Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

4000 cubic feet and other architectural recipes

Short stories, and illustrated, at that. Bon appetit!

4000 c.f.

Our first project of the semester asked us to create a pavilion on an imaginary site, incorporating a tectonic language that was integral to the form-making of our intervention. If nothing else, my vocabulary is improving.

I created a module composed of a perforated sheet that expands to create internal volume. The module is then repeated and varied to create a wall and roof condition. I was really trying to capture diffused light and create a moire effect as you pass through the site.

One of the biggest challenges of this program so far has been transitioning from digital to traditional drawing techniques. I seem to have a fear of failing in a hand-drawing, and so try it out first on CAD. This might be counter-productive to my desire to get more than 5 hours of sleep a night...

Our final review was last Monday and Tuesday (gosh, I can’t believe it was a week ago – time flies incredibly fast around here…) and I got a pretty good review! The guest critics got a bit distracted by the drawing below, and wound up spending most of their time talking about that drawings potential.

This drawing was a preliminary study of the surface of a ball of yarn...I extrapolated the way a thread of yarn, as a line, pulls itself apart to create an internal volume. We never really got around to talking about that bit in the critique...

But overall, I think it went well. A classmate took notes for  me, and a good thing too, because I barely remember what happened (not because of sleep deprivation, but because it’s a bit like performing on stage – the highlights you remember aren’t those the audience remembers).

Formal Analysis with Peter Eisenman

Where we learned that Louis Khan died $4 million in debt and we should assume a similar fate awaits us. We also try to analyze buildings.

Our first drawing asked us to find the critical difference between Brunelleschi's San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito. I looked at the axial relationships in San Lorenzo that are inhibited by the rigid adherence to the grid in Santo Spirito.

These two drawings were my first attempts at ink on mylar. It's both challenging and very zen - you draw all your verticals, then wait, draw all your horizontals, then wait, draw all your diagonals in one direction, etc...wax on, wax off. (These are the preliminary CAD/Illustrator files, by the way...my line weights for the final drawing were much better).

Other waking hour preoccupations include…

  • Visualisation II: A continuation of my summer studies, with a lot of sketching leading to a drawing each week. I’ll post the sketches and drawings after our first review next week.
  • Modern Architecture: I get to sit and listen to Kurt Forster talk about architecture. That’s pretty awesome. Like most of our faculty, he has a good sense of humor and doesn’t hesitate to bring it into the classroom. Last week he managed to reference both Harry Potter and Star Wars.
  • Structures: I’m really glad we have one no-nonsense class. I’m learning a lot, math and engineering wise, but am glad I did a design degree as an undergrad, because the professor likes to skim past construction terminology that some of my classmates aren’t familiar with (CMUs, flange, shear connection, etc.).

A non-architectural side-note: Brownie Sundae Sunday

My roommates and I hosted a get-together / impromptu house-warming party. There were delicious brownie sundaes and refreshments. Everyone mingled nicely. We cleaned up within an hour of kicking the last person out the door. I’d consider it a success.

The roommates and I in front of our darling black board. Unfortunately, only W got the suit memo.

Next time on Jumping over the lazy dog: Amrita gets to be a prisoner and have a round-table discussion with Peter Eisenman.

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , , , , ,

How does an architect sigh?

Oh, void. *badum-schhh*

By the end of the summer session, our appreciation for puns had improved significantly, or our sense of humor had depreciated drastically, depending on your point of view. This was probably due to the lack of sleep provoked by the final part of the Enclosure project: the two-point perspective. A harmless drawing, at first sight, until you add the following caveats: a two-point perspective with a final width of 6′ in its smallest dimension, constructed as a participant in a 2-3 person group. Oh yes, this was a group project.

My teammates and I began with a few sketches but moved quickly to the larger drawing, since we had a lot of ground to cover...literally. Those blue lines were constructed with a chalk-line. Our thumbtack place-holders for the vanishing points were spaced more than 20' apart. That's four times my height, in case you were wondering.

The finished oversized perspective, made with, as the critics noted, a lot of love.

My favorite part was probably the trees - I'd never done trees in charcoal before, so I was winging it. I filled in the shadows and "bulk" while my teammate cleaned up my act by kneading away the highlights. Yes, those are her fingerprints.

