding land became infested with weeds, the harsh winds blew open the door, and wild cats were free to roam inside the house. The eerie tone of the old narrative transforms into a comedic act as the audience is taken to 2008. A lady, whose house neighbors an abandoned property, sees wild cats walk inside the house and calls animal control. While talking on the phone, she wanders into the foreclosed home and begins to say how cute the mother cat looks beside her cubs. In a fit of laughter, the audience anticipates the tragic, yet undeniably funny, outturn of events.

Both stories were compelling and worthy of praise, with one brilliant parallel between them. To say that they are two pieces within one puzzle, however, is an overstatement.

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid

The International Center of Photography currently displays a noteworthy collection of apartheid images. The two-floor exhibit contains a multitude of photographs taken from the early 20th century to the modern day, all showing the evolution of culture and politics in South Africa. Stepping into the museum, I came equipped with some knowledge of this man-made abomination and its history. Actually seeing the haunting images, however, opened my eyes to something that was more than a passage in a history book. Only then did it become less of a story and more of a reality.

The exhibit contained numerous photographs that revealed the steaming tension between the native South Africans and the authorities. The battle between blacks and whites found its root in opposing goals, with the first group vehemently fighting for equality and the latter determined to keep the nation segregated. The issue of it all was just that; how could South Africa be a nation if the majority of its citizens were an inferior class? A photograph taken by Sam Nzima in 1976 embodied that idea. Hector Peiterson, a young man, was being loaded into a car. His clothes were tattered, his left foot was without a shoe, and his thin and lifeless limbs were dangling in the hands of a man. The man who carried him was evidently horrified. With mouth wide agape, he seemed to be releasing a cry of desperation. There was no question that he witnesses something catastrophic. He, however, wasn’t the only one to lament over the dead boy. Numerous people behind him reflected his expression. They were hopeless and confused, but ready to fight.

Not all images shared this theme of violence and consequence. The blacks in South Africa witnessed massive cases of injustice and cruelty, but they were steadfast to believe in the possibility of change. There were large groups of peaceful and well-organized protestors amongst the rebels, as Jurgen Schadeberg’s powerful image implies. Taken in 1931, this photograph captured Violet Hashe, a female activist, speaking to a crowd of well-dressed South African citizens. Her hands were outstretched as she addressed her fellow activist. Her passionate body language seemed to echo the liveliness of the South African flag that was waved behind her. The caption provided a few brief comments about the picture, including the name of the main activist and the campaign’s name. There was no insight into what came before this event or if the protestors took a stride towards equality. Those details, however, would be superfluous, as the photograph excelled at capturing the invigorated spirit of the people. Hope was well alive on their faces.

What struck me most about the exhibit was its varied focus. The collection of photographs did not seek to label the 1900s of South Africa as a decade of apartheid, but instead aimed to capture all the aspects of life in that era. The overall message of the exhibit was clear: life is not solely light or dark. Much of the century was filled with distress and unease, but there were certainly beacons of light that guided the oppressed citizens through the tough times.

Drum magazine, a South African publication, aimed to celebrate the native South African culture and “The Black Fifties” despite the political chaos. Labeled as “Africa’s leading magazine”, the colorful magazine cover stared back at me as I looked at it through a glass case. On the cover was the image of a young lady in an elegant blue dress. Her legs crossed in a flirtatious manner as she leaned against pink stairs. Her curly bangs adorned the side of her face and her eyes gave off a sultry expression, as she looked right through the cover. Her aura of confidence and beauty paralleled that of the rising stars during New York’s Harlem Renaissance. Drum magazine was an outlet for black photographers to showcase their work and earn recognition, especially in the field of documenting.

An exhibit worth attending, Rise and Fall of Apartheid was both bone chilling and heartwarming. Uncensored and unaltered, the photographs captured the worst and best times of the dynamic century of apartheid.


Feel the Love

Max Flatow lives the life of our envy. His job takes him around the globe to some of the most beautiful places on Earth where he has the pleasure of witnessing life’s most blissful moments. As a photographer, Flatow is invited to photograph couples on their wedding day, whether it is in Canada, the Caribbean, or India, just to name a few locations.

Visiting our Arts in New York class, Max Flatow had an infectious light in his eyes. Though appearing to be a timid character in his gray suit and newsboy cap, he soon began to capture our hearts and minds with his enchanting photographs and inspirational words.

Equipped with a slideshow of his favorite images, Flatow presented each piece and its story. One of his favorite weddings to shoot, not surprisingly, was his own.  As a smile spread on his face, he showed a photo of his wife with immense pride. Standing in a lake at sundown with her wedding dress half submerged, she was well illuminated against a backdrop of dark trees and brilliant pink clouds. He knew that the photograph was excellent, but this knowledge was veiled by the immense love and admiration that he felt for his subject.

It was this kind of love that he sought to capture in the couples that he photographed. When asked of his approach to capturing the ideal emotion from the wife and groom, he replied, I tell them to “look into each others’ eyes and feel the love”. He stressed the importance, however, of letting them look natural, or else he would get a “contrived, toothy grin”; and nobody likes that.

Flatow’s style is quite unique, as he tries to focus on the entire aspect of the wedding day, from the tedious preparation, to the romantic kiss, to the amusing reception, and all the nuances in between.  “Clients expect one thousand photos of the day”, he says. His assignment lets him take photographs from unconventional angles and experiment with light; and his results are astounding. His signature style is to photograph the silhouette of his subject and take advantage of the natural light in the background.

Though an established photographer with his own growing Brooklyn-based business, Max Flatow received no formal education in his field. He was briefly exposed to the art in middle school and was later able to experiment with it in college. Though Southern Vermont College did not offer any photography classes, it did have an excellent dark room. With permission, he was allowed to use the facility to experiment with film photography and augment his skills.  It was just a hobby then, but it would set him along a road to success. After a trip to Spain, he realized that photography was his life-passion. He started to sell his photographs at a coffee shop, and later worked for free to build his clientele. His photographic interests vary from weddings, to travel, to food.

Regardless of what he captures, he brings a fresh approach to his field of work. Redefining the significance of photography in our culture, he promotes the use of any kind of camera — as long as photographs are taken. “Shoot as much as you possibly can”, he tells us. Whether it be a professional camera or an iPhone, he wants the young generation to understand the joys and rewards of photography.

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The Real NY Burger

The Shadows of Time

Thinking back to all the times that I visited New York City as a child, one image always comes into my mind: landmark clocks. The city that never sleeps is famous for monitoring time like no other, simply because time is a priceless commodity. As the clock strikes 7 in the morning, the streets become flooded with busy people, rushing to their jobs, schools, or to sightsee. But even as the clock strikes the same hour at night and continues to tick, the city sees just as much commotion and movement.

