Mindset for the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! This time of year is always self-reflective, and I’ve been rereading some old favorites as a way to reset my mindset for 2018. Among these:

  • Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
    I really admire Kleon’s writing (particularly his blog posts, which are a breath of fresh air whenever I’m in a creative funk), and this book offers solid advice on how to stop overthinking and get back into making art and sharing it.
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer
    Langer’s research is insightful and in-depth, and I definitely recommend reading this book for yourself. What resonated with me most on this reread was the recurring theme of focusing on process over product, including being aware of the decisions you make along the way. What an elegant way to shut down FOMO.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance
    There’s a lot to take away from this essay, but I keep coming back to, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.” It’s a good reminder that there is value in trusting your intuition and letting yourself pursue what matters to you, without worrying about what others may think.
  • Some Rules for Students and Teachers by Sister Corita Kent, inspired and popularized by John Cage
    My high school IB art program first introduced me to this list, and each point still rings true today. Right now I’m most drawn to rules four and nine: “Consider everything an experiment” and “Be happy whenever you can manage it.” Good reminders not to take life too seriously.

It’s harder to maintain this kind of exploratory, unapologetic mindset once the holidays are over and the daily demands of work and life set in, but I think it can be done. Here’s to creative confidence and enjoying the process in 2018!

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Cape Cod and Acadia National Park

This summer, my family took a road trip up to Cape Cod, MA and Acadia National Park, ME. This is the resulting travelogue.

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Glimpses of Russia

This summer I got the chance to visit my grandparents in Russia. My last trip there was a whole three years ago, and it was strange to see that everything is exactly as I remember it, even while I (as a person) have changed so much in the time that’s passed.

Russia is hard to describe. The people smile little, partly because that is the culture, but mostly because their lives are hard. The land, on the other hand, is expansive and open: endless rolling fields smattered with forests. Small villages dot the highway at intervals, but are increasingly empty as people scatter to cities to find different work than the back-breaking agricultural labor their forefathers carried out. The trolleybuses in the cities are full of these grim-faced crowds that work, and drink, and find love, and survive.

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Travel Sketchbook Snapshots

While studying abroad I kept an almost daily journal / sketchbook.
Here are some of my drawings.

Reflecting on Lyon

Last Sunday marks exactly one month since I came back from studying abroad in Lyon. I saw Katherine’s lovely reflection a while back and thought I should write one as well.

It was a transformative trip. Though at times it was tough to balance schoolwork with traveling and exploring Lyon, by the end I managed to figure things out and enjoy my time there. When signing up for this program, I was worried that six weeks would be too short a time to get to know a whole new city. I still don’t know Lyon as well as a local, but I have a slightly better understanding of the city and the mindset of the people who live there. Honestly, I’ve come to think of Lyon as another home.

I was lucky to find a group of friends with whom I could explore Vieux Lyon on a bank holiday or plan weekend excursions to Marseilles and Barcelona. At the start of the program, we talked excitedly about doing homework outside in the plazas or while sipping coffee in cafes. Unfortunately, the reality soon hit that we’d actually be spending a minimum of six hours at school each day: a two-hour morning class, an hour for lunch (not enough time to go far), a second two-hour class, and then at least another hour to work on homework and meet with our project groups. At times, I felt frustrated to be spending hours studying when all I wanted to do was get out and see Lyon! Weekends and scattered evenings out were not enough to get to know the city like a local.

Fountain

What snapped me out of my workaholic routine was my friend Jackie visiting from London. Suddenly, I was very aware that time was precious! I only had five days to spend with her and three of those I’d be in school. She explored on her own while I was in class, and afterwards we’d meet up and wander around Lyon in our own version of flânerie. One of my favorite memories from Jackie’s visit was when I had to study for a midterm exam for marketing. I’d spent at least an hour and a half lying on my bed reading through flashcards and skimming my notes while Jackie lay on the trundle bed and painted. I could feel myself sinking into the mattress with each minute that passed, and the air felt stifling. Abruptly, I threw my books down and asked – “Do you want to go for a run?” I lent Jackie a pair of shorts and we jogged down the apartment steps into the cool post-rain air. The ground was wet and the sky was pink and blue reflected in the Rhône river as sunset neared. We ran from Jean Macé almost to the city center at Hôtel de Ville, carrying nothing but the apartment keys. Just soaking it all in.