I made it to studio the morning of our final review, feeling not terribly tired, since our group managed to stay on track with our scheduling on the massive drawing, allowing me to stay on track with my own work. Unfortunately, I arrived two hours early because pin-up was at 10AM, not 9, and nobody sent me the memo, resulting in an energy slump somewhere between what should have been lunch and my own review (next-to-last in line). So while I’d love to regale you with more curious quotes, they seem to have escaped me this time around. Overall, I’d say it was another series of positive critiques, in the sense that while all critics acknowledge various faults in the drawings presented, they did so with a smile and nod of encouragement. Which softens the blow of someone “hmm”-ing at every line in your drawing.

After the critique, for which many of us were asleep, we went home and slept some more. Then we came back to speak to our professors in an exit interview, where I gathered that while ambition is a good thing, I need to learn time management. While my professors might not be reading this blog, and therefore might not be aware of “the Amrita,” they are right in pointing out that it’s not exactly an efficient method of working. Perhaps I should give more thought to the reasons “the Amrita” comes about…and then figure out a preventive treatment for this ailment.

On the plus side, I also learned I can write! Well, I can write well enough to have my essay for the history portion of the summer session published in our course documentation booklet. If you’re so curious as to want to read my essay, you can purchase a copy of the entire book for $33.50, a comfortably-sized coffee table volume of beautiful drawings, or you can do what us poor grad students do and download a PDF version for free.

Perhaps the best part of the last week of summer courses was the After Party. At an undisclosed location, at a rather high altitude, we danced the night away. Nothing helps you forget the minute details of a facade like getting down to Kanye.

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , ,

Woah-oh, we’re more-than-half way there!

Bon Jovi doesn’t know what it means to be living on a prayer…but two dozen or so people hustling about on the 6th floor of 180 York can clue him in.

Week 3 at Architecture Boot Camp: Midterm Crit.

We architects are not very good at math, it turns out. The end of week three (of five – not six)  was marked by a day-long critique session, with guest critics who teach  (or have taught) or studied (or are studying) at Yale. Everybody pinned up everything they’d completed up to that point, from the self-portrait assignment up to our last major project, The Stair.

And since this is a visual program, I thought I’d walk you through my stuff with images rather than blathering on (which I might wind up doing anyway – isn’t that what captions are for?).

Thanks to our anthropic measurement assignment, I now know the exact length of not only my foot (9") but my face (7"). Not sure how the latter will come in handy, but the former helped me set up this sketch.

One of the major challenges of the program was time. Specifically, the lack thereof. We had to do three perceptual drawings, floorplans, reflected ceiling plans, and two sections of this site: and we had less than three hours before the museum closed.

The same project as above, just another view. My actual hand drawings aren't scanned in correctly, so you guys'll just have to imagine my beautiful section (where I *didn't* cut through a column).

Each project was more challenging than the last, and I, of course, chose the more challenging portions of each project. We were asked to chose a building from a list and reconstruct a bay (repetitive portion of it's facade) in elevation, section and plan. My building was over 100' tall...and so my paper, with the drawing at the required scale, was taller than me.

The last project before mid-terms was The Stair. My subject, the square stairs in a cylindrical drum at the Yale Center for British Art. Which in plan, not too complicated. In an isometric drawing....

...a little bit more complicated. Especially when your professor suggests you attempt to draw three flights of stairs. I decided to focus on the handrail. I suggest you click on the image - the small size conceals all the detail I poured over into the wee hours of the morn'. Did I mention this drawing was almost twice my height?

As for the actual critique, it spawned some unforgettable comments:

  • “This triangle, to me, is the most juicy part of the drawing.”
  • “This line disturbs me.”
  • “Cut as section through my finger, through my foot, the cut line is a continuous line. If you cut a section through anything in this room, through anyone in this room, the cut line would be a continuous line.”
  • “I haven’t done a two-dimensional drawing since second grade.”

When it came to my turn, I stood shaking in my boots as one of the critics approached my 90″-tall stair drawing, peering at my seemingly unfinished drawing – only the handrail was fully drawn in, after all! He stepped back, paused, and said, “I’m going to take the pro view. I think you’re done.” The sigh I released was the largest puff of air ever to be expelled by someone under 5′-0″. The criticism got more constructive, suggestions to eliminate the scale figure, pay more attention to receding lines and their weights, etc. But boy was I glad to have a thumbs up from someone on my stairs. I’d had to re-start that drawing the night before it was due because my original construction depicted one-too-many a step on the second and third levels…and a shrinking overall plan. The lost hours of sleep? Worth it.

