Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.


This year, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I’ve decided to make New Semester’s resolutions. In the past, I’ve made lists a mile long on the 1st…only to have them dwindle to nothing by the time February rolls around. So instead of trying to accomplish everything at once – and try to remember everything I’m trying to accomplish while trying to accomplish that which I remember I wanted to accomplish (whew!) – I’m whittling down the list to 3 things at a time, about 4 months at a time.

Now, I’m breaking the year up into semesters…but my resolutions (so far) have little to do with school. “Doing well at school” and “trying hard in class” are kind of no-brainers, that’s how I was raised, doing anything less was unacceptable. On the other hand, because my childhood was so school-centric, I never really focused on my health. Last semester is probably the best example of how I manage to abuse my body for the sake of succeeding in academia: four hours of sleep every third night, two all-nighters in a row, almost zero exercise, endless take-out meals…so this semester’s resolutions are about me, and not about school.

Resolution 1: Improve my posture.

Gratuitous bathing-suit-clad ladies with books on their heads. I won't be doing that.

There came a point in the last semester where I looked like Quasimodo when I rolled out of bed every morning. That point was October. And it only got worse…by the end of the semester, I looked like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein.

Then, I spent the best $25 I could’ve all semester: I got a 30 minute massage. One of the second years had a girlfriend who happened to be a masseuse. She came in and set up her table on the sixth floor the weekend before final reviews. Having already spent almost 24 hours non-stop slumped at my computer, I dragged myself upstairs, to come back a new woman, with the ability to reach my arms over my head without grimacing in pain, bend over and touch the floor, breathe…and then I promptly slump at my desk for another two days.

So: resolution  number one: get better posture. Mostly seated posture, though standing posture might make me look a smidgen taller, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Resolution 2: Get [at least] 15 minutes of exercise a day.

For about a month and a half last semester, a classmate and I managed to sneak out after studio for a quick run, about 3 times a week, to release some stress and get energized for the long nights ahead. Then Thanksgiving break came around…and I fell off the wagon. So here I am, back again, clambering back on. I’m trying to make it easy on myself – so only demanding 15 minutes a day, which, let’s be honest – if I can’t find 15 minutes in a day for myself…there’s something terribly wrong with my priorities in life. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll up it to 30 minutes by the end of the semester, at least thrice a week…but no pressure. Get those 15 minutes in, and I’m considering myself golden.

And for some motivation, the man who’s been getting people off their tushes for decades, Richard:

Resolution 3: Cook at home more.

Another disappointment last semester was the number of times I found myself eating out. Cheap(ish) food, sometimes more than twice a week, that filled me up but left me feeling nasty only a few hours after…and a few pounds heavier and several dollars lighter by the end of the semester.

Now, one of my favorite things about our apartment is the large kitchen. It’s roomy enough to cook while people keep you company, and though there isn’t much counter space, it’s light=filled and just a good place to be. If I’m making excuses, I’d say the heavy workload and the distance between studio and the apartment was why I didn’t get very many opportunities to make use of this kitchen. But the thing is, when I decided to make time, I could. Every other week, I’d spend Sundays cooking meals for the rest of the week. We had dinner parties a few times and I’d made pumpkin bread pudding or apple cake or braised chicken (the last one was a procrastination tool – I really didn’t want to work on my paper, so I had people over for dinner).

The point is, I like cooking, and I like our kitchen. My performance this semester is contingent upon my sanity..and my sanity is contingent upon my happiness; ergo, if cooking in the kitchen makes me happy, I ought to try and do it a bit more!

The measure of success is as follows: if I cook every weekend, and spend less than $20/week on eating out, I’m doing much better than last semester.

Our kitchen, as seen from the living room. Nothing matches - but look at the light!

So there you have it, my three Semester’s Resolutions. While posting daily updates about my posture and exercise habits would be a bit ludicrous, I’ll try and post some of my cooking adventures – at least the ones that are photogenic.

Filed under: Close to home, , , , , ,

A New Haven.

At this point, if you guys aren’t saying anything about my terrible sense of humor, I’m just going to keep bothering you with my shameless punning. What’s that, you say? You haven’t heard from me in ages, and in fact, you’ve been missing my puns terribly? Why, that’s kind of you! I’ll try and be more PUNctual with my posting in the future.