While Jackie was visiting, we made the most of every hour we had. After she left, I began to notice all the pockets of free time I had to spare. I thought about how many days passed with me sitting in my room studying while the city of Lyon bustled outside, and I resolved not to let another day slip away. I made a list of places I wanted to see, and set out to visit each one before my time abroad was up.* Doing that research and making a definite plan of what to do helped motivate me to set my homework aside and go out while museums were open (most close at 6pm, gift shops and all) and the sun was still out. I knew I could get all my assignments done in the evening. I only wish I could be that productive back home in New York and Boston!

MetroAs Katherine mentioned, Lyon’s super-punctual metro system and our unlimited metro passes were a blessing for exploring the city and being able to go anywhere in the city on a whim. But even further, being able to speak and understand French was what really opened the city’s doors to me. When eating out in restaurants with my friends, I often acted as group translator – helping explain the menu items to the best of my ability and asking for vegetarian options for my friends. I could also go to museums like the Institut Lumière without worrying about the lack of English captions.

JoranneEtCha2One of my favorite parts of the trip was one such French-only event: I went to the Lyon BD [Comic] Festival and had the chance to see an interview with webcomic artist Boulet! While I was there, I also got to chat with two other young artists – Joranne and Chakare. They were super cool and fun to talk to (though we had to switch to English because I was having trouble finding the right words in French) – turns out they had recently been to New York, as a matter of fact! They even signed and drew in the copy of Petites choses du Japon that I bought from them; I love the little “hen”/”haine” pun.. Meeting them was one of my absolute favorite parts of the trip, and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to go to the Festival BD! {Plus, I just saw that Chakare drew me in one of her comics – the jeune americaine is me! Merci beaucoup, Chakare, je me sens tellement honorée!}

Thanks to my new drive to explore, I started going to more places alone. Before, I’d often worried about not finding anyone on the trip that shared my interest in say, comics or graphic design, and I felt like a bit of a loser to be walking around on my own. But toward the end of the trip I came to understand that if I wanted to do things like the BD Festival, I’d have to go by myself. And what’s more – I realized that I didn’t mind breaking out on my own! When our schedules aligned, it was definitely fun to go places with friends – like visiting the Chamourai Cat Cafe with Olivia – but I realized I didn’t have to rely on having company to go out and do interesting things. Plus, exploring on my own let me recharge after a day of classes, and it was nice to embrace my quiet side.

I learned so much on this trip – not just in class, but about Lyon and about myself as well. I would say that I feel like a new person, but it’s more that I feel more fully me. Thanks to studying abroad I’ve had the chance to experience so many new things – from a local jazz club in Lyon, to a vintage market in Marseilles, to clubbing in Barcelona, to being surrounded by a thunderstorm at Lake Geneva. There have been times of amazing fun and incredible frustration, but I am so glad I had the chance to go through all of them.

Before the farewell dinner on our last day in Lyon, I went up to Vieux Lyon and La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière one last time to say goodbye to the city. The basilica stands on a hill overlooking the city – like a protector – and it felt only right to say thanks to her for watching over the city and over us students. I felt peaceful as I looked out over the Lyon skyline… even though I then had to run to catch the funicular down and find the restaurant for dinner. Though I definitely miss Lyon, I don’t feel sad about leaving the city. It feels like a fact that I will come back one day.

Panorama


*P.S. Here is my list of what I simply had to do and see in Lyon:

Geneva

Whoever told me that there is nothing to do in Geneva was greatly mistaken – there are loads of things to do in Geneva! The question is: do you have enough time to do them? On our day and a half trip to the city, we found ourselves fighting the time constraint at every step.

Our trip also did not start off according to plan. We had hoped to leave for Geneva early Friday afternoon, but then found out our company visit time slot required us to push our plans forward to leave in the evening and arrive in Geneva at 9pm. We got back from the company visit (which I really enjoyed!) and immediately had to get ready, and in our distraction we didn’t think to bring our passports with us on the trip. Actually, that’s not true – I even checked online whether passports were required to enter Switzerland and saw that it said yes, but convinced myself that the rule was about entering from outside the Schengen area. After all, going from Lyon to Barcelona we hadn’t needed passports since both countries are part of the Schengen area, within which there are effectively “no borders” (especially if you are an EU citizen).

