Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Whole New World

It has been more than a week since I’ve returned to the States. At home with my sister, brother-in-law, two sick nephews, parents and a brother on the way today, I find myself contemplating this past semester and this past year as a whole. After all, with the new year looming, isn’t it natural?

2010 started at home in India. It took me to Georgia, back to the states, to Morocco and Spain, then back to the states, to Kuwait and then back to the states. To Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam and then back to the states one last time. I have lived out of a suitcase for the most part. My life took transience to new levels.

This past semester was a challenge. On the one hand, there was the feat of settling into a place and space within the short five weeks I had there; on the other, there was the constant battle to remain good-humored while dealing with the same 31 people day in and day out. There were definitely times when all I wanted to do was disappear. But now that I’m out on the other side and with the benefit of that tricky little phenomenon we call hindsight, I can’t help miss my constant travels. Though it might be a while until I begin to miss class time, I have already started to think longingly about the wind in my hair as I zoom by on the back of motorcycle through the streets of Hanoi, the countless glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in Cape Town and the kind of unsettlingly cheesy smell of pao de queijo in Sao Paulo. I did IHP because I needed a change of pace: a little taste of life outside of the purple bubble, where some people don’t own an article of J. Crew clothing, where people aren’t assumed to be liberal until proven otherwise, where dinner is always a great surprise. It certainly did the trick.

I’ve had three very different travel experiences over the course of the past year. I came out of each with some refreshing perspective. The hardest thing? It’s keeping that perspective while walking up and down the slopes of Mission Hill. If there’s one thing that this semester taught me (and it might go without saying, but it’s surprising how often we seem to forget it), it’s that there’s an ENTIRE WORLD outside of Williams. Everything that happens in that warped little Berkshire town has absolutely no impact on the greater globe and should not have an impact on you either. When I get back to college, I hope to devote myself more fully to the things and the people I love. My life is ultimately about me and I need to continue to make myself happy. For those of you who know my woeful tendencies at Williams, check back with me in a few months to see if I’ve kept my game up.

And so that concludes a year of travel. 12 months and 10 countries later, I’m headed back to Williams in less than 5 days. I’m excited to be settled, to be with the friends who I love and who have supported me over the past 7 months even in absence and to finally get back to Art History: I’VE MISSED YOU!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Down With The 'Rhea, Oh De-Ah!



So here we are in Hanoi, final destination and final frontier. I’m down with a case of the stomach woes so I’ve taken the day off and holed myself up in the favored IHP spot, Joma Café – an expat-run coffee shop furnished with a clean bathroom within easy access.

Apart from running a riot in my belly, Vietnam has treated us well. We have class in the Ho Chi Minh museum under the tutelage of a coordinator who has her s**t totally together. I have a wonderful, loving host family that gets incredible pleasure from seeing me and Andrew feasting on the spread every night. Also, the dong goes far, allowing us to live in a lap of luxury.

After having been the road for over six months, you’d expect me to suffering from at least some homesickness. Though I haven’t suffered from any heart-stopping yearning to be back at Williams or the U.S., I have found myself giving into the homegrown pleasures like eating a smoked salmon sandwich for lunch or going to see the new Harry Potter movie at the one English-language movie theater in all of Hanoi yesterday afternoon. I love being in Hanoi and I feel like I could be on the road forever, but I think it’ll be nice to settle down again with creature comforts like my own room, a closet to hang my clothes in, regularity to where and when I’m eating …

Last weekend, a group of us went to Halong Bay, one the most incredible natural wonders I have ever seen. Over 2000 limestone kersts rise from the water to make a haunting archipelago of islands, perfect for cruising along with friends for an entire weekend. We rocked the deck of the boat with karaoke and wine, the setting incredible, the company fabulous. That was an experience that will be etched into my mind forever.

Only two and a half more weeks to go. How’s that for a scary thought?

(Images courtesy of the magnificent Andrea Roman-Alfaro!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Happy Happy Happy in Hanoi

Caught in a shroud of smog and incense, Cape Town is now set a distant time and place. With Vespas zooming by within a hair’s distance of my body and heaps of noodles being dished up at every corner, South Africa couldn’t seem any further away. And for the first time on this trip, I feel homesick – not for Kuwait, not really for India, not even for Williams, but for the glorious city of Cape Town. Hiking up Table Mountain might be strenuous and exhausting, but once you’re at the top, it’s nirvana: mountains and oceans come together in to find a city that is truly eternal.

The last week in South Africa was our one vacation over the course of the semester. I spent it in style, first heading to the glorious winelands followed by four days at a beachside apartment in the surfer’s village of Muizenberg. Camped out in the stunning university town of Stellenbosch, the wine country’s unofficial capital, I spent the first half of our holiday reveling in one long Bacchanal. From winery to winery, restaurant to amazing restaurant, I lived in a hedonist’s paradise. With friends in tow, we went to Paarl to muck around at the Taal monument, to Franschhoek to dine in delight and around Stellenbosch to discover its tranquil splendor. Pierre, an eighteen year-old French exchange student who was living with my first home stay family through his yearlong English program, had come to join us. With his boyish good looks and instant charm, he was an immediate hit with everyone – break just would not have been the same without this amiable Frenchman’s presence and his connoisseurship of wine and good food. I miss him and his lost puppy dog ways dearly already.

We spent the second half of the week lazing around an apartment and bumming around the beach. I got to do what I’ve always wanted to do in life: wake up early to get bread fresh out of the oven at the local bakery, pick up coffee and do yoga all before everyone else in the house had woken up. Over those four days, I cooked up a storm. Best creations? Maybe it was my Thai Ramen with chicken, shitake, baby corn and snow peas? Or possibly even some French Toast with melted Brie and blueberry coulis? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

Four our last night in Cape Town, we went out with a bang. After having spent the day visiting with the penguins at Boulders Beach and then eating with the baboons at Cape Point, a bunch of us went to the Capetonian outpost of Nobu for a final celebratory dinner. Sitting on the eastbound flight the following morning, mere hours after saying goodbye to my Bo-Kaap host family, to Pierre and to Table Mountain, it was hard not to let my excitement get muddled up with the feeling that I had left something behind.