For now, let’s do a quick wrap up of the last six weeks: I got back from France (after a short trip to Britain – and Brighton – with the Brit).

A rocky beach that tore up my shoes, that also provides something akin to an acupuncture massage with blunt needles when you lie down instead of paying however many quid for a quaint deck chair...

Then, I hung out with my grandmother for a few weeks before she left for India, where she’s staying with my aunt and uncle. After that, I put on some disposable apparel and proceeded to cover it with blobs of yellow, red, green and cream paint. See below.

This bright yellow was carried around the living room and in the eat-in kitchen, and makes the space feel so bright and welcoming, it convinced me of the power of color much more than any design course I took as an undergraduate.

A short trip to Kentucky for a friend’s wedding…

That's Dino and Roomie's wedding, by the by. Twas a beautiful affair with plenty of dancing. So much dancing, as it were, that it resulted in a strained left calf muscle...

…and then a longer drive up to New Haven, where I’ve finally settled down in this new haven:

Ok, so that mess got cleaned up right after I took the picture, promise!

This is technically my temporary-not-temporary home. The bedroom itself won’t be mine in the long run, but I’m staying in the same apartment, just moving upstairs. Once I’m moved into the new room, and have managed to furnish and organize it, I’ll be sure to post an updated picture. But for now, you’ll have to believe me when I say my blue-green bedding and red IKEA dresser complement each other in that thrown-together-chic kind of way. I’m going for the “I liked it so I bought it” look. We’ll see how that goes – it’s a complete turn-about from the way I designed that residential interior junior year…but hopefully there’s no one grading this space!

I actually got to New Haven on Monday night in my dad’s truck, with my mom and dad in the front seat, the seat beside me piled high and the ‘trunk’ packed two-boxes high with stuff. But it all fit in the truck, and I was very impressed with that.

On Tuesday several trips to IKEA, Target and Walmart managed to cure me of this cheery attitude, when I realized that between the truck and new furniture (bed, dresser, bedside table) and whatever else I’d wind up purchasing in the next year (desk…rug…clothes) I’d never fit everything into one truck again. Oh well. Maybe there’s more culling to be done next year.

Wednesday was organizing day, and I managed to put away all of my clothes, though my books and desk supplies are still in boxes, since I don’t have shelves or a desk on which I can put these things. We snuck my studio supplies into the architecture building, where an administrator informed me that I was the only person in the history of the program to bring my own parallel board. Well, there’s one foot forward, though whether it’s the best one is TBD.

Today was my last visit with the parents, spent buying architectural supplies ($200+ worth, and that’s with a 20% discount AND without spending the $120 on a parallel straightedge), eating too much pizza at Pepe’s, a New Haven establishment, and happening upon a potential job opportunity as a French language assistant at a language institute down the street from my apartment. After bidding my parents farewell, I vegged out on my bed, exhausted after a long week.

There’s still plenty that needs figuring out before classes start on Monday: where do I get groceries (the last major grocery store in town closed down, and the Walmart is driving distance when I don’t have a car)? how does the bus system work (again, no car, and studio is a thirty minute walk away)? how broke will I be in three years (utility bills on this place jump to $300 in the winter…that’s over and above the $2250 rent)?

I’d like to document this first year at school as best as possible, for future Yalies who’re worried about what to expect both in the classroom and out. I know when I was trying to figure out what schools to apply to / which one to accept, reading student blogs made a huge difference. So what I’m trying to say is I know I won’t have much time, but I’m going to try my darndest to keep you guys posted every week!

Until next time, your faithful-yet-often-absent blogger, Amrita.

Filed under: Close to home, , , , , , , , , ,

Go Bulldogs!

As you can probably guess (and some of my dear readers found out in person), I’m going to Yale this fall! Things have been a bit crazy in Brownie-land, as I’ve had to find roommates and housing, once again from a few hundred miles away, all while trying to sort through my massive amounts of stuff.