New Yorkers are characteristic for being fast and impatient. When each second represents money either earned or lost, time is of high value and importance. It is not surprising to see clocks on the main streets and avenues of New York. Many of these buildings, built before the invention of electronic devices, had a clock incorporated into their structure. It was convenient for the passing pedestrians to look up and identify the hour.

Times have changed and the world developed, ushering New York along the path of leadership in many global functions. As the financial capital, New York City serves as the bookkeeper of international trade. The iconic 5th Avenue is home to not only a plethora of different clocks that run in the eastern standard time zone, but also a great number that represent all the worldwide time zones.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of time in New York City is the ways in which it is honored. Clocks here are not merely thin hands and dull numbers, but a symbol of strength, perpetuity, and even celebration. Oftentimes a clock is the focal point of an entire building, as magnificent as the other parts of it may be. Both historic structures and landmarks of the city, the Grand Central Terminal and Helmsley Building flaunt their beautiful Beaux architecture with clocks as their central pieces. Grand Central Terminal, built in the late 19th century, displays a golden clock upon which the winged Mercury, grasping a sword in his muscular hand, stands prevalent amongst Roman gods and cornucopias of wealth. Likewise, the clock in the center of the Helmsley Building is adorned by the figures of the mighty Jove and the delicate Juno, seated as the symbolic connection between men and women. In a bigger scheme, these clocks serve as a portal between the rich homogeneous culture of the classical Roman civilization and the heterogeneous identity of New York City.

This multitude of clocks that stand on busy streets watch over the whizzing crowds of people, taxis, and tour buses. The thousands of ticking hands mark moments in history as they are made and inspire us to search into our past. They have witnessed New York in its creation, its current booming splendor, and will continue to look upon the city’s developments in the years to come.

Understanding the significance of clocks in New York City culture, I knew that they would be the subjects of my street photography project. I was unaware, however, that the different streets and avenues of Manhattan would dramatically differ in the amount of clocks that they contained. I first walked east along 42nd street and was unpleasantly surprised when I did not encounter any clocks, let alone noteworthy ones. Shoulders slumped, I turned onto 5th avenue in search of my subject. Within a few minutes, I turned my attention to the street running to the right and saw a massive building in the distance. Curiosity led me towards it, and I soon discovered that it was Grand Central Station. The building was a stunning sight amongst the lean skyscrapers that filled the road before it, yet I couldn’t see a clock. I approached a police officer that was directing traffic and asked if he knew of any big clocks in the nearby area. He game me a smirk. “Big what?”

“Big clocks”, I spoke up.

“Ah, there’s one around the corner”, his finger pointed to where I should go. As I turned that corner, a smile crept from my left check to my right. I saw my first clock. It was almost like stalking prey, I must admit. I ended up taking about 30 pictures of it, slowly moving from one side of the street to the other and changing my camera from landscape to portrait position. I sometimes stooped down to one knee to see how the building looked like from my viewfinder. If I was going to photograph something so amazing, I had to make sure that the angle I chose did it justice. Surprisingly, most people didn’t mind when my camera was pointed at them or when I stood in the middle of the street and blocked their way.

The biggest learning experience of the day was realizing that New Yorkers are surprisingly nice people. There were several instances when I got lost, and all were happy to direct me back to 5th avenue. Especially pleasant was my conversation with a city worker at Rockefeller Center. When I reached the ice-rink, I felt a bit bombarded by the decorations, beaming tourists, and screaming fan girls across the street at the NBC building. The only place that looked relatively less crowded was behind the Christmas tree, as it was still being set up and not much of a sight to behold. I found an idle city worker there and asked him where I could find a big clock.

“Do you need the time?” he looked puzzled. I explained to him that I was photographing big clocks, and a wave of understanding came over his face. Taking some time to think and look around him, it was evident that he was genuinely interested in helping me. “Oh, there’s one!” he eagerly exclaimed when he saw a clock impressed into a nearby building.

Grateful, I continued on my quest for clocks. Within several hours, I had photographed more than I ever expected to see and turned towards Baruch. Walking down Park Avenue, with my camera dangling off my neck, I was approached by a stranger. A fairly young man with a thick southern accent, he asked me if I was also walking towards the Empire State Building. He assumed I was a tourist, what with my camera and large book bag.

I shook my head. “No, I’m sorry.” I continued to walk ahead while he attempted to understand the map on his iPhone.

A few seconds passed and the stranger caught up to me again. “So what are you in New York City for?” he had a kind smile on his face.

“I’m doing a photography project for school. Taking pictures of clocks.” I gave a toothy grin.

“Oh, that’s awesome. Are you going to do photography when you’re done?”

“I’m not planning on being a photographer, this is just a small project for one of my classes.”

His smile subsided. “But you are planning on going to college, right?”

So this stranger expressed concern about my education. In that refreshing moment, I finally believed that the world was not a dark and lonely place. It, in fact, contained many people that cared about the well being of others, even if they didn’t know them on a personal level. It was a heartwarming realization.

Aside from pleasantly interacting with strangers, I became more aware of the challenges that photographers face. Before I shot a photo, I had to consider the amount of natural light that hit my subject and how far I stood from it. Although my focus was on clocks, it was important for me to consider all the other factors that I wanted to include in my photograph.

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A Wall of Words

New Yorkers have come a long way in accepting diversity, and essentially, each other. However, there will always be one thing that stands in the way of a purely harmonious coexistence: stereotypes.

About a year ago, my mother had an unsettling experience at her dental office.  One of the receptionists came to work utterly distraught. As her co-workers gathered around her, she told them about her son’s traumatizing experience of the previous day. A knife was found in his schoolbag and though he claimed that it was not his, he was harassed and punished by the police. The receptionist was certain of two things: her son’s innocence and the police officers’ discriminatory motives. Her son was African American and she was resolute on declaring the injustice that he had undergone.

Upon hearing the story, my mother offered her condolences, yet her sympathetic words were rebuked.

“This wouldn’t have happened if your daughter was in his place”, the receptionist spat.

Whether this comment was the result of her despairing situation or a sturdy belief, it wasn’t clear. It was apparent, however, that stereotypes played a big role in what she said.

She was confident that I, as a caucasian American, lived in a bubble that was fully secure from discrimination or false accusations.

It is always easier to make an assumption about a group of people than to evaluate their individual situations. She wasn’t the only one to take the easy rout.

Throughout high school, I was required to fulfill a community service requirement. The best option, it seemed, was to volunteer at a local park. Approaching one of the park workers, I asked if I could help with park cleanup. With his gloved hands clasping the top of a large garbage can, he bent down to stare into my face. His little eyes peered out from underneath his untamed gray hair. Before he could open his mouth, I sensed the cigarette smell oozing from his skin and clothes.