No rest for the weary, though. Finals were in less than two weeks, and they put us back to work that very weekend. More on Weeks 4 and 5 coming soon!

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , , ,

Word of the day: corpulent.

Greetings from the cusp of Week 2-3 of Architecture Boot Camp. Technically, this is not the name of our course. Yale decided it should be called ‘Visualization I.’ But we all know better. While we’re not running through mud and vaulting over fences, we’re certainly burning the not-so-proverbial midnight oil and feeling the strain of necks craning to see that one…last…line…on AutoCAD. So we, too, are suffering for our art, if not for our country.

Week 2 was sketch-tastic. And by that, I mean that we spent hours on end sketching. Every single one of which was a needed break from the life of the AutoCAD droid that consumed our waking hours on Thursday and Friday. Instead of regaling you with more anecdotes of pain-filled minutes offsetting and trimming, I’m going to show you some sketches, so you know I actually had some fun this week!

One of our field trips this week was to the American Decorative Arts Furniture Study, where I chose this adorable mid-19th century chair made of papier-mache. After our hour and a half together, I really wanted to take it home...but that's forbidden.

Our professor thought we should end our rather stressful week with a relaxing exercise: life drawing. It was my first time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it - two dozen gestural sketches later, I was as limber as a yoga instructor.

On our walk back to studio, one of my classmates asked our professor, "So, are all life drawing models so...corpulent?"

The answer is, not always, but often. One of my friends from VT modeled for classes, and she was certainly not corpulent. But it is a lot of fun to draw the bulbous body’s rolling curves.

And if rotund figures weren’t a capital end to the week, I topped it off with a field trip to IKEA to shop for kitchen supplies. My current roommates are leaving on Saturday, but my new roommates (some of whom are bringing things like pots and pans and plates…) aren’t arriving till mid-August, so for a while I would be stuck in a kitchen but unable to cook…IKEA to the rescue! A few dozen dollars later, I’m now the proud owner of a colander, a pot, a pan and a sharp chef’s knife, among other things.

My shiny new colander! It has already been used to prepare bowtie pasta, and looks forward to many more uses in the future!

Well, I should probably be off to finish the first day of Week 3. After tonight’s Rhino tutorial, I’m sure next week’s blog post won’t mention AutoCAD!

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , , ,

Buy the gal a drink, she’s made it through the week.

Week one of Architecture Boot Camp has been a success. A true representation of studio-culture, it included deceptively simple projects, late nights at the drawing board, readings from Towards A New Architecture, and jokes about ducks. I’ll explain.

Deceptively simple projects and late nights at the drawing board.

I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in studio at 9AM on Monday, but it wasn’t as scary as I would’ve thought. After a round of paperwork and a tour of the building, we got to know our studio-mates and faculty with a quick round of introductions. We then promptly got our first homework assignment: a self-portrait using a mirror.

So the mirror I had handy was my iPhone...which became a commentary on our dual lives, having to create a digital persona and the bleed between the two realities. Not too shabby.

The rest of our studio assignments were familiar tasks, to me, that is: draw a room in your apartment, select and object and describe it using freehand orthographic projection…and would have been relatively easy, but I thought I’d challenge myself by choosing a spray bottle as my subject for the latter assignment, which proved more complex than the drawings I remember doing in drafting class when I was sixteen.  By the time I left studio at 2AM on Friday, I’d managed to wrap my head around a double rotation of picture planes in my auxiliary view (yeah, it’s as complicated as it sounds). Two hours later, as I tossed and turned in bed, I decided I wanted to re-do one of my earlier drawings, so wound up back in studio at 7AM, taking another crack at a section of my spray bottle. It all turned out for the best, I learned a lot more from tackling this project with the complex object I chose than I would have had I selected a simpler form.

The spray bottle: space towards the bottom left to be filled with another drawing, whenever I get a chance...

Towards A New Architecture and ducks.