However, Switzerland is more strict about their border control, as we found out at the bus station twenty minutes before our departure. The lady at the Eurolines register was very kind but firm on the fact that we absolutely had to have our passports. She even offered to have the bus wait for us for 5 minutes, but unfortunately there was just barely not enough time for us to rush back to our dorms, grab our documents, and return in time to catch the bus. Frustrated with ourselves, we paid a small fee and changed our tickets to arrive at 11am the next morning and return Sunday afternoon. On the plus side, we now had the chance to get most of our homework done before traveling, but it was still an inconvenient change of plans.

Saturday morning arrived, and after quadruple-checking that we had our passports this time, we successfully rode the bus to Geneva. And as it turned out, there was simply no way we would have gotten away with just photocopies of our passports – we got checked by passport control three times!

Visiting CERN

Finally, we arrived in Geneva and met up with our two friends who had gotten there the night before (though they’d also missed their first train). We started our day by taking the tram to CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) – which is a little bit outside of the city. Alas, when we got there we learned that the part open to visitors is closed for technical maintenance until the start of 2016! They definitely could have put that little bit of information on their website. It was still cool to see the big dome that is the Globe of Science and Innovation, and the mobius strip-like steel sculpture called “Wandering the immeasurable,” which is inscribed with 396 important discoveries in physics (each written in their language of origin).

Touring the UN

After another tram ride, we arrived at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva! It was definitely an impressive-looking building – all those flags!

Across from the UN is the Broken Chair sculpture, which is dedicated to landmine victims and was commissioned by Handicap International to urge all countries to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. It is an unusual sculpture, and I really appreciated it – the shattered and splintered chair leg is jarringly evocative.

After some trouble finding the visitors’ entrance (we had to walk past the Musée Ariana to get to the Palais des Nations) we took a guided tour of the UN, where we got to see four conference rooms:

    Conference Hall
Room XX – The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room  
The Council Chamber
 The Assembly Hall

Room XX used to be nicknamed the “Swiss Room” because its all-white decor made it completely neutral. Now, the cave-like ceiling decorations created by a Spanish artist make the room decidedly not neutral, and apparently the artwork has been the source of some controversy of opinions among the delegates. I rather like the colorful ceiling, but some find it distracting.

In the Council Chamber, each wall depicts a stage in the development of human society, and the destructive effects of international war. The ceiling depicts a representation of international cooperation. My favorite part of this room was the pair of brass doors on either end of the chamber, which are used during diplomatic disputes so that both countries’ delegates can enter and exit the room at the same time and thus be given equal respect. It seems silly that a key part of diplomacy is protecting the egos of the countries involved; as far as we have come as a society, I guess we’ll never escape the fact that we are only human.

I also learned that the Palais des Nations was formerly home to the League of Nations! In fact, all of the doors in that building still bear the French/English logo of the LN (or, in French, SN for Société des Nations).

Overall I was surprised at how interesting and informative the tour was. I wasn’t really expecting it to be, because when we were touring there were no committees in session (in fact I believe they no longer allow the public to observe those meetings for security reasons), so we were just looking around an empty-ish building. If you want to be literal, the UN office is just a fancy convention center for government representatives; the buildings themselves are not imbued with any sort of innate diplomatic power, and the organization and its workers do not actually make decisions – they serve to facilitate the conferences.

However, after some reflection I realized that thinking about the UN like that doesn’t do justice to the importance and magnitude of the international cooperation efforts that take place there. These days we take it for granted that the governments of different countries around the world work together to try to peacefully make decisions and resolve conflicts, but that is still a monumental achievement for humanity and this visit to the UN definitely reminded me of that.

Cooling Off in Lake Geneva

After several hours in the July heat, our next goal was to take a swim in Lake Geneva (which I learned is actually called Lac Léman). It took us yet more time to get back to our airbnb and then find a tram to the beach; and we also had to make a detour to withdraw some more swiss francs, as Geneva is about twice as expensive than Lyon!

We arrived at the lake just in time to swim a bit and then watch the sunset, which was stunning with the Alps in the background.

Geneva weather is capricious since the city is in a sort of microclimate caused by the surrounding mountains, and soon after the sun went down a huge thunderstorm rolled in. There was lightning on either side of us, and towering clouds overhead but no rain. Soon the wind picked up so much that Geneva’s landmark Jet d’Eau was shut down right as we walked past it (although apparently they turn it off every night, so it’s not that big a deal).

