‘Spacious’ living

When I emailed my aunt and uncle to let them know that I was once again back in Londontown, my aunt cheekily asked whether I had returned to the ‘spacious’ flat where I had stayed for several months last year. They had visited the flat once — and brought along some incredibly delicious alphonso mangoes, which M and I politely enjoyed while we all had tea together, and which we both simply devoured when left to our own devices — and, like me, marveled at the efficiency of the one room abode. Theirs is a modest home in the outskirts of the city, ample for a couple with one child and the occasional guest, whose centerpiece is really the garden that is carefully and thoughtfully attended to by my aunt with the incredibly green thumb (and garden gloves to match!).

As it turns out, given the odd amount of time we’re staying this time (3 weeks) and the time of year (Wimbledon), and the fact that the original ‘spacious’ flat was already occupied, this UK visit is split between two main London locations, with a bit of conference travel thrown in for good measure. In my reply to my aunt’s question then I said the following of our two-flat stay:

“this first one is even more ‘spacious’ than the last…”

Let it never be said that the Brits do not know how to economize space. New Yorkers, and NY tv programs, love to highlight what someone can do with a few hundred square feet of space. But what would they say of the equivalent of a small hotel room equipped with kitchenette? Because that is where we find ourselves. Truth be told, however, it’s really perfect on all the measures that matter: location, amenities (including electric kettle & wifi), and cleanliness.

According to the American census, the average square footage of a Northeast US home in 2010 was 2613 sq feet. That number seems unreal to me, having spent all of my adult life in city dwellings that equal a fraction of that space. I first think, “I can barely keep my few hundred square feet in order, what would I do with twice/thrice that much?!” and then I also, almost immediately, appreciate the times when I’ve visited friends’ homes that more truly spacious (no quotes necessary) than all of mine combined, and yet retain a feeling of coziness and while eschewing ostentatiousness.

With more people, pets, and possessions arises the need for more space, but how much do we really need? I ask this with the fullest appreciation for having grown up with an ample yard surrounding our house in which to play, explore, run around, and gather with friends. But what was once idyllic memory can become an instrument of oppression if allowed to become immovable blueprint rather than aesthetic guide.

For now, I will enjoy my latest ‘spacious’ sublet quarters (quotes necessary) which gives me access to a place that continues to feel like home…

Below, a few pics from the first 24 hours, which has already included a nice 5.7 mile walk…. ahhh…..

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A monument I had never seen before, on Whitehall St. walking in the direction of Trafalgar Square

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Familiar view, from Blackfriars Bridge

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View from our ‘spacious’ flat

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A sampling of one photo a day

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Lilies at sunset

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my one for today.

and, thanks to the yahoo/flickr merger that allots each user one terabyte of storage, the totality of my photographic experimentations whilst on sabbatical have once again been restored. (at least until the system becomes yet another version of pay for play…)

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Summer agenda

Since last September, the trials and tribulations of institutional academic life have applied ample psychic weight to my daily consciousness and have indeed dominated my waking (and sleeping) hours. But the spring semester has ended and June is nearly here — June… June! when I have to be finished with the last of the lingering todos on a very long and very overdue list of things I owe to other people. So, what is on the agenda for June, July, and August? In short, as little of a schedule as possible and a wish list of experiences:

  1. Try the creations at each of the Top 10 Falafel Spots in NYC (according to cityeats) — this is basically just an excuse to return, again, to Taim, which is well worth the trek down to the West Village.
  2. Go to the movies… a lot… and watch, among others:
    The Way, Way Back 
  3. Summer tv viewing: including “The Yard” (free on Hulu), “Arrested Development,” and (it might finally be time for a re-viewing of) all five seasons of “The Wire.”
  4. Taste test of lemon ricotta pancakes across the city.
  5. Thanks to E, I am now hooked on “Sherlock” — it’s the kind of show that begs a second and third viewing before the first has finished. So the two seasons’ worth will keep me occupied for at least a little while, especially as I play one of my favorite tv watching games: Guess where they are (the show is filmed in London, thus making the viewing and the gaming especially satisfactory.) And besides, who wouldn’t watch a show whose titular character is played by an actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, who could very realistically be the love child of Fred MacMurray, circa “Double Indemnity” and Dennis Quaid, circa pretty much any time.
  6. Embody and communicate a love of anything as much as Bobby McFerrin does here:

    or as Leonard Bernstein does here:
  7. Walk and walk and walk with no destination in mind, including in and out of the corners of Philadelphia, through the Sheffield Peak District, and along the Thames for as long as my legs will lead me.
  8. A photo a day for the summer (or as close to it as I can come). Here’s one I took in Central Park a couple of weeks ago:

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    The not to secret Cherry Blossom walk near the Reservoir

  9. And my real summer reading list

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Witness by Karen Hesse

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolf

Gladly willing to accept any and all company who want to go along for the ride.