With a raspy voice, the old man replied, “What did you do? Graffiti or something?”

He thought that park cleanup was my punishment for vandalizing public property. The assumption that I was an unruly and rebellious child was reasonable, but it wasn’t correct. Slightly taken aback, I walked away from the strange man and the possibility of volunteering in that park.

It was natural for him to reach into his bag of stereotypes and pick one that might have applied to me. But what happens if you pick the wrong one? A seemingly innocent situation turns into a barrier between two forces. And as we know, a wall of words is harder to break than a wall of stone.






Theater Without Theatricality

As the lights in the theater dim, the audience’s eyes are drawn up to witness the extravagant crystal chandeliers rising in the air. The orchestra, with vigor and excitement, commences playing a well-known tune. In anticipation of a storyline as famous as the prelude itself, the audience expects to see characters that fully embody the tragic romance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Unfortunately, not all of the actors at the Metropolitan Opera were able to meet the grandiose tower of expectations that stands over every rendition of this timeless classic.

As the curtain opens to the first act, the skeleton of an old cigarette factory rotates into view. Through the fence that stands before the lofty factory walls enters Micaela (played by Kate Royal). She asks the Spanish soldiers about Don Jose and the men lustfully encroach upon her.  With a strong and commanding voice, the officer Morales (played by Trever Scheunemann) pleads for her to stay with them. As he extends his arms to caress her waist, Micaela continues to superficially sing her part without any indication of fear. Where her acting lacks believability, Royal makes up for it with her astounding soprano voice. Especially magical is the moment when Micaela and Don Jose (played by Yonghoon Lee) sing a duet about Don’s mother and village. With romantic yet subtle gestures, the pair sings in a manner that is incredibly sweet and heartwarming. Answering after each of Michaela’s dynamic and perfectly enunciated phrases, Don Jose uses his highly controlled voice to sing of his love for his home. The two coo like enamored doves and complete the scene with a gentle kiss.

Done Jose and Michaela.
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Yonghoon Lee’s performance is characterized by powerful vocals and a commitment to his role, a combination that sets the bar high for the entire cast – including Anita Rachvelishvilli herself. The actress’ physical appearance coincides perfectly with that of her gypsy character Carmen. With her thick black curls swaying in the air and her dress tightly hugging her luscious figure, Carmen illustriously emerges from the opening in the stage. Though her presence initially demands overwhelming attention from both the surrounding characters and her audience, shortly her fellow actors are the only ones to remain entranced by her overly subtle movements. Playfully flinging water at the crazed soldiers and then gently caressing the surprised Don Jose, she seems more like a happy child than a seductive and authoritative woman. It seems as though Rachvelishvilli relies more on her appearance rather than her acting ability to create a believable character. It is these nuances that prevent the overall performance from reaching perfection. Carmen’s voice, contradicting her behavior, is grand and memorable, resonating within the theater.

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Though initially astounding, Carmen’s voice loses its magnitude during the course of the opera. During the middle of the second act, the heroin sings before the handsome bullfighter Escamillo (played by Kyle Ketelsen). Her voice wavers slightly and then gains volume and temerity with alarming speed, a change that extracts an immediate reaction from the smitten man. He proclaims his love to her, as it seems, because of her vocal improvement.

Like Carmen, the audience has reason to fall in and out of love with the production. With characters that are not as theatrical as one might expect, an emotional contagion seems to be missing. Still, Carmen continues to be a magnificent opera with its astounding acoustic qualities and dramatic storyline.


Learning Beyond the Books

As a child, one of my favorite places to visit was the library. I would often beg my grandmother to take me to the Rego Park Library, and every now and then she would give in to my wishes. Holding my hand, she would shuffle her weary feet for twenty minutes to get there. Except for the pain in her legs, she didn’t mind going there. The library’s collection of Russian books was quite good, so I knew that she wouldn’t be too bored while she waited for me to scout the place for yet another Penguin classic.

Amongst all the hours that I spent in that place, there is one experience that stands out amongst the rest. Standing in front of a grandiose cabinet, I scanned the books to find a specific title. Not spotting it on the shelves, I looked through the collection a second and then a third time. The book wasn’t to be found. I was left with one choice; a choice that I dreaded for as long as I knew of the existence of libraries.

I took my grandmother’s hand and reluctantly made my way to a librarian. There were a few of them sitting at their desks, engrossed in filling out some computerized charts. The gleam of their computer screens hit their faces and illuminated their every drooping wrinkle, every bag under their bloodshot eyes, and each excess hair that grew above their frowning lip.

Now, I might be slightly exaggerating when it comes to their descriptions. But the fear inside me, that was real.

I approached a lady that didn’t look as petrifying as the rest. She was wearing thick round glasses and her few blonde hairs were all combed backwards. Her fingers slowly pressed the buttons on her keyboard. She was still stuck in the 70s. “Um, may I ask you a question?” my thin voice asked.

Her eyes moved from the computer to my face.  With a voice so monotone and computerized she responded. “Yes?”

Gaining more courage, I told her about the book that I was looking for. She searched the title and author in the electronic database and reported to me, with the same unenthusiastic tone, that Rego Park Library did not carry such a book.

My spirits crushed, I turned to my grandmother. “Ok babushka, we can go home,” I said in Russian.

Grandmother looked at me for a moment, her gaze always so loving and tender. She turned to the librarian. “Ex cooz me, doo you,” she hesitated, “speak Russian?” That was about as much English as my grandmother could muster.

The librarian’s frown grew even deeper and she stared at my grandmother for a moment. Then shaking her head almost violently she spit out the obvious word. “No”. Everything about her suggested that she was irked by the question. It was as if it caught her off guard, making her lose her mechanical and oh so precious way of addressing others.

My grandmother shrugged her shoulders and beckoned me to go to the other part of the library, where she knew I would enjoy looking at the newly arrived movies. As I began to walk away, I caught sight of someone else approaching the librarian. I stopped to see if she would treat the other person with the same demeanor.

The lady approaching her was another, younger, librarian. She sat in the chair next to her, crossed her lean legs, and in an alarmingly high-pitched voice began to recount the details of last night – in Russian. She was answered, of course, in the same language.

So I stood there, wondering.

I always thought that all members of the past USSR shared some sort of bond. Ninety-nine out of one hundred times, meeting a fellow Eastern European would be such a heartwarming pleasure.

Why was it such a trouble to admit that she spoke Russian? Was she embarrassed? Had my grandmother offended her in some way? The answer to all those questions will forever remain a mystery to me. It was certain, however, that if I dared to ask one of those questions, her reply would not be pleasant.

