Feeling good

After my last post, and especially at the dawn of a new a year, it seems fitting to hit the reset button and start at a different starting point.

Musings to come in a subsequent post; for now, a three-part pairing of music, prose, and photography.

Music courtesy of Nina Simone, singing “Feeling Good.”

Prose courtesy of Herman Hesse, writing about trees.
(My favorite excerpts in bold)

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them,whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

And see here for more on Hesse and trees and notes on wandering and belonging.

Photography courtesy of yours truly, taken during yesterday’s mid-afternoon walk.

20140116_153005Happy New Year!

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Sun-day Afternoon

The song playing in my mind (and now on my laptop) is “Tuesday Afternoon” by the Moody Blues, although for the better part of three hours I was singing “Sunday afternoon” to myself.

Tuesday, afternoon,
I’m just beginning to see, now I’m on my way.
It doesn’t matter to me, chasing the clouds away.
Something, calls to me,
The trees are drawing me near, I’ve got to find out why?
Those gentle voices I hear, explain it all with a sigh.

I’m not sure what it was about a Tuesday afternoon that moved Justin Hayward to pen these words — the same could’ve been said about today, an afternoon with just the right dose clear blue skies streaked with fleeting, white clouds, with gentle breezes whispering softly and getting just a bit frisky with my hair as I strolled to a local park to enjoy one of the finest sandwiches (or, if you’re in Philly: hoagies) this side of the Atlantic. At its warmest, the temperature began in the low 60s and rose to a respectable 80 degrees — mention-worthy in late August, when phrases like “heat wave” and “oppressive heat” are the norm.

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Perhaps my pre-emptive nostalgia comes from the realization that this is my last summer Sunday of the year. Next week, this time, I will be cleaning out my office (long overdue) in preparation for the start of the coming academic year. The summer days in Philadelphia draw to an end as the slow frenzy of New York City prepares to takes it hold. The challenge this year, as it always is, will be to keep the stupid frenzy at bay.

What distinguishes stupid frenzy from, say, beneficial or even useful frenzy you ask? In simplest terms, the degree of agita that it induces. It is why I work hard to avoid all known persons during the summer (save my friends, of course); to wit — while walking out of our main building last week (during one of my 24-hr visits to the city for semester-related prep), using guerrilla-like maneuvers, I rerouted myself three times when I spotted oncoming agita from afar. Call me a coward, but I was the better for it.

Of course, an active embrace of one’s inner zen is probably the more healthy approach. I’ll work on it, and in the meantime, as summer recedes into the land of memories, the Moody Blues can soothe my soul.

 

And now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bit more sun to be had on this summer afternoon.

Sunday morning cafe

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I get lost in words — on the page, spoken by others around me, the new ones that swirl with the old ones in my head.

Smells, sweet and savory, waft in my direction and then move swiftly away.

The occasional eye contact with a stranger; reading someone’s lips while pretending to listen intently to whatever is(n’t) streaming through my silent headphones; the random utterance or facial gesture that reminds me of my grandmother (she would’ve turned 90 yesterday).

Über concentrated forms of distraction.

Incarnations of bread and water.

Avoiding people/dogs while acting like I’m not bothered by (scared of) them.

Mind wandering, thoughts out of nowhere; a long standing dilemma eases naturally as if the answer was present all along; at peace with where I am.

This must be what church is like.

It’s too hot

This was about to turn into a rant about heat, humidity, and the horribly oppressive weather the east coast has been suffering for the past several days…

But instead, I’ll just share a few pics from the weeks I spent in the bosom of the cooler climes of the UK (which is going through its own warm-up at the moment).

From the lovely, blustery, picturesque walk that K took us on in the Peak District, near Sheffield:

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A view of the Tate Liverpool, where I took in the Chagall exhibit:

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And a view of the pier from inside the museum:

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A beautiful sandstone temple erected in Wembley (including a couple of closeups of the carvings; all pieces shipped from India and assembled on site):

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Taking a wrong turn on our attempt to walk back from Wembley:

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And then rejoicing at the sight of the #7 bus:

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Finally, a slice of the heavens on the way back home:

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A tale of two Wimbledons

Wimbledon — Take 1

Tuesday, Wimbledon Day 2. The travelers are weary, but spirited. Picadilly from Russell Square to District Line to Wimbledon transfer from Earl’s Court. The travelers are surrounded by even more spirited event-goers: faces painted, outfits coordinated, paraphernalia adorning the body.

Southfields Station. The masses alight here, briskly making their way toward the Way Out and down the road to the correct entrance. The one where those without tickets go.

Volunteers greet the newest queuers with a smile and a hand pointing then in the right direction. Crowds of people organized into an orderly line that moves slowly, steadily. Around a tent while a woman sells copies of The Guardian with a complimentary sample of sunscreen.

Suddenly the story becomes clearer. The crowds are Massive. Many thousands have already been queuing for hours.

The green flag marks the end of the line… way, way, way, way, way, way in the corner of the field. A volunteer hands out numbers to mark each arrival’s place in line, no matter how late. The time is 10:15. The situation does not look good.

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10K people ahead of us. Outlook not so good.

40 minutes pass. The travelers decide to ditch the effort and return the next day. But, not ones to waste a journey, they walk back, all 9.1 miles, from Wimbledon to Russell Square — via Wandsworth, Battersea, the Chelsea Bridge, Pimlico, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and Holborn.

Whew.

Wimbledon — Take 2
A story in pictures

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Arrived at 6:15a and already 3K+ people ahead of us!
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Wimbledon crowds
MurraysAnOstrichAmirite
He may be a champion, but he favors an ostrich, no?
DjoksOnYou
Djokovic goofing around…err, practicing (in the light blue)
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The changing of the ball girls and boys
SloaneStephens
Sloane Stephens (USA)
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My favorite and uber precise lineswoman during the Rajeev Ram – Juan Monaco match
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Requisite Strawberries and Cream
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Fans watch Roger Federer on the big screen from Henman Hill (colloquially renamed Murray Mound)

Brighton beach memoirs

Ventured out to Brighton today to gather with some colleagues; this was the view from our Brighton colleague’s flat:

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What must be the sensation of looking out and seeing the tide ebb and flow ad infinitum just steps away?

Upon my return back to micro-flat, I happened upon a reading list that somehow felt apropos — not only of the conversations I’d spent the day having, but of the academic culture here in the UK. It’s called “Best Summer Books And Their Corresponding Drinks” (special shoutout to E, who will also appreciate the tenor of this compilation).

And so another day has passed. My erratic sleep/insomnia remains. What lies ahead? A bit of work, a handful of meetings and conferencing, and, if weather and schedule cooperate, a bit of the local tennis scene.

‘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

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.

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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