I never realized how many things I’ve accumulated over the past five years. After getting back to the US two weeks ago, I’ve spent a lot of my free time going through boxes I’d packed and left in my room after coming back from Tech, trying to combine my ‘old life’ with my more recent life (i.e. stuff from Paris), all while trying to figure out what parts of this past will be accompanying me into my near future (i.e. packing for Yale).

In some ways, I’ve been culling more than packing the last few days. While in Paris I started to read about the minimalist movement, things like the 100 Things Challenge, and while I don’t think I can live with only 100 things (depending on what you qualify as a ‘thing’), I’ve been trying to weed through my excessive wardrobe and book collection. Things I don’t need are going to Goodwill or the library, and I’ve managed to fill a giant bag 4′ tall of clothes…and still, I have three boxes, packed to the brim with architecture books, that will make their way to Yale in July.

How much is too much? How much is enough? Having lived out of two suitcases for seven months, I know that I don’t need more than one pair of jeans, two pairs of leggings, a handful of sweaters, shirts and dresses, one pair of boots and one pair of sandals to last me a while. That said, I didn’t go out that often, didn’t have special occasions for which I needed to dress up that often, didn’t have work, didn’t have jury presentations, no weddings…so my 12 pairs of shoes are justified in my American wardrobe, right? And as far as books go…they’re the most difficult thing for me to let go: I could give away my fiction titles, because I usually don’t reread them, but there’s a sentimental attachment to The Little Princess that has me hesitating to put it in the ‘Library’ bin.

Filed under: Close to home, , , , , , , , ,

She’s alive!

Since February, I’ve:

  • been to India and back
  • had two short stays in Horsham and London
  • had an even shorter stay in Bordeaux, and a slightly longer stay in Marmande
  • spent an afternoon burning up in a hammam and sipping delicious tea
  • wandered around Paris discovering new parks
  • succumbed to H&M’s silky soft dresses
  • tripped and fell in front of a cafe-full of lunch-goers, horribly scraping my (still-recovering) knee in the process
  • said sad goodbyes to two of my favorite Assistantes
  • and heard back from all four graduate programs…

…and that’s why I haven’t written in this blog.

A quick round-up of travel expeditions results in these photos:

The primary purpose of my trip to India was to visit my grandmother. And there she is!

While visiting, I got to sit on this porch and watch beautiful sunsets over the Nilgiri Hills.

(Sunsets like this one, for example.)

I also got to soak up some sun and rest my eyes on some of the local flora.

...and take pictures of a naughty smile.

London was a quick trip to drop off my portfolio with Heatherwick Studios and check out their Rolling Bridge project. The portfolio drop-off didn’t lead to much, but the bridge was pretty cool in person, and I created this short video of it unrolling by shooting in paparazzi-mode on my Nikon.

I went to Bordeaux to visit a friend from VT who’s also doing an English assistantship. I felt very Parisian as I wandered the streets, thinking to myself, “Oh, wow, they’re so relaxed here. There aren’t any cars…it’s like I’m out in the country…” Which, all things considered, Paris is certainly not hectic when compared to New York…but when compared to anywhere else in France, it seems to be pure chaos. And when we got to Marmande, even Bordeaux seemed a bit too urban…

I spent my afternoon in Bordeaux wandering around old alleyways, getting yelled at by prostitutes when I wasn't even trying to take their picture. This presumable John was on the prowl at 2PM. Early to bed...early to rise?

Bordeaux also had some really cool textures, and I got a bit carried away taking pictures of door knobs and stonework, which is why there aren't awe-inspiring shots of Bordeaux's reknown monuments).

This was a bridge with an architecturally interesting form...and an unnecessarily strenuous climb.

As for stuff around Paris, I’ll try and go for a more detailed post later, with more pictures, of course.

And I didn’t forget the last thing on that list: remember back in the day, when I was stressing about my applications to Pratt, UC Berkeley, Yale and Harvard? Well I got into all of them! Now, I’m stressing about which one to choose. They’re all pretty expensive, though some are giving me a bit of financial aid…my heart is leaning one way, but I won’t say anything until I’ve done my choosing – and that’s soon! You (and I) will know by April 15, so look out for that Big News on this blog in the next week!