I was very impressed by my peers: our group has representatives from across the United States, from Hawaii to upstate New York, from schools both in and out of the Ivy, those who’ve traveled around the world, worked on fishing boats in Alaska or flown in from Asia only two days before classes began. Though no one has a formal background in architecture, many have pursued the field through hobbies or internships or summer programs, and all are very intelligent, accomplished individuals. All of which made me (and my accomplishments) feel very minuscule in comparison! But it’s a good place to be – when you feel dumb, you can only become smarter, so bring on the lessons!

Speaking of lessons, we’ve got 200 pages of readings to do each week, and papers to write, on top of all this studio business. So far, I’ve sunk my teeth into bits of Le Corbusier, Venturi (thus, ducks), Rossi, Kruft and Scully. I think my perspective on architecture falls somewhere between Corb. and Rossi. I believe that architecture should first serve its utilitarian purpose before attempting to make any other statement, and that often another statement need not be made. But I don’t think that buildings are machines, and certainly don’t believe there is a ‘perfect form’ that represents the Essential home or Essential office, etc. On the other hand, Rossi’s argument for urban artifacts, connected to time, focused on individuality and memory…it’s starting to sound like my senior thesis all over again…though that itself might not be a bad thing. There’s got to be a reason why I keep coming back to it, right?

Anyway, before you start thinking we’re a bunch of stuffy snobs, smoking a pipe as we draw our hands across sheets of vellum, twirling compasses and articulating the ends of our line segments while cracking jokes about quacking buildings, I will point out that after our exhausting week, we went out for a rowdy night on Friday, and said almost nothing of architecture itself…for a whole three and a half hours.

Filed under: All Hail Yale, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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?

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

Sunny ol’ England, Part II

We now present the second portion of Amrita’s first visit to the UK.

So, where was I? Ah yes, one more museum.

#6: The British Museum. I’m a huge fan of the atrium Foster did at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, so of course I wanted to see the “original,” so to speak.  Foster’s first attempt at the technique was actually at the British Museum, and on our last day in London, the Brit and I decided to check it out.  Well, we made it over to that part of town around lunch time and were both really hungry.  I was determined to eat fish ‘n’ chips before I left England. We walked up and down three streets, apparently the only streets in London that don’t have a fish ‘n’ chips place or a pub, spent over an hour looking for a place and finally gave up.  We grabbed a quick lunch of baked potato and wandered back to the museum.  Guess what we found on the street right beside Foster’s masterpiece? Yes, a handful of pubs and fish ‘n’ chip joints.  Go figure.


The atrium at the British Museum. We checked out the actual exhibits, too. The English stole a lot of really nice ancient artifacts.

#7: Hyde Park. I did mention that it was surprisingly sunny and warm for late September when I visited London, right? The Brit and I went for a leisurely walk through Hyde Park, and as we both have incredibly sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), and it was such a gorgeous day, we nibbled on some ice cream as we made our way around the Serpentine.  Deliciously romantic.  When I told Roomie about it, she proposed a Flight of the Conchords analogy, though I’m not sure who is Bret and who is Jermaine…

Not my photo, but that's the park! Thoughts on Hyde vs. Central?

#8: Friends. I was definitely excited about visiting London, because as a design student visiting a new city is a fun way to add to your visual vocabulary. And, of course, I was excited about seeing the Brit after a five-month separation.  One thing I was slightly nervous about was meeting his friends, as anyone in a budding relationship will know. Especially when he told me I’d be meeting two of his oldest friends! But it all went well, no awkward conversations, a lot of joshing around and, as they say, taking the piss.  I think our two groups would mesh rather nicely, though the opportunity for that is a bit slim, since they’re separated by an ocean (or the Equator, in the case of Queen of the Lab).  There’s more to be said on this subject in the post about the next UK visit, as that was the primary goal of the trip.

#9: Slang. Of course, when you’re friends with or dating someone who speaks another language (yes, American English and UK English are different languages) or is from a different culture, you spend a bit of time discussing the socio-linguistic differences. I spent one incredibly funny evening in London hanging out with the Brit and one of his old friends discussing the actual definition of “douche” and the appropriate time to use the word.  Then I learned all kinds of terrible British slang, some of which should never be repeated (um, “wank tank”?), and some of which might come in handy one day.  For example, who knows what “chuffed” means?  Urban dictionary has it kind of right: to be surprised and happy, as in, “I can’t believe I won the lottery, I’m so chuffed!”