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Do, let’s

Hello dear reader,

I could blame my lack of writing recently on the virtual piles of charts and tables awaiting my attention, or the real piles of folders full of paper, paper, paper covering every inch of my office… but the truth is during the past week all of my attention, especially in the wee hours when I should be sleeping, has been consumed by a marvelous bit of British comedy in the form of the program “As Time Goes By.”

Just a few of the reasons to watch:

  • Seeing Judi Dench playing a role about as far from M as possible.
  • Phrases like “Oh, I’m just having a moan” to mean, basically, “I’m just whining,” or “Why don’t you have a lie down” to suggest someone takes a nap.
  • Geoffrey Palmer’s inimitable deadpan delivery as Lionel.
  • The Brits’ impression of Americans and American culture.
  • Liberal use of trays to transport tea service to the living room.
  • The highly difficult line that is subtle sarcasm — not hit you over head ha-has.
  • Unabashed adoration of custard tarts.-
  • “Don’t let’s…” and “Do let’s…”
  • Smirks.
  • Characters who walk and walk and walk as everyday practice.
  • A character named Lol.

But don’t take my word for it. Take a look for yourself…

The pilot episode

And the “having a moan” bit [from 0:37 – 3:43]

Good thing the semester is over — more time for the serious work of tv marathons and marathon walks.

 

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And, so… (Part 1)

When your reading list looks like this, there’s only one thing to do.

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My grandmother, the tweeter

I awoke this morning with a question: would my grandmother have tweeted?

She passed away before twitter was even a germinating notion and before email was as ubiquitous as it is now. The most prevalent form of social media were the conversations during which she and I would dissect plot and motive from a recent episode of “Murder She Wrote” or “Hunter.”

But she was a correspondent. True, she had a readership of just one: her younger brother who lived in India. But to him she told the news of the day, of the goings-on in her corner of the States, and general musings about her quotidian observations. She wrote in Tamil, a script I only recognized by shape but whose meaning eluded me. Sometimes my grandmother would translate what she was writing; only now does it occur to me that she could have been lying! I doubt it, but…

If she were to tweet, I bet she would have adopted a less publicly public persona. That’s not to say her tweets would be protected. But they might be somewhat disguised, and her twitter handle would likely hearken back to the days of early email usernames when people relished in concocting absurd monikers for themselves, a time when anonymity reigned supreme (rather than the branding and self-marketing that marks today’s norm).

Some options:

@Kalpathi4eva (she was born in the village of Kalpathi, and so…)
@Hunterfan (self explanatory)
@Breadupma (would take too long to explain)
@Loosekanji (so would this)

As for the content, I wonder if her tweets would contain bits of song she would often invoke to underscore a point, draw out unexpected contours of experience, or simply as an excuse to break up the afternoon. Or might they be quotes from the Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayana, two books she read and reread incessantly? Or perhaps, if she were to continue with her flaneuse-like tendencies and resume circumambulating our childhood neighborhood as once used to do, perhaps she would recount odd bits of conversations that caught her as she passed by — below, snippets I overheard during last night’s walk:

 [Young man to a young woman he was walking with]: “Do you smell that?” deep breath “I love the smell of late evening in the spring.”

[Teenage girl crossing the street with two girlfriends]: “Omigod, I am fat. No, I am. I am! I am fat.” Over her friends’ protestations: “That’s rubbish.”

[Young woman sitting next to a young man on a bench in the park]: “I’ve never had a one night stand.”

[Two men standing on the corner smoking cigarettes, the one with worried eyes did the talking]: “Have you heard anything? Has there been any communication?” The other shakes his head.

So, would grandma have been a tweeter? I can’t say for sure, but given the way the platform keeps people in the forefront of my mind’s eye, I’d like to think so. 