But as we say in mother Russia, when there is nothing good to be said, keep your tongue behind your teeth. I guess she was more Russian than I gave her credit for.

Image provided by

Real Is the New Perfect

Each author in “Reflections on the Medium: What it Means to Photograph” emphasized the value of photography. Alexander Rodchenko, as an example, highly stressed the different perspectives that photography can capture. For hundreds of years, painters created work at the “belly button level or from eye level”. Rodchenko argued that in a world where everything is changing so rapidly, documenting an object from one perspective is not sufficient in portraying it vividly and realistically. He believed that photography, instead of being a substitute for paintings, should be more experimental. It is wrong to take photographs of people posing or a landscape from eye-level because it does not provide a new perspective for something already known. He described his experience with the Eiffel Tower to compare what photography is to what it should be. Seeing it from a distance, he was not amused. But standing below it and looking up, he saw a completely different scene.

Bernice Abbott, in her piece titled “Photography at the Crossroads”, shared a similar perspective to that of Rodchenko. In its early stages, photography did not seek to imitate other mediums of art. It captured the candid, everyday happenings. By the mid 19th century, “artificial props with phony settings began to be used”. Photographers leaped back to the time when perfect was the standard. Retouching, brushwork, props, and backdrops began to be used to create a more surreal imagine. It was all an attempt to correct the real and natural. Abbott believed that a photographer should have a motive for capturing a moment in time. The photograph’s message should be clear and powerful.

Both photographers took their work to be more than an art form: it was also a means of educating. They did not seek to perfect the subjects and landscapes that they photographed, but instead wanted to show them from different, more realistic perspectives. Looking at the misuse of photography from a sociological standpoint, they wondered how photos could change the way people viewed the world.


Photography Terms:

  1. Bracketing: Taking several photographs of the same scene at different exposure settings to ensure a well-exposed photograph.
  2. Grainy: description of an image that looks speckled because the particles of silver on the sensitized paper are clumping together.
  3. Aperture: the opening of a lens that controls the amount of light that enters the camera.
  4. Emulsion: Light-sensitive coating on film or paper (on which photograph will be produced).
  5. Reticulation: Cracking, scratching, or damaging the emulsion of a photograph during the developing process.

Funny Photo


A Splash of Moving Color

As the doll-like ballerinas emerged onstage, dazzling rays of light hit the golden threadwork on their tutus. With ethereal elegance, their swift legs sped to the center of the stage and their thin arms, first brushing against the rigid skirts of their dresses, gracefully raised into the air in anticipation of music. A wave of identically brilliant smiles spilled over the faces of the ballerinas and they commenced dancing. Their demanding choreography, consisting of areal turns and high leaps, was executed with such vigor and precision that the movements seemed almost natural for them. Like the multitude of young characters in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace that basked in their own expectations of love, the dancers in Ballet West seemed to be entranced by their own fairytale. Though each dancer performed splendidly, they were not as successful as a unit. When all thirteen dancers appeared onstage, it was evident that their legs did not rise to the same height and their elbows did not bend at the same angle. However, attention was pulled away from the asynchronous movements when a male dancer, with movements so subtle and effortless, seemingly flew onto the stage. His hands tenderly rested on the midriff of the forefront ballerina as she stood on point with one foot and held the other in a perfectly horizontal position.

Ballet West at 2012 Fall for Dance
Image provided by

This first dance, the Grand Pas, started the 2012 Fall For Dance program with a classical splendor. The dance to follow was much shorter, less formal, and surrounded the audience with an air of good humor. In the purple darkness that flooded the stage, a single dancer stood illuminated by a beam of yellow light. Another character shortly emerged from the darkness, and the two started to move about in a flirtatious yet energetic fashion. Dancing to High Heel Blues, the pair enacted a comedic story of a woman determined to buy a pair of painful high-heeled shoes. As the female character struggled to escape the grasp of the other, the movements of the two were completely different, yet they both coincided with the upbeat music. Once her reluctance passed, she joined to mirror his dance. In perfect unison, the two would use their incredible agility to leap and glide to the blues.

Absorbing the energy from the dance, the audience was certainly not prepared for the melancholy act to follow. With a simple red dress hugging her body and hair draped over her bent head, a woman stood center stage before a large drum. She released a bone-chilling cry that initiated the Tarian Malam (Night Dances). Several other dancers joined her, all moving about frantically to recreate a moment of catastrophe that befell upon their native Indonesia in 2009. As they hovered around the drums, they stamped their feet and clapped their hands to produce sounds. Red light beat onto the spinning heads of the woman as they shouted war cries and mechanically beat their hands against the drums.  Observing their combination of marital arts and spiritual movements was a sensational, if not confusing, experience. Although each slam of the hand, jump into the air, and rotation of the body was well timed and precise, the sum of all motion did not amount to a greater picture. The performance was unpleasantly repetitive and difficult to comprehend.

Nan Jombang at 2012 Fall for Dance
Image provided by

The final segment of the performance was a combination of ethnic dances. Ranging from the Tatars of the Crimea to the Bessarabia Gypsies, the dances were performed with enthusiasm and energy.  Yet they remained just that: dances. There was no story behind the movement, no hidden meaning behind the smiles of the dancers. Regardless, they all created an amusing display, as their sea of vibrant costumes moved in immaculate harmony.

Immigrant Bonds

Each year, thousands of people immigrate to the United States. Regardless of what country they come from, they all carry the same luggage: a unique culture, a religion, and a way of thinking.  Some people safely store these three things as their carry on items, but others lets their bags be placed with the rest of the heavy luggage in the storage compartment of the plane.  Sure, JKF tends to loose bags every now and then, but the majority of these bags slowly disappear once the immigrants settle in. Some traditional values fade away, but the fact that they aren’t innately American stays with them forever. It is this social identity that unites all immigrants, regardless of what country they come from.

Photograph provided by

My mother, an immigrant from Belarus, recently had a very heart warming encounter with a patient from India. The woman came into the office utterly distressed. She had given birth and her entire mouth mysteriously ached. She didn’t have any dental problems, yet multiple doctors told her to have all fillings replaced. Two things were for certain. First, the procedure would be costly. Second, it was an obvious scheme for dentists to profit from a naïve but otherwise healthy patient. As my mom discerned, there was no need for the dental work.

The woman, at a loss for what to do, told my mother about her difficult pregnancy. She admitted that life after the delivery wasn’t any easier. She had a body that hurt and a baby that she didn’t love.

Carefully contemplating the information, my mother told her that all those symptoms derived from stress. The magic remedy to fix her problems? No, not an operation, but instead, more rest.

