Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

City mouse, country mouse

My internet-silence these last few days is not because I’ve given up on this blog, but because I was taking a much needed vacation of sorts.  Now, you might be wondering why someone who is supposedly on summer break needs a break from said summer break (how’s that for a tongue-twister?), but sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation.  Life gets routine, even when you’re not in the midst of academic deadlines, and between studying for the GRE and early-mornings at the gym, my summer schedule has been pretty monotonous.

Lounging around on a lazy Saturday with puppies and a groomsman

Lounging around on a lazy Saturday with puppies and a groomsman

So this weekend I went to a wedding.  My friend’s sister got hitched at Beautiful Run Farm near Charlottesville, Virginia, and I’ve spent the last few days soaking in the sun by the pool, puppy-sitting and playing volleyball under a lightening storm.  My stay out on the farm was a very welcome respite from “city-living” – that is, the work-work-work atmosphere that’s reflective of busy-bodies that flock to the city (aka, me).  Granted, the City mouse learned that when you live out in the country, you still have to work, and don’t get me wrong – I was put to work. I got my hands dirty hauling supplies and setting tables for the wedding, making flower arrangements and putting up signs directing guests to the farm.  But all that hard work was more than worth the pool-lounging, sun-soaking, relaxing atmosphere that I found out in the middle of nowhere.

The bridal party takes a quick huddle during the wedding rehersal at Beautiful Run Farm.

The bridal party breaks for a quick huddle during the wedding rehearsal at Beautiful Run Farm.

The drive to the farm is about two and a half hours, door to door. But when I arrived at the farm on Thursday it felt as though I had been teleported into another reality, a world so much more vivid than the one I had just driven through.  And the moment I stepped off the farm on Sunday afternoon, I was once again in a more muted world, as though my sunglasses were tinted grey.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that you sometimes need a physical distance in order to liberate yourself from whatever mundanity your life has fallen into.

I felt that when I traveled in Europe, alone, wandering without a cellphone for three weeks, no laptop and paying a couple of euros twice a week to shoot emails to my parents.  Being untethered is a fantastic feeling, and I’m happy I got a chance to taste a bit of freedom this past weekend.  I’ve promised myself to take some more mini-vacations this summer.  They seem to rejuvenate me much more than any reading or painting ever does (perhaps because while I read and paint for fun, they’re also inexorably tied to my chosen profession – architecture and research). Hobbies that are too close to home, or work, as it were, aren’t quite hobbies after all, I suppose.

This rejuvenation is quite hedonistic, some might say, taking time to do nothing but enjoy living (through good food, good friends, good conversation, good atmosphere).  I see it as rather meditative.  It allows me to clear my mind from the clutters of every day life so that when I return, I return with more focus, more determination, and hopefully with an end in sight, i.e. the next retreat.

Filed under: Around the world, Close to home, , , , , , , , ,

Roissy-en-Brie and gay Par-ee

Mairie de Roissy-en-Brie

Mairie de Roissy-en-Brie

After a long drought of communication (read, since April), my inbox is now filled with emails from the French Embassy and their compatriots on the other side of the pond.  This is a good thing.

I now know that I will be teaching 15-18 year-olds at the Lycée Charles le Chauve in Roissy-en-Brie, a town 30 minutes from Gare du Nord in Paris, from October 1st until April 30th.

I, of course, as an information-searching nut, went online and scoured the internet for any dirt I could gather on Roissy-en-Brie and the lycée, as soon as I received the email.  And here’s what I learnt learned:  Roissy-en-Brie is a lot like Fontainebleau, minus the château. So it’s pretty, and close to Paris, and has outdoorsy things to do like hunt in the woods by following dirt trails and trees marked with street names, and quaint downtown streets with cafés that charge an arm for 3 boules de glace.

The lycée‘s website gave a bit of insight into the titular Charles, but was not as forthcoming with information about the English program.  It seems, however, that they have a fantastic music program, and it might be nice to get back into some piano playing – perhaps I can learn some contemporary American pop pieces to share with the class.

Speaking of the class, I’m slightly terrified of teaching 15-18 year olds. I mean, I’m turning 22 in October, so that makes me what…4 years older than the oldest and 7 years older than the youngest of the bunch? How much did I respect the young-ish teachers when I was in high school? Well, I do recall wondering if they knew what they were doing (*cough* and harboring crushes on the younger male teachers *cough*)…do *I* know what I’m doing?

I’ve tutored kids before, and TA’d 2 university-level courses, even come up with lectures for both and led discussions…I suppose it shouldn’t be too difficult to translate that for a high-school audience, since the students I was working with at uni were 18-20-year-olds. I read (in my pursuit of all things France-and-teaching-related) that it helps to set your foot down at the beginning of class: only English in the classroom, no disrespect, strict grader, etc., etc. Which makes sense – once a push-over, always a push-over.  And that shouldn’t be too difficult for me anyway, as I tend to expect a lot of other people, mostly because I expect a lot of myself.  I think deep down I want to be that tough professor that everyone hates and loves at the same time.  Some of my best professors have really made me work for their approval (hmm, there might be some psychology to this worth exploring), and didn’t Colton say that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery?

Anyway, it seems the easy part is over: I got the gig.  Now I just have to get my visa, book my flight, figure out health insurance, get travelers insurance, find a second job, get a French bank account, fill out more paperwork, get a French cellphone and find some place to stay.  Oh, and breathe.

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


No tour of Roanoke is complete without a visit to the Star...

No tour of Roanoke is complete without a visit to the Star...