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A week when Sebald found me

One evening in December T showed me a manuscript copy of A place in the country, a collection of Sebald’s essays that was originally published in German nearly two decades ago. This spring, the English translation was published (and available May 2nd) and I can finally get my hands on Sebald’s take on Rousseau and others whom, it is said repeatedly, he brings “lovingly to life.”

This past week, articles in the key of Sebald found their way again and again into my virtual inboxes — either via email or twitter feed.

A link to the first — Out of the Shadows — was emailed to me by a friend and is written by Uwe Schütte, a former student of Sebald’s. One line in particular stood out to me and suggests to me something about why the sensibility of this writer strikes such a chord with me.

“I never liked doing things systematically,” Sebald declared in the 1990s. “Not even my PhD research was done systematically. It was always done in a random, haphazard fashion. And the more I got on, the more I felt that, really, one can find something only in that way, ie, in the same way in which, say, a dog runs through a field.”

I was alerted to a second piece by a friend via twitter who I turned onto Sebald’s works and whose father, it turns out, had been an avid reader of the author in the years before his death: WG Sebald: Reveries of a solitary walker. Four writers (James Wood, Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Robert Macfarlane) reflect on the significance of Sebald for them and their work. Macfarlane gets it just right when he says:

Sebald’s seemingly passive prose was in fact – to borrow Marianne Moore’s memorable phrase – “diction galvanised against inertia”

At the bottom of this piece was a link to a third piece — the pièce de résistance, as it turned out — penned by Sebald, himself. And for just the smallest of split seconds the truth seemed like it might be a beautifully crafted nightmare… The Guardian had printed an excerpt from Sebald’s newly published collection and called the piece: A Place in the Country by WG Sebald – extract. And from the first words, I heard his voice* begin to spin a tale.

At the end of September 1965, having moved to the French-speaking part of Switzerland to continue my studies, a few days before the beginning of the semester I took a trip to the nearby Seeland, where, starting from Ins, I climbed up the so-called Schattenrain.

The long sentences stretch out before the reader like a guide, comforting without revealing too much truth at once. The information is meted out in metaphor, location, and imagery that provides necessary details while resisting the trap of over description. Sometimes called wandering, other times called poetic, and often evoking the feeling of traveling from one where to another, these sentences beckon, are invitational and unfolding, are an apt form of the pedagogical (if the reader will let them be so).

I thought immediately of another excerpt, this time from Emerson’s essay “Experience” in which he writes:

Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus. … We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate. Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them. It depends on the mood of the man, whether he shall see the sunset or the fine poem. There are always sunsets, and there is always genius; but only a few hours so serene that we can relish nature or criticism.

I often read Sebald as both composer and conductor, orchestrating the reading experience as a transportive one in which a casual glance at a lamp or a stone carving is an instance license to travel through time and space and to feel both local and global resonance at once. Nothing is unconnected everything, which is not to say that everything is necessary connected; rather, he seems to be writing with the purpose to move the reader to consider each words as tethered to a portal of further inquiry. He is an artful master of stringing beads, in the Emersonian sense, and describing while also delivering experience. And yet, Sebald strikes me as one who is free from the trappings of the current academic epidemic of writing as self aggrandizement; his purpose seems to be driven by a different purpose, while maintaining a palpable gentleness and humility.

In the excerpt reprinted by The Guardian, Sebald has written about Rousseau and his affection for the monastic Île St. Pierre in Switzerland. Here, he ponders the ways that returning to the island effected Rousseau’s writing:

Compared with these dark days, the Île Saint-Pierre must truly have appeared to Rousseau, when he arrived there on 9 September, as a paradise in miniature in which he might believe he could collect himself in a stillness, as he writes at the beginning of the “Fifth Walk”, interrupted only by the cry of the eagle, the song of an occasional bird, and the rushing of the mountain streams.

And now, I must order my copy of his volume, which I glimpsed in hard copy during a weekend sojourn with a friend — images, photographs, drawings jumped out from a very abbreviated flip-through. It promises to be as engaging and moving a read as the rest of Sebald’s oeuvre.

*To hear Sebald in his own voice, you can listen to him being interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on the radio program Bookworm, transmitted a few days before his death.