The woman returned to my mother’s office a few months later, smiling and fully recovered. She thanked my mother for her non-traditional advice. Encountering a dentist, one who had a foreign culture and mindset, treated the woman in the most unexpected of ways. Perhaps, the woman was even more willing to listen because my mother was an immigrant like herself.

Whether it was the common distrust of capitalistic American dentists, or a need to be heard, the two immigrant women created a bond.


Jody Sperling: Revivalist of a Golden Age of Dance

Jody Sperling’s time-lapse dance is sensationally redolent of the golden age of dance. With costumes that extend the physiological boundaries of a human body, time-lapse dancers create the illusion of incessant metamorphosis in imitation of nature’s ever changing forces. Just as passionate and remarkable as her choreography, Jody Sperling stands out as a unique artist in New York City.

My Arts in New York class recently had the pleasure of meeting Jody Sperling. With a humble air, she presented the origins of her creative art form.  Standing before the classroom, Sperling looked no different from us, with the exception of maturity. We could not have imagined just how brilliant this woman was, yet it was evident that she was someone special. Her quick body moved about the room with a confidence and satisfaction that can only be derived from the fulfillment of a life-long passion.

As Sperling began to speak, her love for dance became more and more apparent. With gleaming eyes, she informed us that time-lapse dance grew from the seeds of serpentine dance, which were sowed by Loie Fuller in the late 19th century. Taking ideas from skirt dancing, Loie Fuller made her costumes more elaborate by adding hundreds of feet of white fabric. In dance, her body would become completely enshrouded by her moving dress. According to Sperling, Fuller’s costume would become a blank canvas onto which vibrant colors and patterns were projected with a magic lantern. These colors would become alive upon Fuller’s dancing body. Still amazed at this concept, Sperling described how Fuller would contort her long sleeved dress to resemble the fluttering wings of a butterfly. Besides admiring Fuller’s ingenuity, Sperling commented on the pure nature of the dance. Unlike the popular Vaudeville performances of the time, serpentine dance was acceptable for all age groups to enjoy. First achieving fame in France, Loie Fuller mesmerized her Parisian audience with her angelic form of dance. Her ideas have spun, leaped, and twirled through the century, finding a home today within the work of Jody Sperling.

Enthralled by the impact of the serpentine dance in the past, Jody Sperling has revitalized this dance form by fitting it into a modern context. Writing in the Dance Magazine to describe Fuller’s work and compare it to her own, Sperling states “In a full circle of technology, my recreation of Ballet of Light uses projections to simulate the effects that Fuller created, more magically, with lanterns. If you look between the pixels, maybe you’ll find Fuller’s ghost”. It was essential for Sperling to keep Fuller’s technique. Adding elements of experimental dance and modern technology, Sperling created her own form of art that appeals to the present-day audience.

To describe the dance is one thing, but to witness it is another. Jody Sperling and her dancers beautifully spin, with their arms in motion, creating marvelous patterns of fabric in the air.  Keen on perfecting her work, Sperling admits that the hardest part of dance is for the dancers to synchronize their movements. However, once the dancers all establish pace, they gain a uniform elegance. Spinning for minutes on end isn’t difficult, she says, because it’s a natural movement.  Just as we feel still on the revolving Earth, the dancers find balance in their spinning.

Jody Sperling has a contagious enthusiasm for her work. Not only does the harmonizing of music, dance, fabrics, and lighting all create an ethereal spectacle for her audience, it also creates a sense of balance within herself. Sperling is an artist, but more importantly, a revivalist of history.

Jody Sperling in time-lapse dance. Photograph provided by

A Missing Answer

Poignant screams of an emotionally distressed man reverberate against the walls of the theater.

“Who put all this junk on the ground?” he cries, standing on a barren land of sand and waste. Pieces of rusting scrap metal and old appliances scatter the ground, forming clusters here and there atop of heaps of sand. His eyes search the face of the black gravedigger, pleading to find an answer. Why do the bodies of the dead rot below mounds of sand in this waste ground, not wept for, not honored, not remembered? Why did a suicidal woman shatter his life during her own death? And where do the remains of this nameless woman lay?

There is no answer.

Anthol Fugard’s The Train Driver awakes your emotion unlike any other theater performance. It grabs you by your clothes and takes you to a place where human misery has no asylum: a graveyard of sand and garbage, where only the nameless and unwanted lie buried.

Surprisingly, this place is not hard to imagine. The seats in the Perishing Square Signature Center are so close to the stage that within minutes, the audience is integrated into the performance.

There were no flashy costumes, flamboyant characters, or extravagant set design. Instead, simplicity created something very realistic. Especially noteworthy was the control of lighting to suggest the time of day and temperature. The lights shone brightly at what seemed to be noon, hitting the characters so intensely that it seemed to make their skin perspire with sweat. To represent night, a single dim light shone over Simon’s tin house while the surroundings were encased in darkness.  Even the air felt cool, as if the temperature had been intentionally changed within the theater.

The actor Ritchie Coster convincingly portrayed the last few days of a South African train driver who, after accidentally killing a woman and her child, is overcome by trauma.

Roelf (Ritchie Coster) descends to the stage with a slumped back, uneasy steps, and an unrecognizable murmuring. Though his Boer accent is thick and his words are sometimes indiscernible, his riveting portrayal of emotion fills in the gaps of the story. Through incessant rambling, bursts of outrage, and impulsive jerks, he identifies his need to Simon, the old gravedigger, to find the woman that he killed. Leon Addison Brown, playing Simon, fits the stereotype of a haggard old man almost too perfectly. Wearing a dirty beige janitorial uniform, he moves about the set slowly. He seldom speaks, yet his deliberated and well-enunciated words are redolent of his many years of struggle. Though Brown is not old, he does a good job at portraying a character advanced in years.

Photograph from Signature Theater

One of the most memorable moments, not entirely unlike the others, occurs when Roelf runs from grave to grave, rearranging the rocks upon them to form a cross. Though he is exhausted from insomnia, he scurries about the graveyard. He drops on his knees before each mound of sand, forcefully picking up the surrounding rocks and slamming them into the center of each grave. The veins on his arms bulge out, the sweat on his back shines underneath the bright light, and frantic expressions run through his face. Whether it be rearranging rocks or imploring Simon to remember where he buried the nameless woman, Roelf fights to understand the other way of life in South Africa.  What he finds is a life without hope.

After moments of agonizing self-hatred, Roelf leads the story to a very predictable climax by claiming the unknown woman. He realizes that he has the same fate as the woman, regardless of their different colors or status within society. Shortly following is what seems to be a second climax, this time filled with sensationally blinding lights and booming sounds that draw everyone back with a gasp.