A Tour of the City

Our plan for Sunday morning was to hike up Mont Salève, take in the view of the city below, and then take the cable car down. Unfortunately, we had a late start to the morning and then lost 40 minutes getting on the tram headed in the wrong direction. With time ticking away, Olivia and I decided that we would rather try to explore some of the Geneva city center (since we hadn’t done much of that the day before – CERN and the UN were on opposite edges of the city, so most of our views of the town were from the tram or at walking through the empty streets at night). But of course, this being a Sunday, all of the shops were closed.
We did end up finding an outdoor trinket market, and stumbled on a statue of Frankenstein’s monster!

IMG_8158Plus, we saw the large flower clock in the English Garden by the river. Its second hand is 2.5m long – the largest in the world! Since it’s in Switzerland, there are a lot of watchmakers in Geneva, so we did some dutiful window-shopping for watches.

Our biggest regret was that we couldn’t find a chocolate shop that was open on a Sunday, but we were able to stock up on Swiss chocolates from a souvenir shack by the river. So far, I haven’t actually tried any of the chocolate I bought – I only bought enough to give to my friends back in the U.S. so hopefully I’ll try some then!

The bus ride back home to Lyon was much less stressful than the one coming here. In fact, there were only four people on the entire bus, including Olivia and me! It seemed like there is just one bus that drives a circuit back and forth from Lyon to Geneva Airport to Geneva and back again; I guess our trip time wasn’t a very popular one. They also played a great movie called Billy Elliot on the bus that had me on the edge of my seat for the whole trip. And of course, I was able to see some beautiful views of Switzerland from the window.

    

Overall, this was not my favorite trip that I’ve had on the Lyon study abroad, but on the whole it was cool to see what we did and visit some very important sites like CERN and the UN. I don’t know if I would come back to Geneva for a vacation, but I would definitely like to return to Switzerland and hopefully do some hiking in the beautiful Alps!

3 Days in Barcelona

A few weekends ago was my first time ever traveling to Spain – specifically to Barcelona. I really didn’t know what to expect. As evidenced by my studying abroad in Lyon and studying French in school, I’ve always been somewhat of a Francophile and so my knowledge of Spanish culture is unfortunately fairly limited. I was excited to finally learn more about Spain, and I absolutely loved the experience! We spent three days there, so I’ll just give you some of the highlights of my favorite things from the trip.

Here are the top 7 things you should definitely do if you visit Barcelona:

1. Visit the Sagrada Familia

After reading Katherine’s rave review of the church and its wondrous stained glass, I was really excited to see the Sagrada Familia. We had to choose a time slot in advance when buying tickets, so we chose a time when the sun would still be up (so we could get the full effect of the stained glass), and then spent the time in between back on the beach. I was absolutely blown away by the Sagrada Familia. Though the outside somewhat resembles a sand castle, the interior is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The graceful, almost organic-looking vaulted ceiling and columns look unreal – like something from a video game landscape or from another dimension entirely. It’s hard to believe that the architecture was designed by just one man – Antoni Gaudi. The sheer detail and originality of the church is awe-inspiring; I keep trying to imagine what it would feel like to be so inspired as to be able to create such a building. I really don’t have enough words to describe what it was like to see this church – the play of light and space inside the building took my breath away at each step. And of course, the photos don’t nearly do it justice; you have to go there and experience what it is like being inside of such an architectural masterpiece. Once you’ve picked your jaw up off of the floor after visiting the Sagrada familia, you should go fill your stomach and..

2. Eat Tapas and Paella

For all that Lyon is the gastronomical capital of France, and France the cuisine capital of the world, I have to say that I actually enjoyed Spanish food more. Barcelona’s location on the Mediterranean means that the seafood is amazing, and all the local restaurants we ate at totally blew me away. The first Spanish dish we tried were tapas, which are small plates of appetizers that you order for the table – for the seven of us, we ordered about eight different tapas and shared them. My personal favorites: Spanish bread, calamari, potatoes, and stuffed peppers. I wish I had the menu to recommend things more specifically – my mouth is watering just writing about that meal! We first ate tapas at El Tastet de l’Artur, which is a few blocks from the Sagrada Familia, and the meal was absolutely excellent – and not too expensive for us college students! The other food not to miss is paella – a seafood rice dish that is traditional in Spain. We ate at the Restaurante Cheriff by the Barceloneta beach, and according to TripAdvisor and Yelp, lots of locals come here for lunch so that’s what we did too. The service was incredibly friendly, the food was delicious – as was the cava sparkling Spanish wine. We ordered two paella dishes – one with Moroccan spiny green lobster and the other the Cheriff special dish. I only wish I could eat like this every day. 3. Swim in the Mediterranean