#10: Food. And if you know me well enough, you know I can’t visit a place without talking about their food.  The highlights of cheap London dining are as follows. Sandwich places are delicious, the English have mastered the salad sandwich, i.e. chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad.  They even have chicken tandoori sandwiches, which just sounds wrong, but tastes sooooo good.  The Brit’s mom made us dinner most nights, and it was nice to have some home-cooking (delicious at that) to break up the daily eating out; she made a variety of things, from this Asian-inspired chicken dish to a casserole-esque dish. I don’t know what they were called, I just know they were yummy.  Oh, and at one point we ate out at this South American restaurant, where for £12 we got the largest meal in the world: a steak with an egg on top, lots of rice, salad, beans.  It was iHop sized. The steak was cooked just right.

Well that’s the round-up of the first London trip.  It was quite whirlwind, we covered a bit of ground (physically and topically) in only 4 days. I was sad to leave, but as soon as I saw the Eiffel tower on my way to the apartment, things started to pick back up.

Next time, on Jumping over the lazy dog: Amrita has her first full week of teaching. Dun dun dun.

Filed under: Around the world, , , , , , , ,

Breaking News: 42 is NOT the answer.

The Real Pursuit of Happiness

The Real Pursuit of Happiness

The answer is…happiness. Or at least, that’s what I gather from reading The Alchemist.  If you recall, this was one of the books on my Summer Reading List.  It’s the second book I’ve read on that list, which means I’m not exactly going in order, but never fear, by the time I leave for France I’m sure to have finished them all.

This book was added to the list for two reasons.  Reason the first: someone had mentioned it last semester, I can’t remember when, or where, or who, or why, but the title had been floating around my head for a while.

Reason the second: the Beau and I were looking for things to do and we decided to read a book together over summer. Coincidentally, one of his friends had mentioned this book and so we thought we’d give it a go. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if he and I weren’t reading it together – there were plenty of other books that I had already purchased, waiting on my shelf, but I’m glad we picked this one because has it led to some of the best conversations I’ve had in a while.

You should know, before I go any further, that while reading this book I was also reading The 4-Hour Workweek. These two books might seem dissimilar at first, but I found myself nodding in agreement to points made in both books.  Reading one book influenced my perceptions of the other, certainly, but I believe that the two have a fundamental commonality: they want the reader to really, seriously consider the choices the have made and continue to make, the reasons for these choices and whether or not their choices bring them happiness.  Not contentment, but happiness.

Contentment is laziness.  It is a passive status that is nothing but a muted substitute for real happiness.  At the end of my edition of The Alchemist, an interview with the author shares his thoughts on living in stagnancy.  He says:

Once someone asked me, “What do you want to be your epitaph?” [on your tombstone].  So I said, “Paul Coelho died while he was alive.”  The person said, “Why this epitaph? Everybody dies when he or she is alive.”  I said, “No, this is not true.” The same pattern repeating and over again, you are not alive anymore.

To die alive is to take risks.  To pay your price.  To do something that sometimes scares you but you should do because you may like or may not like.

To live, then, is to actively pursue Something.  I believe that happiness is this Something we all want to pursue, but we are reluctant to take the risks Coelho cites, since contentment is an easier (albeit paler) achievement.

In The 4-Hour Workweek, a book seemingly about get-rich-quick schemes, Ferriss recognizes that while money is important, it is only important in that it allows you to spend your time in the pursuit of happiness.  That is, money itself will not make you happy, but having money can allow you to pursue that which will make you happy, or at the very least, make it easier to pursue that happiness.  Even Santiago had to recover the gold stolen from him in order to make it to the pyramids and achieve his Personal Legend.

Which brings me to the biggest question the two books ask: what will make you  happy?  What is your Personal Legend? Another blogger has written an interesting post on the role of the Personal Legend in the book and in her own life.  In reading The Alchemist, it’s impossible not to think of your own history, to search out any Kings of Salem you may have met, any magical stones you might have overlooked.  I spent a great portion of my junior year as an undergraduate questioning whether I was in the right field, pursuing the right goals, whether architecture would make me happy.