A social commentary, The Train Driver reflects on the lasting impact of the apartheid in South Africa in the early 21st century. For those who do not have background knowledge about the play, it is very difficult to understand that it revolves around the greater theme of apartheid. Regardless, it is quite memorable. Lacking a distinct hero or villain, it shows life as it truly is: without explanation.

Collage Proposal

One of the most beautiful things about New York City is its diversity of people. This city represents nearly every country and its customs. Personally, I learn to appreciate a foreign culture by trying out its foods. It’s interesting to see how different we all are, just by comparing our tastes and national dishes. Although analyzing the food that each nationally consumes may seem trivial, it is a huge indication of that people’s history and culture.

My collage project will be based on the different ethnic neighborhoods of New York City. I will include pictures of grocery stores, restaurants, and shops, with a specific focus on how different cultures sell their foods. I will primarily use a photo-editing app to crop the pictures and then Prezi to create the collage. I will use a map of the five boroughs as a template and paste pictures of neighborhoods accordingly. During the presentation, I will initially show the “map of foods”. Although it may first look like a chaos of different colors, I will then zoom in to each neighborhood to show its unique details.


I always knew Times Square for its stores, lights, and sounds. I associated all the glitz and glamor of New York City with this one place- a place that excites emotion but does not create a lasting psychological impact. I never imagined that this place would be so close to heart after the encounter that I had there last Tuesday.

It was about 7:45 AM, and I had taken seat at a bench that faced Gap. I wrapped a quirky green and orange scarf around my neck, crossed my legs, and pulled out my little mirror and eyeliner pen. It was makeup time.

I sat for a few moments with my lips puckered, eyes “smizing” (as Tyra Banks would say), holding the mirror in my left hand, and painting a thin line onto my eyelids with my right hand. I must have been a strange sight amongst the surrounding hustle and bustle of rush hour.

Within several moments a man, who I reckoned to be homeless, approached me with a limp in his leg. He was walking with a little cart, filled with black bags of some sort. A knit hat was pulled over his head and an oversized jacket hung on his body.

Being timid and physically weak, I instantly became alert of this stranger; within a millisecond I recoiled in my seat as he advanced towards me.

“Are you in your twenties?” he spoke with an alarmingly high-pitched voice. I stared at him wide-eyed.

“No,” I managed to mouth.

“You aren’t in your twenties, girl? Are you in your thirties?”

“No,” this time I said with a slightly greater confidence.

“My God, you aren’t in your twenties or thirties and you are puttin’ on makeup?” he exclaimed.


He shook his head violently. “Girl, don’t put on makeup. If they don’t want you for you, they don’t want you for your makeup. You see how beautiful and clean your skin is? There ain’t no need for you to ruin that.”  I couldn’t help but smile. I was relieved; this man did not pose any danger. “Don’t change yourself, stay beautiful like your mama made you”.

I put down my eyeliner. Blood rushed to my cheeks with the sensation of embarrassment. I looked up at him with tears in my eyes and shyly thanked him for his words.

“God bless you child. Have a good day,” he turned away from me and continued to walk along the street.

I remained sitting on the bench for a few moments, unable to move. This man’s words were golden. It is incredibly rare to encounter someone so brutally honest. Although he didn’t know me, my story, or where I came from, I felt that he genuinely cared about my well-being. He was not concerned about the impression that he made, but instead sought for his words of insight to be heard.

I was touched that day in the most unexpected way.

Photograph by Michael Kenna

Appellate Courthouse

When people fall into a routine, they often lose their inquisitive nature, and in turn, transform into running horses with partly obscured vision. Today I decided to pull off my blinders and see the magnificent city in which I study, and to my surprise, I found something amazing with alarming speed. A few blocks from the Baruch library I stumbled upon one of the most grandiose works of architecture that I have seen. There, proudly sitting on 27Madison Avenue was a piece of history so rich, so beautiful, and so breathtaking. What I later discovered to be the Manhattan Appellate Courthouse, I immediately recognized as a form of Beaux art, modeled after ancient Roman architecture. With two stories, five lofty pillars, gleaming windows, and an assembly of marble heroes, this building shone with a godly radiance against the gray backdrop of generic skyscrapers. I approached the front of the building from its left side and in front of me I saw a finely sculpted masculine figure. Clothed in the apparel of a Roman general, he was sitting erect in a masterfully carved throne. His muscular arm, with well-defined veins and tendons, grasped the side of his throne, which was shaped into a winged lion. Below his feet, engraved into the marble of the platform was the word “Force”. Power, strength, and force; they were all words that crossed my mind as I stood below this statue with my head raised in awe and respect. The beauty of New York, I realized, is its appreciation for not only the new and improved, but also its dedication to honoring the ancient and legendary.

Critical Terms of Theater

Blocking: Movement of an actor onstage. It is often identified in relation to the movement and position of other actors in the scene.

Catharsis: Alleviation of own emotional tension after watching a tragic play. The audience experiences this emotion when comparing their lives to the tragic lives of the characters.

Characterization: Creation of a well rounded character through the use of words, actions, and manners. Characterization helps the audience understand the character and his purpose in the story.

Falling action: Part of a story that follows the climax and precedes the resolution. This is the time when the conflict between the two opposing forces is being resolved.

Stock Character: Character who is common in many pieces of literature and is easily identifiable by his/her personality. The character is a social stereotype and the audience knows how he/she will behave.

Human Art

It is not unusual to see something out of the ordinary in New York City. In fact, seeing the unique, the strange, and the different is all part of a usual day. I’ve spent a few days searching the city for something that stood out among the myriad of striking things. I’ve sped through streets, craning my neck to see as far left and right as my vision would allow. Yet to my surprise, nothing in particular caught my eye. It was only today, as I sat motionless on the subway that I embarked on an experience that was delightfully different. On the way from 28th to 23rd street, a lady of about 25 years entered the train and stood nearby me. The moment she stepped in, the eyes of each passenger magnetically drew their gaze to her.

Her black hair, tied into a braid and dyed green at the tips, hung over her bare shoulder. From her ears dangled shell-like metallic earrings. Adorning her slender fingers were numerous strange rings, one of which was shaped as a cicada.  Her clothing, consisting of a loose gray t-shirt and long black skirt, hung on her body. With her left arm outstretch and grasping a metal pole, I noticed that she had a tattoo of a black compass etched into her pale skin. Her pose was casual, indicating that at that moment of rapid movement she was relaxed.