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summer reading list (or maybe sooner)

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The “Advanced Organizer”

here are some things I was thinking during today’s monthly herding of faculty into a room:

  •  i should have grabbed a muffin before sitting down.
  •  people have such unlikely wave gestures and some do *not* match the wo/man.
  •  so that’s what a restrained collective gasp sounds like.
  •  don’t look up, don’t look up, don’t look up…
  •  i blame the accidental decaf for stifling my ability to be appalled.
  •  did every generation not learn the “pointing is rude” rule? 
  •  finger snaps seem to come out of nowhere; i’m never prepared for them.
  •  why are there three empty rows in front of me? aka: no cover for texting in plain sight.
  •  don’t get caught texting. please don’t get caught texting.
  •  people who haven’t gone through tenure really don’t understand tenure and probably shouldn’t use tenure as a throwaway noun.
  •  what fool am i to donate two hours to these shenanigans?
  • if this were a tv show, who would play _____ and who would play _____? oh, and there would definitely be dire straits montage.
  •  that’s the second time i’ve heard or read the phrase “advanced organizer” in the span of two days.
  •  damn, i am lucky L is my friend. ok, glad i stayed.
  •  no “short” story ever began with “One day in the summer of 1978…”
  •  is it noon yet?

and then it was noon.

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March redemption

After playing with our emotions and getting on our bad sides, March is trying to squeeze in some points for good behavior.

Early spring sky, double take

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What’s your “go-to salad”?

According to Jeff Elder: “You must have a go-to salad in your life

And by this, he means:

“a collection of fresh ingredients you can get in most stores, which you will never tire of, and can eat twice a week for the rest of your life.”

“We’re talking about building muscle memory here. Marines must be able to assemble their weapon in minutes in the dark: You must achieve that precision with your salad. It will save your life. You must be able to fix it without thinking. It is your go-to salad, and no one else’s.

If someone else has the same go-to salad, you must hunt that person down and avenge your salad.”

He then goes on to share his go-to salad ingredients. So that got me thinking about what my go-to salad is, and I realized I have two:

The super simple, Cyprus-inspired chop:

  • cucumbers
  • red onions
  • tomatoes
  • lime & dash of olive oil, salt & pepper
  • if i have it: crumble of feta
  • (and in a pinch, i’ll swap in either/or/and chopped avocado, red pepper, green apple — i like the red, purple, and green effect)

The casual green:

  • arugula
  • sliced pears or apples (orange slices, if I’m feeling crazy)
  • thinly sliced red or orange peppers
  • avocado (b/c I think it’s my spirit fruit-getable)
  • pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)
  • lemon juice & olive oil

So my go-to recipes are more conceptual than married to particular ingredients. Guess that works, too.

And, because Elder mentions having a go-to suit, I’ll share my ideal go-to work/casual/anywhere uniform: jeans, tee, cardigan (long or short-sleeved), and comfy canvas sneakers. It’s a no-brainer.

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Impeccable sky

hello persephone, nice to see you again.

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To learn is to…

It is relatively common knowledge that Socrates liked to ask questions, to ponder, to unsettle more than arrive at conclusions our resolutions. (Ironically, the Socratic seminar, as it is sometimes practiced in educational settings, bares no resemblance to the person for whom it is named.)

I’ve been thinking about Socrates a lot recently, and taking refuge in a way within the quote attributed him: “I know that I know nothing.” To my ears, there is tremendous freedom and power in these words. How wonderful to remember to enact humility as human beings at the realization that even when we arrive at a conclusion, questions lurk in plain sight.

Or, put more artfully by Emerson: “Every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”

It’s that last bit that I especially love and that is simultaneously the source of much angst — wherein it is still a shock to my system to encounter people for whom these words hold no meaning… those for whom bottom line refers to a dollar amount and excel spreadsheet and not the last line of a poetic stanza.

Who bends & sways, only to be interpreted as inchoate, and thus left alone to wither?

Whose rigidity, read as conviction, is rewarded?

Is it disappointment that has settled in me (perhaps the sentient experience hardest to make sense of)? It is for this reason I have long resisted identifying heroes, yet am not immune apparently to expectations; tis a burden (even as it is a gift) to be human.

So the best we can do in response to disappointment is to take a learning posture.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” — Lao Tzu

Ok.

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The gifts of solitude

“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

RedBeach

“The WPA was a national program that operated its own projects in cooperation with state and local governments, which provided 10%-30% of the costs. … [It] was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people..to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In much smaller but more famous projects the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.” (more here)

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SplishBeach

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

— from “Sandpiper“, by Elizabeth Bishop

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