But Vietnam doesn’t allow for any sappy Eeyore-like pondering. Hanoi is has been amazing so far. As I sit under a fan, getting ready for bed in a mosquito net, I feel like I’m as close to be being back in India as I can get without actually being there. We spent the first few days in the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi where the hustle and bustle of nonstop activity had our senses abuzz. The best thing about Vietnam? The food, duh. Pho everywhere; noodles for every meal. Delicious Vietnamese coffee’s milky sweetness. It’s nothing short of amazing satisfaction.

Now if only I could be assured that I won’t get hit by a speeding motorcycle…

Monday, November 1, 2010

In Love With The Mother City: My Oedipal Complex

Looking out over the sweeping view of the city that the summit of Lion’s Head affords, I know that my eyes are drinking in every thing that is right with Cape Town. There’s the hipsterish Neighbourgoods Market held at Old Biscuit Mill in up-and-coming Woodstock every Saturday – it’s otherwise known as my idea of heaven. There are the soft, sandy beaches of Camps Bay hugged by the Twelve Apostles. There’s the verdant expanses of the Kirstenbosch Gardens displaying all the glorious flora the Western Cape has to offer. There’s the Company’s Garden to wile away the hours following the ducklings as they waddle across monuments and marigolds. There are countless great eats in breezy, open cafes and chichi froufrou restaurants. And then there’s Table Mountain: the one Godly presence that follows you everywhere in this breathtaking city.

Yes, I guess I’m in love. There are few other cities in the world that have so undoubtedly swept me off my feet. But of course, IHP doesn’t have you just frolick through a city for pure pleasure. They let you know what the problems are and they make you live it.

Despite Cape Town’s seductive beauty, it remains incredibly dangerous. Vestiges of apartheid keep people in desperate poverty and that has led to some of the highest crime rates in the world. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of uncomfortable run-ins to suggest that this is true (nothing awful, don’t worry – but some of us have come super-close to finding ourselves in trouble). One of the most pressing issues today is the stigma that is attached to the townships – areas designated for the blacks and coloreds* of South Africa to live under the apartheid government. In true IHP fashion, they have us living in a township for the second half of our Cape Town stay. I’m currently staying in Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town.

How can you blame the international community for misrepresenting life in the townships when South Africans themselves are so sheltered from the reality? After having only spent a few days here, you realize that ‘township’ is no synonym for ‘slum’. Yes, townships are prone to accruing informal settlements. But I am not staying in a shack. In fact, I live in a stunning three-bedroom one-storey house in which my host mother has fitted a surround-sound home entertainment system and a Jacuzzi tub. In no way is this the expected norm, but quality of life in the township can often rival that of inner-city dwellers. Unfortunately, it is these people who don’t come to the outskirts of town to see what life here is really like.

South Africa remains a very unequal society. But there are some obvious marks of a silver lining. South Africans, regardless of whether they are white, black, colored or Indian, can now all occupy the same public spaces – something that was unimaginable only sixteen years ago. Sitting at a bar on Long Street or at a bench on the V&A Waterfront, the most visited destination in all of Africa, you look past the lost-looking tourists to see a Cape Town that has hope. There might not be as many interracial mixing as one would look for in the ideal environment but it’s moving somewhere. We can only hope that time will heal the wounds… for my sake at least, because any city where you can see zebras on your daily commute into town needs to be the paradise it deserves to be.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cape Town like Candy; The Buzz in Buenos Aires

Saying good-bye to Sao Paulo wasn’t hard. We were ready to move along. Nothing allowed me to wish it farewell better than a stop at the ballyhooed Biennial and popping Sonique. The Biennial, themed around the intersection of art and politics, was a sensory overload of art from all over the world housed in the never-ending layers of an Oscar Niemeyer building. Sonique, a bar-slash-club, kept the Lemongrass Martinis flowing and the Spicegirls playing. Z Carniceria is a mini-Meat Packing District: what was once a butcher’s is now a bar catering to the alternative hipster set, replete with meat still hanging from the ceilings. It is places like this that will make me miss Sao Paulo: the city is unbelievably grittysexycool. You need to peel away at some layers but you will finally get to something juicy. Maybe it’s a small store in Bixiga selling delicious pesto or a tiny pizza place on Rua Augusta with graffiti-covered walls and incredible slices – Sao Paulo will have you reeling at its hidden gems.

Our journey to Cape Town took us through the city of Buenos Aires. We had a twelve-hour layover and I wasn’t about to waste it. I cabbed it to Plaza de Mayo’s Casa Rosada to meet up with my darlings Emily and Kera, not just friends but sisters by a bond stronger than blood: a cappella. Streetphoria, Latin America edition, was on. Emily needed to go to a Bolivian festival out in the boonies for schoolwork so off we went on the rickety Subte to a far out part of the city where 65,000 people had gathered to celebrate the Virgin and the Bolivian community. Dancers, parades and different smells all came together in a complete inundation of the senses. After a guided romp through the festival, Emily’s coordinator was kind enough to drive me back to downtown Buenos Aires, pointing out the sites as we went along. We spoke in Spanish, but a month of Portuguese seemed always to get in the way. Once in Palermo, Emily and Kera were intent on giving me a quick taste of Argentina, since I had practically spent the entire day in Bolivia. They rushed me from empanadas to dulce de leche ice cream in a flash and boy, what an intensely phenomenal experience that was. But if there was one thing that made my race through the city worth it, it was being with two people that made me excited about Williams again. When I went back to share a cab ride with two people on my program to the airport in order to catch our 11:30PM flight to Cape Town, it turned out that they had left already, leaving me stranded in a city that I didn’t know without a peso to my name. Shocked, flustered and totally lost, I wouldn’t have known what to do without my friends. Emily and Kera handed me cash, hailed me a cab and got me on my way back to the airport. I owe them so much more than just the money they lent me. After over a month of resenting what waits for me back at Williams, they reminded me of a Williams that is a world of beautiful friends who will look out for me (and I them), no matter what.