It took me a few moments to bring my attention to her face, which I later reckoned to be the most remarkable part. With her thin lips pursed together, she was evidently engrossed in thought. Covering her eyes were circular sunglasses, those that John Lennon had made iconic decades ago. Everything about her seemed so strange yet wonderful to me. She was an eclectic combination of a vast array of styles, decades, and colors, all merged into one unique unit of human art.

Comments by Nastassia

"Your story is very satisfying and leaves the reader without any questions. I liked that you included so many people in the narrative because I was able to get a sense of all the factors in your father's life that got him to his current place. However, it was a bit confusing at first to understand who the story was about. I would have liked to know his name or have read a description about him to eliminate all initial uncertainties."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post One More New Yorker )
"As I read your story, I was really able to understand the struggle that your friend experienced. The latter portion of the piece, in contrast, was positive and inspirational. I really liked your ending, where you brought the story back to her consistent personality, which showed that although she has changed so much throughout the years, some parts of her have stayed the same."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post Who She Was/Is )
"Your story was both emotional and captivating. It not only contained a narrative of the tragic event, but also an insight into your aunt's mindset. I really appreciate that you wrote about the transition that she underwent as a result of her experience. In addition, the video that you created was very well done and created a mood that you were able to sustain all throughout your piece."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post The Moment that Changed Everything )
"I really like this story because of its central topic. I've never done ballet, but I was always curious to know about the life of a ballerina. It seemed like such a huge challenge, for a teenage girl, to travel, train, and study. The story's ending was very satisfying because you explained how her experience impacted her in the long run. I would have liked to know about the personal changes that she had undergone as a result of her endeavors."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post Private: Who She Is )
"I like how you incorporate so much sarcasm and energy into your post; it was an entertaining one to read. I would have liked to see a little bit more description of this man and your thought processes, especially when you replied with "Well, organic is one word for garbage on the streets". I could almost picture the sour look on his face and the change of tone, but I would have liked to know how his expression really changed."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post What Was Your Name Again? )
"The last sentence of this post was extremely heartwarming. I commend you for taking time to research your topic before including it in a post; it really provided a personal feel. What you and Melody say is true, most people want to be surrounded by those like them. When you mentioned that people move to the suburbs, though, my mind went to a conversation that I had with my neighbor. She used to live in the Bronx but moved to Orange County when she got married because "it was time to settle down and have children". New York City is amazing for its diversity and prices (as the price of produce is considerably cheaper than in other parts of New York), but there are some advantages to having a backyard and fresh air. That may be one of the reasons why people move, but your reason is probably the biggest one."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post White Flight )
"Your story was full of life and very entertaining. I liked the idea that you were trying to explain: a traditional holiday like Thanksgiving can evolve to fit the people that celebrate it. At the core, having a family get-together was the most important part and the food followed. Its fascinating, though, to see just how differently the various cultures in the United States dine during a holiday that mostly everyone celebrates."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post The Spirit of Thanksgiving )
"I like how you took a sociological approach to something as simple as hair. It is true, we create an identity for ourselves based on our interests and in the way that we manipulate our appearance. Its great to see how your stories always relate back to you and your values."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post Styling Personality )
"I liked you conclusion and the fact that you included a moral to the story. Its fascinating to see how some large countries differ so greatly between the northern parts and the southern ones. Take the United States, for example. I went on a road trip this summer across the Southern states (or at least, those considered to be the South in the Civil War), and the cultural difference was astounding. Not only did I notice a linguistic difference, but also a disparity in decorum, cuisine, and lifestyles. The great thing, though, is that we are unified with the idea that we are all Americans. It was probably interesting for you to meet these "new" people that are somehow similar to you."
--( posted on Dec 18, 2012, commenting on the post India Trip )
"I liked that you wrote about this topic. I find that saying some things in Russian is not the same as saying them in English and vice versa. The same meaning simply does not carry across, whether it be serious or comedic. Also, your post reminds me of the saying "Its not what you say, its how you say it". The meaning behind what you are trying to say may be one thing, but finding a polite way to say it is another."
--( posted on Dec 17, 2012, commenting on the post The Art of “No” )
"I appreciate you writing this story and your approach to it. You addressed a very serious problem that perhaps relates to the majority of us at some point in our lives. You effectively portrayed a series of different emotions throughout the story that really kept me engaged. Most of all, I liked how your own point of view changed. You started out by examining your own situation and then moved to look at the bigger picture."
--( posted on Dec 2, 2012, commenting on the post “Punch Tom in the Face” )
"Your post had a consistently positive energy, showing how an average day in the city can become something memorable if you just take a different rout or decide to explore a bit. The great thing about New York is that there is always something going on, something to do, or see. I liked that you included your thought-processes during the encounter; it made the work lively and entertaining."
--( posted on Dec 2, 2012, commenting on the post The Big Apple )
"Your post was really interesting and informative. The thought of how and when the subway stations get cleaned often passed my mind, and I'm glad that your post answered that question. I appreciate that you referred back to your first paragraph in saying that the city never sleeps. You showed throughout that it stays "awake" in the most surprising way."
--( posted on Dec 2, 2012, commenting on the post Private: The City That Never Sleeps )
"That was so beautifully written! I could feel the nostalgic tone in your description of your hometown and its comparison to NYC. I have to wonder though, is there a possibility that your surroundings seemed so much more open, free, and peaceful because you were a child? There is no doubt that New York is a conglomerate of gray man-made elements, but maybe the source of our outlook has to do with the idealized image of home. Childhood, regardless of its quality, is always a highlight in the memories of the past. I suppose everything seemed to have been so much sweeter and brighter because it occurred within the first years of your life."
--( posted on Nov 11, 2012, commenting on the post A Sanctuary Locked Away )
"I liked how you were able to create something positive out of a really tragic situation. Your post was enjoyable and lively. Best of all, it left a clear message: you don't have to speak the same language to provide each other with a little bit of humor."
--( posted on Nov 11, 2012, commenting on the post Mi Español esta malo )
"Your first sentence really hit home for me. Also coming from a different country, I not only find some of the American traditions strange but also impossible for me to take part in. Though I do enjoy Halloween, there are things like sleep-overs and shopping with friends that I never got accustomed to. In the back of my mind, there was always the question of "why" when it came to those things. From one side, its unpleasant because we don't fit in with the larger crowd. But from the other, we manage to stay true to certain aspects of our own culture and to ourselves."