And what’s better after delicious food than a swim? After weeks in land-locked Lyon, this one was a no-brainer for us. The beaches in Barcelona are lovely – the sand is soft, the water is clear, and there are pleasant boardwalks near the water as well. Our go-to spot was the Barceloneta beach, which has a long stretch of beach and is easily accessible by metro. The first day we arrived, we spent the morning watching the sunset and napping on the beach – what could be better than that? When we did swim however, the water was a little cold so we called it refreshing. Maybe it would be warmer later on in the summer? 4. Go Clubbing

At night is when Barcelona’s true spirit shows: the clubbing scene is an essential part of Barcelona’s personality, and the partiers do indeed party hard. Clubs open around 12, but as we found out, the fun only starts around 2 or 3 in the morning and goes until 6am or even later at the post-club parties. When we first arrived in Barcelona at about 7am, we passed groups of people only just walking home after a “night” out. Now, I have to emphasize that I am not a “clubbing person.” The idea of dancing with a bunch of sweaty, likely-intoxicated strangers holds very little appeal for me. But with Barcelona’s reputation as one of the best cities to go clubbing, I figured that to truly experience the city I ought to at least try going to a club. Barcelona’s beach clubs are pretty famous, but they are also fairly pricey and since most of our group was not really sure how we felt about the idea of clubbing, we opted to go to the Sala Razzmatazz, which had a reasonable entrance fee and also boasted four rooms with different types of music in each. My favorite rooms were probably the techno/electro room (which had cool laser lighting and near-earsplitting bass), and the pop music room, which played some familiar songsIMG_6247 and was thus familiar territory. The large club felt a little like a maze to navigate, but overall it was definitely a cool experience. It felt a little surreal with the smoke machines and bright neon lighting in each room – almost like a dream. My favorite part of the night was getting a surprise live concert of a local band! Overall, I’m not sure that going to clubs is really for me, but it was fun going with a group of friends I knew and experiencing the all-night party culture of Barcelona! I definitely feel like I got to know the city a little better as a result.

5. Stop by the Picasso Museum

If you’re looking for an afternoon activity after you’ve slept off the party, the Museu Picasso is free every Sunday after 3pm. We were told the line would be 2 hours long, but it ended up being half of that, and it was definitely worth it. The museum does a great job showing Picasso’s progression from more academic art to his experiments with different styles, from brief impressionism and small cartoons, to his later (and most famous) Cubist style. I’m personally not a huge fan of Picasso, but I still really enjoyed the insight into his stylistic development and his thought process. My favorite part of the exhibition was the set of something like thirty studies he did for one painting (the name of which escapes me, unfortunately).

6. Explore the Museu D’Història De Catalunya

Another museum that is a must-see is the History Museum of Catalunya. I think this is the best history museum that I have ever been to, in any country. Mainly because, in addition to giving a very thorough insight into the history of the region – from the paleolithic times to modern day – the museum was thoroughly interactive. With interactive water-wheels, suits of armor, movies, and other exhibits, I felt really immersed in the information presented. It was really fun to try carrying a grain jug the way the ancient civilizations did, to feel the weight and imagine the bustling market around me. The more modern section of the museum was super interesting as well, though we had to rush through it somewhat since we came close to closing time. If you go here, definitely allot at least 2 and a half hours to take your time seeing the wonderful exhibits.

7. See the Font Màgica

If you’re looking for a way to unwind after a busy trip, the Font Màgica is perfect. I’ll admit that I was initially a bit skeptical about the so-called “Magic Fountain” of Montjuïc. I’ve seen a couple of light+water+music shows in places like Las Vegas, so I couldn’t really imagine how this one would be different. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised, though! The fountain was mesmerizing, alternating from soft, cloud-like sprays to regimented spouts that arched through the air. Combined with the shifting colorful lights and the elegant music, it was a really elegant performance – almost like water ballet. Watching the fountain was a relaxing end to a busy day, and I’d definitely recommend seeing the show even if it is a little out of the way from most other attractions in Barcelona. I really loved our visit to Barcelona, and I would jump at the chance to go to Spain again. It was quite a bit of work to plan such a (comparatively) long trip, and though we missed some things, I’d say that on the whole the experience was a resounding success!