Filed under: All things French, Around the world, Close to home, , , , , , , ,

Bonne Année!

The French tradition of being allowed to say “Happy New Year” to anyone you meet for the entire month of January is one that gets old, quick. Say, for example, when you’ve met the same person for the 5th time, and their enthusiasm for the New Year does nothing but remind you that you never made it past day one of your resolutions.  On the other hand, it means I can get away with wishing all my readers Happy New Year on January 23rd, and, since it is technically only the second time I’ve “met you” in 2010, you can’t be terribly annoyed, yes?

If you’ll recall, I jumped right into 2010 with the last post, but before Ye Old Year was kicked’th out, there was some Christmas revelry and London-visiting, news of which has yet to make it to these digital pages. And, as you can imagine, it’s quite difficult to cram three weeks of fun into one tiny little blog post, so we’ll take it a week (or so) at a time…

Captain’s Log. Week 1 (or so) of the Holiday expedition. Paris, France.

Trouble on the horizon

It’s not a story-worthy adventure unless it starts with some technical troubles (so that later on, when the Captain regrets forging on despite the tiny leak-producing crack which has now become a full-blown canyon, the tech support guy in India can say “I told you so.”). Our technical troubles coincided with those of thousands of other travelers trying to cross the English Channel on that fateful December weekend. Through BBC articles and Facebook updates, you can piece together our story: Eurostar trains stopped in the Chunnel. Travelers trapped for hours. Eurostar authorities apologize for snow-induced delays. Travelers scheduled to travel over the weekend re-routed to Monday and Tuesday trains. Tuesday travelers (i.e. the Brit) urged to not travel unless necessary.  The Brit arrives at St. Pancras at 06:00 on a Wednesday morning. Eurostar authorities maintain that travelers should avoid travel and that tickets will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. The Brit queues in circles (sounds more French than British). Acquires ticket a few hours later and boards Paris-bound train. More weather-related delays on the tracks. Wilting Brit arrives at Gare du Nord at 14:30. Nap ensues.

Jours de fêtes at the Grand Palais

An indoor county fair in the winter. The French sure seem to have somethings backwards...

We met up with that French friend of mine from an earlier post, who now merits a nick-name, having two blog-mentions. Let’s call her Bleue. Bleue and her boyfriend, Norm, met the Brit and I at the Grand Palais, where we wandered around under its enormous steel-framed glass arches soaking up the sights and sounds of an indoor fair. A bit too scared to try any of the truly crazy rides (my mind spins fast enough by itself, thanks, I needn’t have it spin on multiple axes) we did have a go at the bumper cars, or l’auto-tamponeuse. We then wandered down the Champs-Elysées (always a sight to see, but more-so with all the Christmas lights), did a twirl around the giant ferris wheel, la Grande Roue, at the Place de la Concorde, and then hunted down dinner. Well, not literally, but we did try one recommended place, only to be told it was too busy. So we wound up at our second choice, which turned out to be not so bad at all.  At le Tambour, I had my first taste of rabbit (lapin in a mustard-y creamy sauce) and a French wine called Saumur, which is right up there with Brouilly in my books now.

Dinner and a movie (or vice-versa), Christmas-style.

My family has always gone to the movies for Thanksgiving and over Christmas. It’s one of the few times we’re all in the same place, and there’s usually a blockbuster that everyone can agree on. Well, everyone but my Mom, whose vote doesn’t count because she’ll fall asleep in the theater no matter what movie we go to. So in proper Raja-family tradition, the Brit and I went to watch a movie on Christmas Eve. I was surprised the theaters were open, as I thought the French would take any opportunity not to work – but I suppose there are some French people who fancied going to the movies over the holidays as well, and the poor folks had to work at the caisses anyway. We watched Avatar, in 3D (with the cool tech-y looking glasses, not the fake paper ones). Now, a movie review in three parts: not too thrilled with the plot, somewhat impressed by the 3-D, somewhat more impressed by the world-making. It catches your eye while your watching it, but falls flat in retrospect.