In Cape Town now and life’s good. I’m living in the Bo-Kaap, a Muslim neighborhood of Cape Malays living in pastel-colored houses, just a couple of blocks up from the action of City Bowl. Table Mountain and the two oceans follow me wherever I go. The city is full of great eats (tons of breezy hipster cafes and restaurants to keep me satisfied), but the thing I drink in the most is the fresh ocean/mountain air. The colonial architecture, the imposing cloud-covered mountains and the crystal blue ocean are all enough to have seduced me for life.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Carioca Charisma, Porcine Paradise, Calming Curitiba and Flippin' Floripa

Steaming dumplings straight off the frying pan in Liberdade. Coffee and organic bread in Jardim Paulista. Graffitti art in Vila Madalena. Acai, passion fruit, guavas and star fruit at every turn. Wavy Niemeyer modernism on the streets and in the bends of downtown. Art and light at the Pinatoeca do Estado; Van Gogh, Renoir and Dali at the MASP. This is all that Sao Paulo has to offer.

No, it’s not a pretty city, but its tantalizing flavors keep me coming back for more. Unfortunately, this semester is not the hedonistic romp across the world that I secretly wanted it to be. With its highfalutin name, the International Honors Program takes itself pretty seriously. And that’s slightly inopportune for vagabond young souls like me who want to spend the semester goofing off in museums and cafes. The program does not leave you a second to breathe, with days jam-packed with lectures on politics, economics, development, urban planning, race relations and the list goes on endlessly. We spend hours discussing contentious contemporary issues, always wary about our stance as an outsider and always frustrated at our inability to access all corners of knowledge. The fact that there is so much going on means that the seams are often frayed and parts of the program are executed sloppily. At times it can all get a little exhausting, a little exasperating, a little claustrophobic… a little much. But though I often worry about the fact that I am traveling all around the world with a group of 31 students all affiliated with American institutions, I realized one thing today: that loving, caring atmosphere that I found at Williams is following me around uncomfortable situations across the globe and there’s a real value in that. It is quite the departure from my summer travels and I delight in knowing that I’ve dappled in two extremes.

I took a break from the hustle-and-bustle of Sao Paulo to visit what is arguably Brazil’s most iconic city: Rio de Janeiro. Nine of us piled into a bus at midnight to undertake the 6 hour-long journey to find shelter in the shadow of Cristo Redentor. We arrived Saturday morning to a rainy, overcast weekend. Was that going to stop us? Hell no. We put on our rain gear and headed out to the beach, welcomed into Christ’s open arms. We spent the morning running around Leblon and Ipanema before ducking into a café in Copacabana for some Irish coffee to warm our hearts up a little. We spent the afternoon eating Bahian food in a hut by the lake, the night in Lapa's bars drinking and playing games followed by clubs dancing to Carioca funky (imagine M.I.A on ‘roids). The next day it was to Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Ipanema beach hippie fair. One last walk by the Atlantic before we hopped back on a bus and came home to Sao Paulo for dinner. The image of Cristo Redentor swathed in a sheet of fog will be burned into my mind forever...

About ten days ago, the program took us to a site of the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – The Movement of Landless Rural Workers). The MST is an organization in Brazil through which activists seize land from private owners of latifundias (large plots of land that stretch out for hectares and hectares) to allow the rural and urban poor to come farm the soil using sustainable techniques in a radical effort to redistribute resources in a highly unequal society. The encampent we visited was in the rural village of Itapeva, located in the south of Sao Paulo state. We arrived to a small community of dirt fields with basic lodging, a large pond and several agrovila settlements that had every thing from bakeries and pig farms to banana trees and pharmacies.

We even got to witness pig manure produce methane gas to power Our night in the village, replete with porcine company, caipirinhas and samba, brought our individual political ideologies to the forefront: dealing with a movement that stands on the far left is enough to bring out the most vehement of arguments. But we all left content, stomachs filled with rice and beans straight from the fields in the backyard and butts covered in dirt.


We moved on to the city of Curitiba in the state of Parana. Curitiba is supposedly world-renowned for its efficient transit systems, green spaces and waste management. Well… I had never heard of it. Curitiba is a buzzword for urban planners worldwide and its system of flood drainage and transport interconnectivity is a model for cities all across the globe. The classes we had might have been informative, but the best part of our Curitbano experience was our host family. Rob, Andrew and I got to live with Yara, her daughter Gabriella, her son Rafael, his wife Juliana and their six dogs. They were the warmest, most welcoming people I have met in a long, long while. They showed us around the city’s many beautiful parks, took us out drinking, sent us off to clubs, fed us happily and then drove Rob and I to a fantabulous weekend in Florianopolis, the magical island. Florianopolis is nothing short of amazing. I knew it was destined to be good when all Rafa played on the four- hour-drive down was a Glee medley. Beautiful beaches, palm trees everywhere, breathtaking panoramas, an expansive lake, dunes, amazing bars… yes, it was the winter and yes, it did rain, but it definitely did not stop our parade. We went out to a bar on Saturday and got the band to let us join in on their cover of “Save Tonight”. We spent a lazy Saturday afternoon walking the beach, eating fresh mussels and going out shopping in little island stores. Though we left early on Sunday, I still got to go do early morning sun salutations on Barra da Lagoa beach. The most unfortunate part of the trip? My camera was out of battery. Oh, and that now, I’m broke.


It’s now our last week in Brazil and there are a lot of different emotions surfacing among the group: restlessness, relief, happiness and sadness are all mixed in together. In such a tight group, it’s hard not to be confused about what you think. Personally, I am ready to move on, though I will miss this place dearly, just like I do any city I’ve spent a lot of time in. People who came to Brazil expecting an island paradise were disappointed – as they should be, since that Brazil exists only in the imaginations of tourists. Sao Paulo is a driven city of the future and I will think about its smorgasbord of delights for months to come.

