Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Moment In… Tokyo

Summer classes ended over a week ago and they start back up two weeks from today. In the last few days, I’ve been almost struck by lightning (ok fine, more like I watched it strike a tree very nearby and that is as close as I ever need to get to being hit, thank you very much), and then – five minutes before the power came back on (after being out for five hours), I found a four-leaf clover. Just sayin’ (yeah yeah, probably means shit, but lighten up people  – it’s still summer!).

I’ve decided life can be just as crazy when I’m not traveling. There is no calm before this storm, there is only storm; my “vacation” has become a whirlwind of to-do lists. With my sister’s wedding fast-approaching (it’s this weekend! WHOOHOO) I figured I should take a quick moment on TwT to escape it all and travel the farthest away that I have ever been: TOKYO, JAPAN.

You enjoy this post while I put the final touches on my Maid of Honor speech. Oh, and feel free to share your impressions of Tokyo as a comment if you’ve been!

Shibuya at night.

Tokyo is one of those places that somehow manages to combine two opposite worlds into one. In a lot of ways, it encompasses everything I dislike about NYC (Times Square — the lights, the chaos, the crowds, the fluorescent, constant noise), which is then multiplied by ten and covered in an indecipherable (to me) script, making it all the more noisy. Yet, at the same time, it is a city speckled with beautiful, clean and simple Shinto shrines that stand high above the fuss, stoic and strong. The chaos of modern Tokyo life is woven gently into the fabric of a very beautiful Japanese history, and somehow, in Tokyo, it works.

Temple near Ueno Park. (Notice the man passed out on the rooftop?)

Prayers from locals and travelers dangle on wooden postcards outside a shrine in Tokyo.

Tokyo train. You spend many hours hopping around the city on public transportation, and usually a random Japanese person sitting next to you falls asleep on your shoulder.

Me (circa 2006) with one of many very delicious udon soup bowls that drew me into a cozy Japanese bubble when the dreary February air made me want to run away.

Street near Ueno Park. Tokyo.

A fountain outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Japanese kimonos for sale on a street in Tokyo.

Paper lantern outside an Asakusa temple.

One day, I ventured to the Asakusa Senso-Ji temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo) for a morning away from the modern side of the city. The smell of incense wafted through the damp February air, and people entered each temple barefoot to pray before monks and admire the beautiful Buddhist artwork.

Approaching the Central Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Central Asakusa Temple. Tokyo.

One of the coolest things about going somewhere like Japan is feeling inescapably like an outsider. In some countries, I can blend in seamlessly (well, almost). In others, like Japan, I wear my “visitor” card like a name tag everywhere I go. But somewhere between the cups of hot sake, the confusing subway lines (you try finding your stop when it is written in Japanese script! Here’s a visual.), the quiet Shinto shrines, and the neon lights of Shibuya, there is a beautiful city that can be just as quiet and zen as it is loud and in-your-face.

Hopefully I can find that place right now, as I jump around in the pleasant chaos of this so-called summer “vacation.”

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A Moment In… Dolores, Argentina

I have decided to begin a new TwT tradition/series called “A Moment In…”

When I get that sudden urge to fly away, and my soul feels slightly deprived of travel and suddenly inundated with wanderlust, I will satisfy it here by taking a random travel moment gone by and writing a short photo-heavy post about it. This will be a shared series, and I welcome any and all contributions. (Just email me if you want to share your own Moment In…)

To kick off this new TwT series, I invite you to take a moment and join me at an estancia in…

DOLORES, ARGENTINA.

The adorable little table and chairs on the front porch of Estancia Dos Talas where my friend Shannon and I spent the morning sipping coffee and eating magdalena cookies before going for a walk. Dolores, Argentina.

After spending a month in Buenos Aires, my friend Shannon and I craved the country. We decided to escape the city hustle and bustle for a day on an estancia, or “estate,” two/three hours away, called Estancia Dos Talas. Argentines head to estancias where they can settle in for a lengthy asado (the traditional Argentine “BBQ” with every type of meat you can imagine), glass after glass of Malbec, cabalgatas (a horseback stroll through the countryside), and, of course, a cappuccino and medialuna (the Argentine equivalent of a croissant, which is slightly smaller and sweetened by a touch of honey and absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious) in the afternoon. I hope the photos below capture some of the tranquility and beauty of a weekend escape to Dolores, Argentina, when summer is right on the brink of becoming fall…

Shannon approaches the Estancia. Dolores, Argentina.

The estancia's on-site chapel, built in honor of the daughter of the owners, who died in a car crash while visiting her favorite place in the world: Paris. Dolores, Argentina.

Horse. Estancia in Dolores, Argentina.

Trees. Dolores, Argentina.

Skeleton of a home. Dolores, Argentina.

Gaucho in the sunset. Dolores, Argentina.

Black bull on an estancia. Dolores, Argentina.

A night sky full of bats ("murcielagos"). Dolores, Argentina.

Music to get you through the post:

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McQueen and I

I entered the MET determined, slightly rushed, but prepared (so I thought) to finally see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, “Savage Beauty.” I knew it was going to be amazing, but I did not know I would feel the need to write a blog post about it.