Since we couldn’t participate in my family’s (now) tradition of going to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve dinner and White Elephant gift-giving, we decided to borrow the Brit’s “Christmas dinner” as best we could. I had only recently gotten approval for using the oven (which wasn’t as complicated as Mimi made it out to be), and so was a bit wary about preparing an entire bird, and for only two people. Instead, we put ourselves at ease by purchasing dishes from Picard and reheating them in the oven. Which sounds not so tasty, until you realize that even frozen French food is better than some fresh-made American food. And then we slept. Here are some images of our coma-inducing meal (or meals, as the leftovers lasted us through the weekend).

First course: tomato soup, baguettes and turkey, mushroom and foie gras-stuffed pastries.

Main meal: Indian-style jumping potatoes, some more baguette, mixed vegetables, two types of chicken and green beens wrapped in bacon. Tossed down with some more Saumur, of course.

Dessert: Chocolate ice-cream logs sprinkled with nuts. We were so full, we could barely finish these off!

Dessert: Chocolate ice-cream logs sprinkled with nuts. We were so full, we could barely finish these off!

Sleep and other escapades

The rest of the Brit’s stay in Paris included plenty of sleep, many more movies (I couldn’t believe he’d never seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!) and a bit of venturing out into the chilly weather. When we dared to face the brisk Parisian breeze, we did things like queue for an hour to ice-skate for 40 minutes at the Hôtel de Ville, or wander around looking at Christmas decorations, or walk six miles in a day to explore the Parc de la Villette and the adjacent St. Martin Canal (which, by the way, is beautiful even in the winter time), or go visit a swish pedestrian bridge and take silly pictures with statues in a park.

Me, ice-skating. Or rather, standing precariously in the way of rink traffic as the Brit tries to quickly snap a shot with my overly-complicated camera.

Huuuuuuge tree at the Galleries Lafayette. It was at least 4-storeys tall!

The Brit in front of the planetarium at the Cite des Sciences, by the Parc de la Villette.

Swish bridge, aka the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir.

Silly picture.

Until next time, fellow explorers, when we’ll uncover the mysteries of great Eye of London.

Filed under: All things French, Around the world, Close to home, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Big weekend: a multi-national play in four parts.

The last few days have set a wonderful tone to what promises to be a memorable holiday season, in spite of the weather-related train and plane frustrations.  It all started Friday evening, when an Italian student of mine asked me to join him and his friends on an excursion to a Jazz concert…

Act I: The Italian Lesson

Technically, there were two Americans, one French woman, and five Italians present, but since the latter outnumber the former two, we’re giving them Act I.  In any case, it was truly a lesson in the differences between French, Italian and American ways of life.

First, tempo.  Tempo when walking, that is. Americans, I find, tend to be the speediest bipeds I’ve met, especially those from NYC. But even Virginian walkers will lap a Frenchman every so often.  Parisians come second in the speed-walking contest and Italians…well, they’re so leisurely in their pace the tortoise lapped them not once, but thrice.

Second, expatriates. I asked one of the Italians his thoughts on living in Paris, versus his time in Italy. One thing he noted, that many texts on French culture will support, is that the French aren’t exactly friendly.  It takes a while to squeeze yourself into a French friend-circle, and even then, things like swinging by the Jones’ on your way home aren’t done: you really should call and schedule that visit.

Third, jazz! The band was apparently part Italian, and the concert was in the 10th (right around the corner from the Indian district) and we ate Turkish food right before, so it was a right multi-cultural experience. The guitar player looked like Bret (from Flight of the Conchords) and the other American and I couldn’t help but snicker every time we caught a glimpse of his shaggy hair. The music itself was smooth, enjoyable, a bit of flute, some sax, percussion, and a mellow bass.

We ended the night with a stop at Rue Mouffetard, for some mulled wine and late night conversation at La Contrescarpe, whose cozy decor didn’t quite match the thumping techno music played over the speakers.

Act II: The French Lesson

On Saturday I took some time to visit another museum, le Petit Palais, which was built for the 1900 world fair and is the little sibling of the better-known Grand Palais. The latter gets to host big events like the Paris Fashion Week.  The former houses a small but nice collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, has impressive architecture itself, and is free, to everyone.

After wandering through the collection for an hour or so, I took some time to sketch (as I promised I would try and do more often).