One to Cape Town, with a brief 12-hour sojourn in Buenos Aires!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

As Sweet As Sampa

"Why did I never back to Buenos Aires? Well, the air here smells so sweet"

That's one of the first things our local co-ordinator told us. Sao Paulo's six million cars emit fumes that smell like caramel due to the use of sugarcane ethanol as fuel. While this may evoke fantasies of a world where people burp rainbows and poop butterflies, Sao Paulo is no Never-Never Land. It's gritty. It's lurid. It's choked, jammed and piled up, layer upon layer. When people think Brazil, they think beach, Carnival and beautiful people. Sao Paulo, the world's third largest city and the largest city in the southern hemisphere, gives this image a run for its money. Its maze of streets and gray concrete, its oppressive crowds and its unbelievably fast pace, however, do not make this a city without soul by any means. This is one city that is alive.


After just a little more than a week in Brazil, I seem to have gotten a feel for Brazilian culture. What exactly is Brazilian culture, you ask? Funny: it is difficult not to draw up parallels with the US. Brazil, just like the US, is a country built on several waves of immigration. Interestingly enough, Sao Paulo is home to the largest Japanese and Lebanese communities outside of Japan and Lebanon respectively. When you ask, "What is Brazilian food like?", you are likely to receive an answer that strays away from staples such as feijoada and encompasses sushi, pizza and kebabs.

This diversity gives Sao Paulo an indescribable electricity. Whether you're chomping down on dumplings at the Sunday Street Fair in Liberdade or watching world whizz by on Avenida Paulista; whether you're sipping on coffee with the beau-monde at Rua Oscar Freire or ambling by the graffiti murals downtown, Sao Paulo is abuzz.


Notes on the vida brasileira:

1. The hardest cultural adjustment in Brazil? Toilet paper. In Brazil, toilet paper is not made to be dissolved in water and the water pipes are too narrow, so used toilet paper is discarded into wastepaper baskets rather than flushed down the toilet.

2. Caipirnhas, Brazil's national drink of lime juice, sugar and cachaca (sugarcane alcohol), are lethal. But caipiroskas, a bastardization that replaces cachaca with vodka, are much more to my taste. Especially with lychee or mango in them :P

3. It is absurd how much meat people eat here. They love their beef and sometimes, it's almost moo-ing.

4. Portuguese is a hard language to get your tongue around, but I'm getting there. In Brazilian Portuguese, 'Hi!' is 'Oi!' which is still difficult for me to wrap my head around (I still want to slap people for greeting me so 'rudely')

5. Passionfruit, guavas, pineapple and mango are as common here as apples, oranges and bananas anywhere else.

6. Sao Paulo is home to the Havaianas flagship store. Need I say more?

My home stay family is great. I share a room with a guy from my program in an apartment with my host mom and host brother (who is hardly ever around). My host mom is friendly and caring, but totally cool and hands-off, which allows us a lot of freedom. The apartment is in the upscale Jardim Paulista neighborhood, about a 15 minute bus-ride/45 minute walk from class, which is held at Mackenzie University (a private Presbyterian college). Class at IHP isn't really "class". Our days are filled with lectures and panels from experts in various fields and site visits. Most days run from 8:30AM to 5 or 6PM with an hour's allowance for lunch. There is very little sleep involved and very little rest. It's Go!Go!Go! all the time but somehow, this business is pleasant after a pretty lax summer. We've had lectures on race relations, immigration and Brazilian history so far -- all fascinating.


The stress of this program can be slightly debilitating and I found myself with an awful cold and ear infection last weekend. Thankfully a weekend in Rio cleared all of that up! (More on that later...)

Beijos do Brasil!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Put Your Hands Up For Detroit

Detroit is a city of overhaul. It is unlike any other city I have ever been to. The downtown area, rather than being a bustling hub of activity, is a deserted ghost town. All over the city (which is an expansive metropolitan area that could fit San Francisco, Manhattan and Boston in its parameters) there are abandoned houses in a state of disrepair. It is eerie. But over the past two weeks starting up IHP, I have learned there is hope yet for this city.

Two weeks ago, I started my semester abroad… in Detroit, Michigan. I am enrolled in a program entitled International Honors Program (IHP for short), Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning and Places. A group of 32 students and 4 faculty members travel to different cities across the globe to get a better understanding of how cities work. We are headed to Sao Paulo and Curitiba, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa and Hanoi, Vietnam. The 32 students represent a large number of colleges and nations. This semester, I get the honor of working, learning and traveling with students from Wesleyan, Sarah Lawrence, Carelton, Wellesley, Trinity, Davidson, Brown, Middlebury, University of Michigan, Macalester, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, University of California Berkeley, Skidmore, Harvard and Barnard who come from the US, India, Nepal, Peru, South Korea, the Virgin Islands, Bangladesh and Mexico.

It’s been a full and testing two weeks. I’ve met a model-turned-restaurateur, heard Jay-Z and Eminem shake the streets of downtown, bought ice cream from a vendor behind bulletproof plastic, visited a vacant lot-turned-art installation, heard Grace Lee Boggs talk about activism and eaten great Greek food. Most importantly, however, is that I’ve gotten a chance to really get to know the peers who I will be adventuring with for the next three and a half months. It’s off to Brazil tomorrow and I’m ready for the ride.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New York No Work




New York makes me bleed. It makes me bleed money from my pores, day and night, filling in the cash registers of restaurants, bakeries and bars. Ever since I flew back from Kuwait a few weeks ago, the Big Apple has chewed out a sizeable chunk of my wallet’s reservoir. I continue to be amazed at the revelry this city inspires. And I continue to spend, filling up my stomach and emptying my cashbox.

I wasn’t very happy to leave the comfort of home, but if there’s one place I would want to go to drown myself in the happiness of company, laughter and food, it would be New York City. I

thought that somehow, I'd be immune to New York's seduction and pull. How wrong I was.

Where else can I spend a night drinking Tamarind Margaritas and chomping down on tacos with my girl Holly after getting off a 13-hour plane ride? Noho’s Hecho En Dumbo

is the neighborhood’s newest cooler-than-thou Mexican joint. I still had my sweaty travel clothes on and my backpack slung over my shoulder, but that didn’t stop me.

Where else do museums look this cool, with exhibitions that are so thought-provoking?