That said, you have all been so patient with my student-life updates, which — I can only imagine — are nowhere near as exciting as reading about the woes of being hospitalize abroad, what it feels like to have stingrays brush over one’s feet at sunrise in the Galapagos Islands, or what it smells like to be at a noodle shop in Kyoto. So, I’m going to shake things up a little. Today, I want to talk about something I’m definitely NOT an expert on: fashion! Or, more specifically, how something I usually feel very detached from  — high fashion (besides the fact that I currently live in SoHo and am surrounded by it) — directly hit me with the unexpected exactness of bird crap today (but, good bird crap…err…I think I used the wrong analogy here) and simply made me go: WHOA.

Iguana Hand. Galapagos Islands.

I had been meaning to visit this exhibit all summer, but somewhere between the weekly statistics exams, the Developmental Psych classes and my constant weekend excursions, I managed to make it to the last week of the three-month long exhibit without experiencing McQueen’s genius for myself. I have yet to read a single review of the exhibit, which ends this weekend, but I just knew it was something I wanted to (or, oddly, needed to) see. I’d make it happen.

It’s been almost 18 months since McQueen was found dead, hanging in his wardrobe. [WARNING: uncharacteristically somber subject matter for TwT coming right up!] Reports concluded that he had cut his wrists with a ceremonial dagger and meat cleaver, taken immense amount of cocaine and other drugs, and basically left this world with the same complexity that his art always conveyed: he died with a dark but fascinating bang. Unlike his death, however, his morbid yet striking creations elicit pure awe. Now I know first-hand.

You can appreciate his art as a fashion expert, or you can appreciate it as a regular human being looking at something that simply is so creative and captivating to look at that it communicates in such a way that transcends fashion education. Not everyone has the magic to turn totally mundane objects into barely recognizable yet functional alien versions of themselves. It was like standing in a room and watching Lady Gaga stare at herself in a mirror. The entire exhibit was full of surprises, pain, and blissful self-expression.

Plant at the Orchid Show. Bronx Botanical Gardens, May 2011.

The tragedy is that McQueen could not see the four-hour line I witnessed today, which circled the museum I’ve spent my whole life visiting in a way no exhibit I’ve ever witnessed at the MET has. I’m sure, in some sense, he realized he was brilliant. But sometimes brilliance is more of a ball and chain than an escape route. Or so it seems.

I wandered up the stairs, then to the left, then to the right, then the left again, feeling a little like a mouse in a maze trying to find the damn cheese. But I was a mouse with a membership; no line for me (yes, I felt very lucky). That said, here were people from all over the world — literally — who were willing to spend at least 4 hours of a probably short trip to NYC not even looking at the McQueen exhibit yet, but just waiting to get in. What is it we are all really trying to see? What does it do to us, give us, teach us, that is so worth the wait? [This reminds me of college courses I took that forced me to define “art” and explain the purpose of museums… (The whole fun was trying to answer these questions and the discussions that came with them. I love questions like that! You try to answer them as a comment…)]

When I walked into the first room, the most unexpected thing happened to me: I got choked up. It came out of nowhere! I could barely enter the first room, it was so packed with people, and yet something hit me instantly before I even had a chance to take it all in. I was taken aback. Music floated through the room — dark, eery music like we were all trapped in some strange funhouse and should expect zombies to pop out at any second. Videos of runway shows adorned the walls, ceilings, and sometimes, a box you had to bend down to look into. The costumes fluttered between S&M outfits and headgear, and a fantasy land of floating, gravity-less dresses — a McQueen world of feathers and ruffles that we “normal” people stood there trying to understand. The exhibit was more of an interactive circus than I expected, with all the designs taking on a performance of their own.

Rusty hook. Od San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I’m sure most of you are wondering why I got choked up. Let me try and figure this out. [Thinking.] I think, although it seems odd to say this, it really just felt like McQueen was there with all of us. I was blown away by his creations. Even with all the plastic mannequins standing completely still and lifeless, the energy in each room felt like we were interacting with McQueen himself — like he was performing right in front of us and we couldn’t look away. You could feel his sadness, his pain, his struggle, which seeped through quotes scattered around the displays, and yet you could also see how it all burst out of him as art in a beautifully grotesque (or, I guess, savagely beautiful) way.

I think I have also been so set on my new career plan lately that I have barely had a chance to go to museums, see movies, and appreciate the arts in a way that I am used to. Seeing the McQueen exhibit hit me more deeply than I anticipated; it reminded me of how much I love creativity, individuality, and people following their guts, their hearts, and their passions wherever they might lead them, and how incredible something can be when it is expressed in complete, disarming honesty.

I can’t remember the last time an exhibit made me get choked up. Maybe I’m just becoming a total sap (someone please tell me if I go too far). I guess I am just glad to know that this humanities girl turned pre-health studies “science” girl can still appreciate a little art. It’s ironic that such beautiful work could come out of someone so deliriously sad he chose to take his own life, but what came from that place — no matter how dark or light — is something no other person could ever produce. There is only one Alexander McQueen, and this exhibit takes you right to him, where even though the room is dark, the music eery, and the artwork surrounded by chaos desperately trying to be controlled, there is a certainty, a truth, and a beauty that overpowers all the grotesque. Here’s a guy who gave the world something it couldn’t think of on its own. And now, he’s gone.

I left the exhibit smiling, unsure about why I was smiling, but smiling nonetheless.

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