Detail from the entry dome at the Petit Palais.

View of its famous spiral stair from below.

That evening, I went to see a movie with one of my French students, in French.  I’d been complaining about how little French I actually spoke, since most of my courses were English courses and my friends were all Americans…and that I wanted to go see a French film but was worried I wouldn’t understand a thing! So she suggested we go together and discuss the movie over a drink, which is exactly what we did.  After a bit of window shopping along the Champs-Elysées  (window shopping because I’m not sure I can afford to spend €200, also known as 1/4 my paycheck, on a 3″x4″ LV wallet), I met her at the UGC Charles V. We then wandered through the Christmas markets, grabbed a cup of vin chaud (to keep both our insides and our shivering fingers warm), and caught a glimpse of the light show at the Eiffel tower.

The film is about a young boy, Oscar, who has terminal cancer. The "dame rose" is the only woman with whom he agrees to speak during his last week. Yes, it's a sad movie. Yes, I teared up (more than once). And yes, I understood most of it, even without subtitles (though when they spoke really fast, it was from visual clues, and a slowed-down replay in my own mind).

Act III: The American Lesson

Yesterday, a Tech classmate of mine who’s doing the same program as I am, but teaching near Bordeaux, came up to Paris. She had a flight back to the US this morning, so last evening the two of us met up with another American friend of hers, wandered around the Latin Quarter, did some window shopping, and had a generally good time comparing notes on living in France, being American (i.e. not French) and general sillyness. I had my first fondue in France, both cheese and meat, and my first raclette, and chased that down with a delicious crêpe nutella banane and a mug of caramel tea.  We dropped my friend back at her hotel which was a bit closer to the airport – and that meant taking the RER B. Like usual, there were issues with the train, we had a random train-change because of technical errors, but made it to the hotel and back just fine.

Encore: The French Lesson, Reprised.

This afternoon I had an incredible pasta lunch at Pizza Positano, near Odéon, with a French girl I know from studying at Fontainebleau.  We then wandered around the Marais, catching up on our adventures and ducking into an architectural exhibition or two, and making me faire travailler (work on) my French.  It turned out to be a 4-hour French-only conversation, the most French I’ve spoken in one-go since getting here.  I was pretty tired by the end of it all.

As a side note, we were tempted by a free taster at Starbucks, and wound up going in and ordering the real thing – whoever comes up with their lattes is an incredible genius: drinking a noisette caramel (hazelnut caramel) latte is getting pretty close to heaven.

Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m renting from Kanye West.

The French are very protective of their language. Discussing the phonetic nuances of u versus ou seems to be a Parisian sport. Strangers have no qualms about correcting your incorrect grammar, and waiters refuse to serve you une café, because it’s un café. All this I knew.  But my dear landlady takes correction to a Kanye West extreme. Cases in point:

1. “That’s a good lookin’ sandwich an’ all, but y’all know that Beyoncé’s sandwich skills is better.” This one takes place barely a week into my French experience. I had been running errands all day and got home, starving. So I pulled out my demi baguette and proceeded to make myself a delicious foot-long cucumber and brie sandwich.  Which, apparently, included far too many carbs. I was instructed to remove all the sandwich filling ingredients, place them in a bowl, return one half of my baguette to the fridge and eat the bread and salad separately. She stayed to watch me do it.

2. “Hey, you makin’ your bed? Dontchu know Beyoncé can make it better?” Yes, I was making my bed, and apparently doing it incorrectly.  So sometimes, when it’s not too cold, I sleep on top of the comforter and only use the light cover. Because, you know, I don’t want to die of sweat in the middle of the night (ew, what a way to go).  But apparently, one must always use the flat sheet.  Moreover, there is a proper way to make the bed, so that entering it and placing yourself under said flat sheet at night is easy.  Never would I have known…

3. “Is 50 degrees ou’side: Beyoncé would wear a sweater.” Little did I know that moving to France meant losing the ability to dress myself.  Not only was I treated to a lecture on it “no longer being summer” and that if I continued to dress so skimpily (skimpily, as in leggings, jeans, shirt, scarf and jacket) I would catch a cold, but when I returned from my room (after putting on a sweater), she checked to make sure I really had put one on.  I felt like I was three again. But Mommy, I really did brush my teeth!

Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , , ,

Applications, schmaplications

I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself lately. I haven’t had a chance to really get out and be in Paris as much as I would have liked.  And I’m blaming that on the 2 scholarship applications and 5 graduate applications I’ve been working on since I arrived in this beautiful city. But at last, the end is in sight.

A bit of background: I went into my undergraduate degree knowing I’d want to do a Masters in Architecture. I was one of those annoying kids that knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, and then stuck it out. And I don’t regret it, not one bit. Architecture has never been “work” for me, just a constant source of discovery and pleasure, ok, mixed in with some pain (for example, the frustration when those damn riser heights won’t add up to the FFL).  It’s almost hedonistic, the joy I derive from basking in Foster’s atrium, or reaching out to touch the zenith-esque corners of Pei’s National Gallery addition. There is, of course, the fun in solving a design problem and the associated satisfaction of having all the puzzle pieces fit.  But, to be honest, what keeps me coming back for more is that I am never not dazzled, impressed, intrigued, disgusted – I am never without a reaction, soit positive soit negative, to architecture. Sometimes I have to take a step back, get a breather from the chaos that seems to be inseparable from the designer’s life (thus this stay in Paris), but that break always has me coming back for more.

And here we are.  For the last few months, I have been pulling together applications for graduate programs in architecture.  This involved recreating a portfolio, since I had to include my thesis project and since each school had its own specifications, writing thousands of rough drafts for essay upon essay, and pestering faculty for letters of reference.  The first two are are pretty much out of the way.  The last one, well my deadline is in a few weeks and I have a feeling I’m going to be the one filling their inboxes pretty soon.

One thing I didn’t realize when setting out on this venture is the cost of applying to all these places and scholarships.  Around $30 to print each portfolio, $5 to mail them, $7 for each transcript, $150 for the GRE, $80 for each application…it starts stacking up.  I’d estimate that by the time March comes around, I’ll already have spent more than $700 – and that’s all before knowing which school has accepted me into their program.  Once I am accepted, there’s the first deposit, and paying to take summer courses if I haven’t been able to take care of the prerequisites.  Then, of course, there’s the cost of graduate school itself, about $50,000 per year. So, dear Reader, this post is to inform you that I’ve started a scholarship fund, for myself.  If you’d like to contribute, please send your cheque to…just kidding. Though that is quite tempting.

Actually, the point of this post is to let you know why I’ve decided to make my New Year’s resolution early. I’ve felt like my break from the art world has been long enough, and knowing that I’m living in a city that has inspired many an artist, I owe it to myself to take charge of my aesthetic destiny.  That, and I’ve been Stumbling upon some very inspiring images. I’ve always been decent at drawing, but I’m ready to take my pencil sketches to the next level. So, I’m resolving to sketch an hour every day during the week and two hours on weekends.  Gladwell thinks it takes about 10,000 hours to master a skill.  Well, I suppose that means in about 20 years, I might be nearing proficiency in drawing.  In any case, if I manage to do this for a year, I’m bound to get a little bit better.  I’m going to try and get a head start by squeezing in some sketching time this week, and I’m debating whether not having work on Wednesdays and Fridays makes them weekend days…oh, why not.  When in France…

So here’s to grabbing the pencil, and jumping over the lazy dog that was my dormant art career.

P.S. That means you’ll be seeing sketches in addition to these awesome photos I’ve been posting. Aren’t you excited?

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Bob the Sponge and his Square Pants!

The French take fancy to some artifacts of Anglophone culture, and this is where their discerning eye seems to fail them. They, for example, love Johnny Hallyday, who is essentially a faded echo of Elvis in his heyday. Or, take a recent exhibition on the phenomenon that is SpongeBob SquarePants, or Bob l’Eponge as the French fondly call him.  There was plenty of advertising – you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing at least one poster for this expo.  It took place, appropriately, at the Pavillion d’Eau, and was accompanied by an educational exhibit on how to conserve water and the value of tap water over bottled water.  All these little details might clue you into the fact that this exhibit was geared towards the little ones.  And it shouldn’t surprise you that The Accomplice and I found ourselves at the Pavillion’s watery door.