Where else can you sit at a cute coffee shop and then go shopping at Muji, Japan's leading brandless design store (which ironically has become a coveted brand in and of itself) while I wait for Yanie to take her sweet time getting to Manhattan from Joisey so that we can have lunch at Freemans, my favorite mellow hipster-central lunch locale?

Where else can you go to the inimitable MoMA to chill with Eve (who worked there) and Tommy while walking through exhibits loudly flaunting Williams ARTH101-102 expertise, following it up with an unmatchable noodle dinner at Rai Rai Ken when the wait at Momofuku around the corner is just way too long?

And where else can Tommy find a bar that would whip me up a Pomegranate Daiquiri? Where, might I ask?


Where else can you pack snacks for a car ride from Momofuku Milk Bar where David Chang's compost cookies and bagel bombs can keep you content for hours as you zoom along the highway? Where else is coffee, imported from the West Coast's Stumptown Coffee Roasters, this good?

Where else can you have a "Five-Dolla' Date" with Michelle from Whole Foods and then eat your spoils in Union Square? Where else can you find a place like Brooklyn Larder, where there's rich dark chocolate sorbet, hard-to-find-outside-of-Italy San Pelligrino citrus sodas and sea salt caramels all under one roof? Where else can you and Michelle go sit out in Prospect Park with a dulcimer singing "Paparazzi"?


Where else can you take a crash course in how to be a hipster anywhere other than Williamsburg, where Spoonbill & Sugartown Books teaches me about all things Foucauldian and forward and where chorizo tacos come out of a non-conformist truck? Where else can I get coffee from my favorite San Francisco roasters that will change the way I think about beans? Where else can I find Brooklyn-made chocolate in gorgeous wrappers and where can I find stores like OAK that will sell me cropped deconstructed jersey pants?

Where else can you buy a meal wrapped in banana leaves from a woman who doesn't speak English in Chinatown? Where else can you find cute gluten-free spelt-made cupcake stores? Where else can you get Grapefruit Margaritas at a painfully hip Chinese-Latino fusion bar in a shady corner of the Bowery? Where else can you catch ultra-mod theater at the Fringe Festival? And where the hell else can you go out with friends to a Jazz Club in Brooklyn's Flatbush and laugh endlessly over glass after glass of white while being enchanted by a singer who sounds just like Norah Jones?



The answer is to this endless string of questions is simple: New York has it all. Everything and anything that my heart desires. But most of all, this summer, it had my friends.

My endless love to Maya, Rachel, Tommy, Holly, Yanie, Michelle and Eileen! The time I spent at Rachel's grandpa's Upper East Side river apartment, Eileen's beautiful Jersey home, Maya's bangin' crib and Holly's Prospect Heights digs I will never forget.


ADDENDUM 1: Week at Williams

Rachel and I drove up to Billsville a couple of days after I got back from Kuwait, stocked with goodies courtesy of David Chang's genius. I ended up staying at Williams for over a week just being a (happy) bum surrounded by beautiful friends. Mornings at Tunnel City, evenings with dinner from Sushi Thai or Chopsticks and group forays into Bennington for meals at the Blue Benn Diner and the Rattlesnake Café: that’s the Williamstown summer lifestyle. We had movie marathons with screenings of Mean Girls and Mulan and many lazy, dozy days under the sun. We reveled in picnics at Williamstown’s Sundays at Six (at four) and seats at Summer Theater Lab’s “Viva la Evolucion!” (a sneak peak at a New York Fringe festival show with a Cuban-meets-Fruit Loops flavor). More generally: good times with good friends in a setting that kept me almost deliriously happy in the summer sunshine. Impromptu parties were always popping up around bottles of wine or tubs of hummus. I almost forgot for a minute how messed up Williams can be during the academic year and in my state of bliss, I questioned my desire to study abroad (Don’t worry: I quickly snapped myself out of it). I ended the week with a trip down to Rockland County, New York with Amanda, Madeleine and Vanessa. We spent an afternoon at Woodbury Commons, a night at Amanda’s with delicious Puerto Rican food and a morning in the town of Nyack.

ADDENDUM 2:

I've spent most of the past week in the suburbs of DC with my sister and her two little 'uns being uncle-extraordinaire. I have now read Curious George Rides The Train a total of 4 times and the Cat in the Hat at least 3 times. I know that if you poop in the toilet, you're rewarded with chocolate ice-cream but a simple peeing only gets you a lollipop. I now know the answer to anything is "Why?" and that Goldilocks is the flag bearer for all things rude. I've also learned that music in its immaculate form constitutes Twinkle Twinkle and the Macarena. I come out of this truly cultured.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Finding the Dean to my Deluca


Since being back in Kuwait, I’ve picked up sport. Though I’m not the most athletic person to have ever lived, I think I’ve found a sport that uses my body’s abilities to the fullest It doesn’t have a name yet, but my sport involves moving between the bed, the kitchen table and the couch in as many combinations as possible during the course of the day. The slower and more sloth-like your movements are, the more points the competitor accrues. The great thing about this game? You play against yourself and you almost always win. And baby, I’m in it to win it.

Other than perfecting my skills in this demanding game, I have spent my time eating my way through the day. Cake, éclairs, pastries, cookies, chocolate, candy, ice cream: you name it, it’s been gone into my mouth and passed through my gut at some point during the past two weeks. I’ve found that basing my day on consumption gives it a particularly comforting rhythm. And my parents, in their excitement at having their little baby back, have come a hair short of treating me like a goose being prepped for foie gras. All I have to do is set my eyes on something and mention how enticing it looks for it to magically appear on a plate in front of me. This has resulted in the morbid end of cartons of Haagen-Dasz, bags of candy from Dean & Deluca and mounds of pure cream parading as cake from our favorite over-priced French bakery, Fauchon.