It’s not as though any lightbulbs illuminated above my head after reading these two books, but an affirmation of my current position in life and the routes I was pursuing slowly crept over me.  I used to worry that the goals I was setting up for myself were not my goals at all, but were aspirations impressed upon me by society and my own stubbornness to not veer from a path once it was selected.  I decided I wanted to be an architect when I was 13 – how could I have possibly known that’s the route that would make me happy?  And then I realized, having been on the path for eight years, not once has it made me unhappy.  I am never complacent, because architecture places continually places challenges in front of me.  In that way, I am never content, but forever in the pursuit of happiness.  Every moment is an opportunity to make a choice, to decide to take the risks that will get me through my Personal Legend.

And most importantly, I’ve realized that the path of a Personal Legend is never straight.  It is not the prescribed life: no white picket fence and 2.5 kids for me.  Taking risks: exploring Europe by myself for three weeks, transplanting myself to another country for seven months, eating my own cooking.  A meandering path that will lead me to those people meant to help me on my way.  I have only to recognize them when we meet.

Filed under: Close to home, Read all about it, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The search is over!

A while ago I made a post about the trials and tribulations of long-distance apartment-hunting, or as I fondly referred to it, LDAH.  Turns out, all it took was sheer luck.

My aunt and uncle recently (I say recently, but it was probably more than two years ago) moved to a small town in southern India called Coonoor.  Their neighbors include the usual assortment of monkeys, wild buffalo, and tea fields, but also, surprisingly, an art community and a couple of Francophones. And that’s how I finally found accommodation in Paris: I’ll be renting a room from my (beware: long winded explaination ahead) mom’s sister’s husband’s French friend’s mother.  Whew!

My 12m2 room is in the 5e arrondissement, which is wonderful on many accounts.

  1. It’s the oldest part of the city, as it was built by the Romans waaaaaay back in the day but then overhauled over time, which means a quick walk around my quartier has me gazing upon a veritable history of architecture, from the Panthéon (completed in 1789) to the Institue du Monde Arab (a Jean Nouvel building, completed in 1987).
  2. It’s where the learning’s at, pardon my butchering of the English language. The Sorbonne calls the 5e home.  Hopefully, that means there will be all kinds of wide-eyed French undergraduates looking to learn a bit of English on the side, and more than willing to fork over the 15€ per hour I’ve been told I can charge.
  3. It’s on the banks of the Seine itself.  Which means nice long walks along the river front, thoughtfully nibbling on a pain au chocolat as I ponder the mystical effects of Rive Gauche on the intellectual growth of Paris.  Ooh là là.

Nouvels IMA buildings apertures dont work, but theyre still beautiful!

Nouvel's IMA building's apertures don't work, but they're still beautiful!

The room itself is not a shabby deal:

  1. It’s a 12m2 room *with* a private bath! As opposed to a 9m2 room, which is what I would be paying an arm and a leg for otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, this room I’m renting is going to stretch my budget, but the extra cubic feet of air I’m getting is quite worth it.
  2. One (hyphenated) word: rez-de-chaussée. No flights of stairs up which I must drag my suitcases.  Sweet.
  3. Apparently, it comes with a view to the courtyard.  As my readings in last semester’s Design Theory and Research class taught me, nothing better than a view to nature to perk up the drooping soul.
  4. Did I mention my room comes with a piano? No excuses now, I’ve got to practice with all that free time I’ll have. Hmm…and maybe get some beginner piano students?

The only downside I’m currently forseeing is the length of my commute.  It’s going to be at least an hour from door to door, since the RER E line that I’m supposed to take to Roissy-en-Brie is in Rive Droite, which means I have to take another 20 minute metro ride to connect to the E and a 30 min ride to get to Roissy-en-Brie…but I did an hour commute (Reston to Georgetown) all last summer, and at least this way I can catch up on some more reading.

I’m not sure how much CAF will refund me for this place, but any money I get back will be a blessing, so it’s not something I’m counting on (i.e. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that I’ll have to find a way to make extra cash to make ends meet).

Still to do on the to-do-before-I-leave-for-France list: figure out how cellphones work in Europe, get more info on Bank of America’s international plans, have my birth certificate translated to French, gather teaching materials, and apply for design jobs in Paris.  At least I won’t be homeless when I get there!

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , ,

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