--( posted on Nov 11, 2012, commenting on the post More Watching, Less Doing )
"Your story left off on a very positive note: you learned to be accepting of all the English speakers- even if their English isn't as polished as it could be. Your lesson is a reflection of New York City itself, as everybody (for the most part) has an understanding attitude towards non-native English speakers. I think that as long one tries to learn, that's all that is necessary. I mean, you have to give the immigrants credit; it isn't easy to master a foreign language. Once you travel outside of New York City and go even 50 miles north to other parts of the state, you will notice that people who have accents are treated differently. Its quite sad, to see the emerging attitude of sales people when they encounter a customer with an accent. Though they work behind the register, they try to establish a sense of superiority over their customer. Certainly quite comical to watch if you know that the immigrant in the scenario earns a much better salary than the salesperson."
--( posted on Oct 29, 2012, commenting on the post What Do You Mean You Don’t Know Perfect English? )
"Your post was so lively and such a pleasure to read! It felt like I right there beside you, feeling the same emotions that you experienced. You also had a very strong message: people aren't always what you expect them to be. Its good that you took a chance and stayed for the meeting, certainly a "biology agitating" moment, as we say in sociology."
--( posted on Oct 29, 2012, commenting on the post Annyeonghaseyo , je ileum-eun Nancy ibnida )
"This is a very thought-provoking post. I think that the word race should be substituted with the word culture to better fit into the context of what we say. It is true, most Asians are good at math. And that isn't because they fill in the Asian bubble when completing forms, but because of they way their society raises them. In the modern day, students are taught to regard everybody equally, forget about the existence of "race", and think of us all as one. Its a good way of thinking, but I think that race will never cease to identify you and me. The reason is that we need a word to account for all our differences. Hopefully, in the future more people will realize that our differences are exactly what bring to much color and interest into the world. It is a positive thing that our cultures are so unique."
--( posted on Oct 29, 2012, commenting on the post What is race anyway? )
"I think your post wonderfully highlighted an underlying theme of grade school: you have to dress to fit in. It is true, one simple thing can be the barrier between being considered "cool" or not. That's the mentality of children. If you don't comply with the invisible rules, then you are considered to be weird. Im sure that in this stage in life, fewer people ask about your clothing preferences. As we grow up, we admit to ourselves that material things matter less and less. Sure, its nice to have them, but friendship nowadays revolves more around coinciding personalities and interests. Its a positive change that we acquire as we mature."
--( posted on Oct 16, 2012, commenting on the post A Pair of Jeans )
"This was such a heartwarming post! I liked how total strangers could reciprocate a positive feeling of being acknowledged. Although it might not have been a big deal for you, waving back at the tourists probably left them with a bright impression of New York City."
--( posted on Oct 16, 2012, commenting on the post The One Who Waved Back )
"Your story has an overall good vibe. Most encounters with strangers on the subway are scary; I am often eager for my stop to come so that I can get off and avoid all that awkwardness. Its really nice to read about a positive encounter that seemed to be both fun and educational. Its important to have an open mind and listen to the words of others, even if you are not acquainted with them."
--( posted on Sep 30, 2012, commenting on the post Unexpected Help on the Subway )
"Thank you for sharing all those links. I watched the dance video for Luka Luka Night Fever, and I must say, it was such a new experience. Aikawa Kozue looked like a real life anime girl! This is a completely new topic for me and your blog was great at introducing it. It was well written and very enjoyable to read. Best of all, I can tell that this is something you are really passionate about. Your enthusiasm was precisely what kept me reading throughout. Well done :]"
--( posted on Sep 14, 2012, commenting on the post The Vocaloid Community )
"I liked that you incorporated a lot of your emotion as you described the ceremony. I certainly got a feel of how exotic the experience was for you. It would have been interesting to read a comparison of the traditions in a Hindi home to those in yours. One thing that caught my attention was the second comma that you used in the first sentence. I don't think it is necessary. Other than that, your grammar seems to be correct."
--( posted on Sep 14, 2012, commenting on the post Diwali: The Festival of Lights )
"A picture is now added! Thank you."
--( posted on Sep 6, 2012, commenting on the post Appellate Courthouse )
"Its not really my week to comment, but that was amazing! I enjoyed reading that so much. Your work is just so fluid and easy to understand. It was quite funny too."
--( posted on Sep 5, 2012, commenting on the post The many meanings of “Baruch” )
"Your definitions are very precise, which makes them easy to remember. I liked that you included the term “anachronism”, but I am not certain that your definition is completely accurate. According to other sources, anachronism is something that belongs to an earlier or different time. Your definition makes it seem as though the object belongs to a later time, as if it is taken out of the future and put into the context of the play. This object can be a wide range of things, not only an invention, but also a person or event. Other than this term, all else is great!"
--( posted on Sep 3, 2012, commenting on the post 5 Critical Terms )
"You have a unique collection of terms, which is great because some of them are new to me. The definitions are easy to understand. The only question that I have is in regard to the term “drama”. It seems like your definition is a bit incomplete. I think that your definition can be improved with some detail and some information about comedy, which you used as a contrast."
--( posted on Sep 3, 2012, commenting on the post 5 Critical Terms )
"Thank you for the suggestions. It is always important to see if my work is clear or not."
--( posted on Sep 3, 2012, commenting on the post Critical Terms of Theater )
"You started your second paragraph with this line "I transitioned from my Chinese background to mingle with the American culture swiftly, as if driving by a beautiful flower field and forgetting it the next moment". That line was especially powerful because it produced a mood of nostalgia for something that existed in the past. I can especially relate to your story. Like Sam, I try to speak Russian at home with my parents and sister. However, it is becoming more difficult to do because we live in a community with few other immigrants, let alone Russian speakers. Sometimes it’s just easier to express yourself in English, which is unfortunate, because Russian is such a rich language. Although it may take time to find the right words to say, they often come out with more emotion, sarcasm, and relevance. The key to bringing back Chinese culture into your life is recognizing its importance. The Renaissance would not have existed if Western Europe had not looked back at the old Greek and Roman art and said “wow, this stuff is not worth forgetting”."
--( posted on Sep 2, 2012, commenting on the post Cultural Re-encounter )
"I really enjoyed reading your blog especially because all your thoughts flowed so well. Ambiance was an excellent word to substitute for environment and it provided a sophisticated tone. The detail was great and your description of the food was enough to make me feel hungry in the moment that I read about it. It was amazing that you were able to encounter cultural diffusion in something as simple as food."
--( posted on Aug 30, 2012, commenting on the post Cultural Encounter )
"Your post was very personal and very pleasing to read because you managed to appeal to most of the senses. In the general scheme of things, it is interesting to see how people perceive New York City the first time they see it. It is true that the city has many imperfections, as you pointed out, that would create an almost repugnant sensation. Regardless of the first impression, most people who spend enough time here learn to love it and look beyond the unpleasant trivialities. After all, New Yorkers are the most die hard fans of their city that I have ever encountered."
--( posted on Aug 30, 2012, commenting on the post Far from Home. )