To add an intellectual component to my days in this literal and cultural desert, I read. And watch hours of ’30 Rock’ at a time. (No, really, I promise I’ve read some stuff. I just finished “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, which is absolutely haunting. I’ve been eyeing the book for years – ever since it came out when I was seven and was past around the members of my family like candy. I’m currently reading Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, a classic that slipped through the cracks of my Brit-centered education). These travails of the mind have taught me two things:

a) that reading, contrary to the beliefs I hold while at college, can be done for enjoyment

and

b) that Tracey Jordan is totes cray-cray and Tina Fey is nothing short of a goddess.

Home is a funny thing. And so is college, I guess. Stepping back into my room after an entire year of absence, I was met with a sudden sinking feeling. I can’t really put a finger on the reason, but I think I can trace to a disconnect I felt that had developed during my two years away at college. How could I reestablish the connection I once had with this room, this house, this country in just two weeks? I immediately regretted all my decisions to go traipsing about Morocco and Spain, deciding for a fleeting moment that I should have had the sense to spend more time at home.

Thankfully, that moment was only fleeting. Yes, I love it here. My parents have always spoiled me but they now take it to new extremes. My mother will comment on how grubby my blazer looks and within 48 hours it appears dry cleaned in my closet. My camera breaks and then magically fixed. But my mind’s vegetal state is a little bit much for me to bear. My day is filled with naps, Liz Lemon and caloric snacks… and though it’s fantastic to laze about like a mindless vessel for a couple of weeks, I think a couple of weeks is all I can handle.


Having been away from this gem of a country, I’ve been afforded a little distance that allows me to marvel at its innumerable quirks. Where else in the world can you get your groceries delivered from the check-out line at the supermarket to the trunk of your car for an eight cent tip? Where else can I shop at American Eagle and the Gap while the call to prayer sounds out inside the mall? Where else is 'dusty' on the weather forecast... all. the. friggin'. time.? Where else can I go get a donut from Dunkin’ or an ice-blended coffee drink from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf followed quickly by kebabs? No, really, the last one is not rhetorical. If anybody has any leads, let me know, because this is a formula that has worked for me that I can’t seem to find ANYWHERE.

The Gulf-style extravagance that I have been witness to and a part of is truly a mind-baffling thing when examined at a distance. The first weekend I got back, my parents treated me to a typical day in Kuwait. We went to The Avenues, Kuwait’s premier mall, once dubbed the largest in Asia (much to local dismay, malls in Singapore and Dubai have since trumped this little big guy). A very regular weekend outing for anyone in this teeny country. We stopped in at Dean & Deluca for some gourmet groceries, had lunch at P.F. Chang’s – our neighborhood Chinese bistro, indulged in dessert at Pinkberry (the craze has taken the country over by storm) and took a leisurely stroll through the Pottery Barn. Move over, Puerto Rico, Kuwait’s taken your place as the 51st state.

The next day, my parents took me to another mall where we had breakfast at our favorite French café (a Parisian import) and then watched Toy Story 3 in 3D (which was released here on the same day as it was released in the States). This weekend, we had lunch at my Boston favorite, Wagamama (the chicken ramen with coconut broth is delicious – go get some if there is a Wagamama near you. Now.). My existence here has always been an imported one. And then I went and exported myself to go get an education. Does that make me an imported import? … Whatever.


The other day, I had Fadey over (I have seen her in three continents in three weeks) and we watched a movie (Date Night, in honor of my continued obsession with Tina Fey) and gorged ourselves on cookies and leftover cheese. I was filled with nostalgia. Every weekend in high school, my friends and I would go to the mall or out to eat and then I’d have them over to watch movies and gossip about the latest slew of relationships and retards at school. Yes, we’d get stared down at the mall because we were a mixed group of kids (guys and girls). Yes, my house was the only house we could congregate in because my parents were one of the few who were cool with their son having girls over. Yes, some key cultural concerns stopped us from being the kids we saw on TV. But I think my childhood made for an Eastern hemisphere dweller who can relate pretty darn well to his peers all the way across the Atlantic. And yeah, we could talk forever about whether or not that’s a good thing, the homogenization of culture, the insignificance of tradition in the modern world and all the rest yadda yadda yadda. But it’s one of the things that gives an Indian passport-touting, Kuwait-and-Quebec born-and-raised, British-educated American college student some comfort. Being home reminds me of all beauties of my adolescence: beauties that translate rather easily in conversations with people all across the globe.

And that’s what home is all about anyway, right? Comfort and a side of nostalgia.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'm A Free Bitch, Baby

I spent four days in the city heading uptown, zipping downtown, racing crosstown and switching Brooklyn for Manhattan and vice versa like I do my flip-flops. If Spain epitomized the laidback European lifestyle that seems to be so covetable during the summer, my short stay in the Big Apple was a muggy race to finish that had me schfitzing throughout. But, true to my restless nature, I loved every moment of it.

I landed in New York a little after 4 on Wednesday, a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Of course, just because Royal Air Maroc kindly decides to land its flight from Casablanca early does in no way mean that Turkish Airlines will vacate the hangar in time to get its ass out to Istanbul so that I get on with my day. We ended up deplaning after 5. I made it to Maya’s in Park Slope a little after 7 and in no time, I was ready to go out to dinner with Maya’s posse from high school – a crew of smart and stylish Brooklynites who could make up the cast of a movie. We headed to Robin des Bois for dinner out in a candlelit garden. Residual afternoon heat wafted in the night air but jovial conversation and a hearty risotto had me in heaven: it was the most remedial experience I could have asked for after having spent four dark weeks largely in solitude. The only thing that enhanced the experience to something celestial was our post-dinner trip to Blue Marble, a Brooklyn hipster ice cream institution that takes you from the ground to the Cloud Nine in a lick. I fought through the jetlag blues to hang out in the park, soaking in the sounds of company.

The next day it was the Brooklyn Museum, then the Upper East side with Rachel for lunch at Nanoosh, back downtown for a surprise dessert of artisanal ice cream out of a truck courtesy of Coach (yeah, the bag and shoe people … strange, right? Hey, I might have been the only male standing in that line, but did you really expect me to walk by when you offered me Earl Grey Tea ice cream?) and then a jaunt through SoHo and the West Village for window shopping at Marc Jacobs and MC J Books (great place to scope out models). A caramel cupcake from Magnolia Bakery ended my outing. Headed back into Brooklyn for a picnic at the Brooklyn Bridge park in Dumbo and an outdoor screening of Annie Hall with the Hudson River and all of Lower Manhattan as the backdrop.