In an effort to slowly whittle away at the enormous Travel Bug nibbling on my back à la Land of the Lost, I took a mini-trip to a local landmark: The Roanoke Star.

When my family first moved to Roanoke (well, technically to Salem), I was seven years old.  For the next five years, I remember enduring endless trips to the Star with every new wave of visiting relatives.  So many trips, in fact, that I refused to visit the Star any more.  This pilgrimage marks my first trip to Mill Mountain in nine years.  I thought I’d make a day of it, so I invited a friend along for a short tour of Mill Mountain Zoo followed by an even shorter hike to the Star.

If I’m honest, this trip was as much a desire to visit these local spots one last time as it was a desire to find subjects to photograph.  And there was no shortage of interesting subjects even in this small zoo! This shoot reminded me how much I love photographing animals and children, because the challenges of capturing a moment are well worth the rewards: glimpses into the psyche of beings that communicate with their eyes rather than their tongues.

A couple of facts about the Star, for those not natives of this valley:

  • It is the largest free-standing illuminated man-made star in the world, soaring above the valley, 100 feet tall and 10,000 lbs heavy!
  • Built in 1949 to kick off the Christmas season, the Star was intended as a permanent structure, though engineers weren’t sure if they could keep it lit after the season ended – turns out, they could!
  • Normally illuminated in red, white and blue, the Star had been used to signal a traffic fatality or drunk driving accident in the Roanoke Valley when it glowed red.  In April 2007, the Star glowed white to mark the April 16th Virginia Tech Massacre.
  • For those interested in the views from the Star look-out point, you can follow the Star Cam: it’s mounted directly on the Star and refreshes every 15-seconds for your viewing pleasure.

So here are a couple of photographs from our expedition, from a hornbill that liked to ham it up, to the ever-elusive Amrita, caught…surfboarding on a bench?

Filed under: Around the world, Close to home, , , , , , ,

Oh the places I will go!

Specialists at the Travel Channel have identified my genre of Travel Bug and offered suggestions for treatment. They say my symptoms are characteristic of the Explorer subset, that my travel-persona is a “mind-blowing combination” of organized, intuitive, sensitive, quiet and determined and I should be ware that I “occasionally freak people out.”  My symptoms become more prominent when I: step off the beaten path (as I am wont to do), start feeling the bubbly sensations of a dream come true, and get the all-over shivers upon viewing a spectacular sunset (or sunrise, as was in Carcassonne).

This was my last view of the city as I trekked down the hill to catch my early, earely train.

My last view of the city as I trekked down the hill to catch my early train.

I am quite happy to follow the specialist’s recommendation of  a regular dose of Anthony Bordain: No Reservations and will promptly make plans for Road Trip USA.  In the mean time, here’s my prescription, a running list of exciting remedies I ought to visit to alleviate (or perhaps aggravate) my buggy issue, in no particular order.

  1. Florence, Italy
  2. Venice, Italy
  3. New Delhi, India
  4. London, England
  5. Loire Valley, France
  6. Prague, Czech Republic
  7. Vienna, Austria
  8. Edinburgh, Scotland
  9. Dublin, Ireland
  10. Tokyo, Japan
  11. Shanghai, China
  12. Dubai, U.A.E.
  13. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  14. Strasbourg, France
  15. Zurich, Switzerland

Filed under: Around the world, ,

Spontaneous wanderlustion*, or, these boots were made for walking.

I’ve been weeding through old magazines and stumbled upon this article in the January 2009 issue of O. As I read the piece I had a moment of déjà vu, as I was struck, once again, with a strong desire to move, to get out, to feel this freedom that Hutton found in Paris. When I first read the piece almost six months ago, it had been six months since my last journey, a three-week solo expedition to Europe. Now, almost a year later, my feet are itching to get on the road, my taste buds craving a the crackly crust and gooey filling of pain au chocolat, my neck craving the crick you can only get after spending your time watching movies on an impossibly positioned screen during a six-hour flight (okay, maybe not that last one).

I felt a certain kind of peace in these craggy trees mounted with battered road signs directing wanderers further into nowhere.

I felt a certain kind of peace in these spindly trees mounted with battered road signs directing wanderers further into nowhere. (Fontainebleau, France)

Is this wanderlust something that strikes every twenty-something?  Or perhaps every twenty-something of my generation? It hasn’t struck my brother: he’d much rather be indoors playing Rock Band (a wonderful game that even I, a techno-failure, can enjoy) than gallivanting off for a quick tour of the Netherlands.  Am I predisposed, then, in some way, to this condition?  My aunt and uncle have been travelers their whole lives, and I recall even as a child being in awe of the photographs my uncle projected onto the white screen set up in my grandmother’s apartment in Bombay.  There must be something of a traveler-gene, not so much a bug, that managed to skip sideways a generation: my parents don’t seem as infatuated with wandering as I am, either.

What I admired particularly about Hutton’s tale is its spontaneity.  I’m a spontaneous person…when not dealing with a shrinking bank account, rising gas prices and my parents’ roof over my head.  There’s a fine line between a life of spontaneity and a weekend of financial suicide (I don’t, for example, have $7000 to blow on a $2000 per night room at the Ritz in Paris).  Eco-friendly travel ought to stand for economy-friendly travel. Yeah, sure, I want to help the earth – but I could use some tips on how to do it while traveling cheaply!

For the time being, I suppose I’ll have to console myself by remembering meandering through Paris’ City of the Dead and dancing on houseboats until 3AM in Lyon…and maybe taking a quick hop skip and jump to Roanoke.

* That was supposed to be a little play on spontaneous combustion. It clearly failed.

Filed under: Around the world, Read all about it, , , , , , , , , ,