To be fair, the advertising I’d seen included images like these…

...and I'm a sucker for all things art and satire, so I had to check it out.

There isn’t much to say about the content of the exposition – I didn’t learn much about SpongeBob that I didn’t already know.  Though I did watch my first episode of Bob l’Eponge entirely in French, with no subtitles…in a room full of 3-8-year-olds. I felt a bit out of place, like I was back at that Fall Out Boy concert in Roanoke, where age 10 was the mode. And years of sustainability-training have taught me quite a bit about water conservation, so not much new knowledge on that front, either.  But it was a great excuse for me to take some fun pictures!

If they can spoof Magritte, so can I. The Accomplice did what accomplices do, she helped.

Had The Accomplice not been pointing and giggling, what would Bob l'Eponge have to be embarrassed about?

I really did enjoy the architecture of the Pavillon itself - these steps pass over a pool of water, and terminate in a glass floor that continues above the same pool. Pretty swish stuff.

One thing that SpongeBob does rather well is unite the youth and adults that watch the show - here, a wall of drawings by the audience. Artists represented almost every demographic.

Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , ,

Joyeux Thanksgiving!

A bit after the fact, I know, but had you eaten the huge meal we ate on Thursday, you’d have slept until Saturday afternoon, too.

My first Thanksgiving away from the family began as many others: with a dirty joke.  At work, nonetheless. And it only got better.

As The Tall One, The Accomplice and I had been scheming about this party for the better part of two months (the idea actually came up the first day we met, back in September!), I was getting pretty excited as the day grew close.  We’d already made our playlist (everything from Bon Jovi to Metallica to Robbie Williams to Jacques Brel).  I was in charge of the menus, and managed to notice my misspelling of ‘coctails’ (who needs the ‘k’ anyway?) only after printing them.  So, of course, being the perfectionist that I am, I redid the lot.  They turned out quite nicely, if I do say so myself.

I rushed over to The Tall One’s apartment after work. Her flatmates had generously decided to not only donate their space, but the turkey and the pumpkins as well. Cooking was already in full-swing by the time I got there, and after a run to the grocery store (they didn’t have parsnips!) and the boulangerie (freshly baked baguettes = warm and gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside = delicious!), I pitched in. Well, a bit.  The Accomplice’s friends showed up early, so I split my time between the kitchen and learning about ethical issues related to artificial forms of reproduction…what is it with sex and Thanksgiving?

Eventually, the once 4-person round table was unfolded (several times over) to squeeze 17 chairs and stools of varying size and comfort around its circumference, and the guests began to arrive.  The party went without a hitch – only one very tardy arrival.  The guests came from all over the world, mostly Americans but a handful of French and some representatives from England (unfortunately *the* Brit couldn’t come). All with different backgrounds, too – publishing, medicine, business, politics, architecture, literature, engineering, psychology…ne’er a dull moment.

As for the food, here’s a quick look at the menu, followed by some images of our table of plenty – tablucopia?

  • Cocktail hour: Cosmos, wine, porto, olives, turnips and hummus, pumpkin seeds, cheese and baguettes. The cheeses were amazing: had comté for the first time, which is like manchego but sweeter.
  • Dinner: salted herb turkey, cranberry sauce, mushroom and leek stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted root vegetables, corn casserole. It was all good, but I think my stomach has shrunk since coming to France – I could barely manage a plate and a half…
  • Dessert: pumpkin and sweet potato pie, strawberry tart.  The pumpkin pie was made from scratch (like everything else), but in this case, it was made with a *real* pumpkin. Not the canned stuff.  It was not as overpoweringly sweet and pumpkin-y, which meant the French people weren’t grossed out.

The set table - see my pretty menus?

There are more than four people you can't actually see in this picture. We got to be really good friends by the end of dinner, and if you didn't manage to elbow somebody over the course of the meal, you had some real etiquette prowess.

The star of the show, a turkey from Brittany. The freshest meat I've ever eaten. Well, other than those crabs in San Francisco.

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