The following day, it was breakfast with Michelle at the Park Slope bakery she works at (everyone must go! It's named Blue Sky Bakery: it is adorably hipster/hipsterly adorable and they have the best muffins you'll have EVER tasted) --> lunch at Grimaldi’s with a friend I had made in Morocco --> uptown to hang with Fadey and her fam at the PENTHOUSE SUITE in the Bestwestern on Broadway --> SoHo for coffee and the park with Yanie --> the LADY GAGA concert at Madison Square Garden (she is my goddess) --> Late night reunion with Noor ... and a really long game of Kings.


Post-Lady Gaga and a 4AM bedtime, Fadey and I went to get breakfast at the Chelsea Market. We went a little overboard, getting iced coffee from Ninth St. Espresso, brownies from Fat Witch and a blueberry-cardamom popsicle from People’s Pops. Noor, her boyfriend Ted, Fadey and I then went down to the Meatpacking District for brunch at the sexy Café Gitane at the Jane Hotel. We then eventually found ourselves in SoHo at the Arab Cultural fair which seemed to pop out of nowhere, the sound of a dabkas and the smell of falafel rising from 3rd and Broadway so surreptitiously that it took everyone by surprise. With nothing else to do and the fear of rain, we took a cab all the way uptown to the Met, where I went a little gaga for their South Asian art collection and their current exhibit on painted Ramayana narratives (this my shit, as you all know). After wandering the museum, I rushed back downtown for dinner with Maya, Mike and Brooke at the East Village outpost of Frankie’s Spuntino (as Maya will not let you forget, the original is in Brooklyn, y’know, the one that Beyonce and Jay-Z really like?). We had the most amazing and scarily grownup dinner, digging into Italian food perfectly paired with wine, ending our meal with dessert and espresso. Though the bill might have had us on the cusp of a nervous breakdown (I spent that much on ravioli?!), Maya and I shared a look in which both of us knew that we’d done it up right. After dinner, Maya and I went back uptown for a second dinner, this one cooked by my darling Tommy with the help of Barefoot Contessa. I didn’t know what I was more excited about: the requisite Whitney on the speakers, the exquisite guac or the fact I was with Tommy and Tess for another one of our signature weekend hangouts, New York edition. I think it was an easy choice though… the guac was sensational. Joking, joking… Being back with T. Nels and Tess is like being at home: it always just fits. The two T’s ended up going to East Village, but I stayed in the Upper East Side with Maya’s friends from Williams. It’s always weird when things like that happen, be it in Fez, Granada or Manhattan, the Williams experience can oftentimes defy spatial constraints. Put a critical mass of Ephs together and I feel like I could be back in Billsville with just the blink of an eye.


My last day in New York read like this:

- Eggs Benedict from Choice Market, a café that could not be more Brooklyn even if it tried

- Shopping side-by-side with the Lower Manhattan hipster crew at Opening Ceremony

- Goodbye with Noor uptown

- Watching the glorious game in Brooklyn

- Airport to catch my flight back home.

What is it about New York? For one thing, the city inspires a blog post that reads like a journal entry slash food blog (and for that I apologize… this might as well be an ad for all the establishments that I visited in the city since I’ve namedropped about a jazillion times). Chock full of things to do, a moment is never lost, a second never spared. It’s thriving, alive and filled with some of my closest friends. I just can’t get enough and I can’t wait to be back.

Boy, it would really suck if even after spending half a year traveling, my fave locale is a place that has been under my nose all this time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sun, Sauntering, Sundries And A Whole Lotta' Soul-Searching

(I actually wrote this post yesterday. So keep that in mind if you’re a fickler for dates. Although I don’t know why you would be. Okay, I’m going to shut up now. This post is long enough as it is.)


It’s my last day in Granada and I’m in a little need of catharsis. This marks the close of a six week-long adventure, one that has taken me through tortuous trials and unexpected moments of bliss. I come out the other end not knowing much more about Moroccan culture and contemporary immigration issues than I did a month and a half ago (more on that later), but I do emerge knowing myself better than I ever have before. This journey has presented me with mirrors at every turn, forcing me to study myself even if it would have been more comfortable not to. Anyone who thinks I spent my time in Morocco and Spain leisurely sipping mint tea, shopping the souks, drinking on some o’ that sangria and sunbathing would be … well, only a little wrong. There was some of all of that. But if this research experience has taught me one thing, it’s that there are many, many, many hours in the day. Especially if you’re alone, have no plans and nowhere to be at any particular time. So, what happens situations such as these? You go for a walk, turn a bend and the startling brightness of the summer afternoon sun forces everything into resplendent clarity. And it’s not often a comforting or comfortable experience.

On research and academia:

Someone had said that these travel fellowships were supposed to be about research or something. Let me share something with you: as a student of Williams College who can only ever be certain of himself when he’s sitting in Sawyer with a stack of books piled high at his carrel, doing fieldwork can be the most thwarting experience of an academic lifetime. The lack of concreteness in anything that happens, be it an interview or an observation related to space or culture, often leads the hardcore student in me to ask, “What’s the point of this? How is my looking at this research? Where’s the book published by the professor at UC Berkeley or Yale? Does this person’s opinion really matter?” Getting over these uncertainties and having faith in the fact that I was viewing everything and anything I saw on my travels through an academic lens (as my notes will hopefully prove) was enough to make this an academic experience.


I also learned something very important about issues of socio-anthropology: you might have a great revelation sitting at a desk an ocean away but that revelation may not translate very well when you go in search of its source. Let me be more concrete and relate this to my project: I was so excited to hear about the large Moroccan immigrant community in Granada that had set up shop selling everything from leather pouffes to choubakiya (traditional Moroccan sweets). I immediately thought, “This is an immigrant community’s attempt at fostering native space and implanting it onto space abroad! Like duh!” Ummm… well, okay, maybe. But when I walked through the area of Granada that is fondly referred to as “Little Morocco”, it felt nothing like the streets of Fez or Marrakech, as much as photos and travel reviews might like to set up intimate comparisons. More importantly, the Moroccans I interviewed didn’t think about their lives in that way. In fact, it seemed that most of them didn’t think about their lives at all. And how could I have expected them to? Sure, I’ve got critical distance from the subject and I can try to grapple with it and analyze it with intellectual tools – but we are talking about people’s lives and it is not often that someone takes a step back and says, “Oh, I must be doing this because it is a subconscious attempt on my part at recreating an Orientalist interpretation of Andalusian history.” I stupidly expected people to provide me with countless thought-provoking answers and that was… well, it was stupid of me.

The most important thing I learned, though, is that even these little fails formulate an important part of the research agenda. Every response, every observation, is a telling one, even if they are seemingly void or banal. It’s the ability to filter them in the right way that is the key. And it’s not a skill that I’ve honed yet, but I keep on trying the best I can.

On me:

Having to live and go out in search of answers alone in a foreign country does some crazy things to your ideas of selfhood. Surprise? I think not.

When I first went off to Morocco in May, people would keep asking me, “Wait, you have to do this alone? No travel companions? No contacts? No definitive plans?” “Yup”, I’d always answer, “and so what?” I think of myself as an independent soul and have always prided myself on the fact that I can pack up my life in two medium-sized cardboard boxes and two suitcases. It felt good to know I could wrap up and ship out of any place at a moment’s notice. I’ve got me, myself and I and that’s all I need to make a new life.

Not that simple.

Though I might be an independent soul – I can hold down an apartment, cook, clean, grocery shop and happily keep myself amused with my own company (ummm…?) – I’ve learned that I’m no hermit. I cannot eschew a life of friends and companionship in favor of complete solitude. I need my friends. They remind me to take a break; to savor life a little. It’s still funny to me that some of my favorite moments in Spain were when Fadey (my best friend from home), Saeed (her brother) and I were all together during their visit, not doing anything particularly Spanish. Did we go out on the town? Yup. And we killed it. But the most fun we had was while lazing on the couch with the entire third season of Sex and the City, a large bottle of Veuve Cliquot (we do it up right, child) and a box of donuts (didn’t I tell you we do it up right? Also, interesting note: Spaniards are obsessed with donuts. God knows why.). They reminded me that no matter what I was doing, this was the summer and I deserved to feel like I was not at school. And I also equally deserved to feel like I needed their company. There was no shame in watching Carrie’s antics or a couple of hours during the day: the only reminder you need that you’re in Spain is the bottle of Rioja that you’re cradling.


Four weeks in Granada also showed me that size is of the essence (if you just smirked, you have a dirty mind. And that’s probably why we’re friends). And no, I don’t work well in small cities. Granada is quaint. Charming. Idyllic. Gorgeous. (Ring a bell, Ephs?). But it ain’t no New York, Paris or Madrid. I need a city, a real city, to quench my thirst for life. I need to go to art galleries, museums, large bookstores and relaxing coffee shops to feel like I’m doing something. And sure, that sounds plenty pretentious and a tad snooty. But maybe I’m a little bit of that, too. ;)

All this solo travel has taught me to better handle the entire cohort of conflicting emotions that hound you on your little independent walks around town: happiness at being some place that’s different, breath-taking and beautiful; frustration at feeling boredom and loneliness; the loneliness itself; the insecurities about the validity of your project when it’s been days since you’ve felt like you’ve done anything project-related; the knowledge that this experience is life-changing; the understanding that you are so lucky to have this invaluable opportunity; the excitement for the culture that surrounds you; the anticipation for the countdown to when this will finally be over and you can be done with it all; the self-loathing for counting down the days when you feel like you should never want this to end. Yes. I felt all of these things and more in the course of a minute. Was all this travel an emotional experience? You betcha.


So now it begs the question: would I do this again? Absolutely. Because I know what’s good for me. And if you know me, you know that I always like to see the glass half full. I’ll take all those rapturous times with sunshine and wine with the requisite dose of uncertainty and depression that comes with it, because I like the self-aware package that got dumped off at the end of the road. I thought it would take an entire summer and a semester of traveling to get here. But all I needed was six weeks on the road.

So the next time you laugh off the summer travel fellowships as a joke, laugh a little louder, because they can be. Mine, for what it’s worth, was life-altering, not for the substance of my research but for what it taught me about the man in the mirror (for one thing, he needs to shave, but that’s just the start of it.)

Now for pure frivolity – we’ve had enough hard talk for one day. Let me list my top ten favorite moments in Spain (in no particular order):

1. Watching Satyajit Rai’s “Mahanagar” (a classic of Bengali cinema) at the Filmoteca de Andalucia in Granada

2. My first taste of tapas – and real Spanish wine – which made for some interesting times one crazy Friday … at 2PM.

3. Noshing on some top-notch nosh at Mercado San Miguel in Madrid

4. On my last day in Granada (as in today), I walked into the coffee shop I’ve been going to every morning. The barista took one look at me and said, “Café con leche y una media tostada con aceite y tomate, ¿sí?” Why yes… how did you know?

5. Stumbling on the quaintest, most perfect square I’ve ever seen in Sevilla and letting the sun set while contemplating life

6. Eating (twice) at a dirt-cheap Chinese restaurant with Candace, where a four course meal is less than 6 euro, and then following that up with a trip to my local hipster bar where the bartender is so damn cay-ute!

7. Mojitos and Mirador San Nicolas. Perfect combo. ‘Nuff said.

8. Dancing to ‘Waka Waka’ at a club where a window overlooks the dramatically-lit Alhambra

9. Noticing that my mouth was open when I was looking at “Las Meniñas” at the Prado.

10. How could SATC+Champage+Donuts not be on here?

Adíos, España. Go on and win the World Cup! You rock and I’m so happy that you’ll always have a part of me. Now for one last walk around Granada and a swishy afternoon in Madrid and then it’s onto New York City!

(Thank you to all those who read this post from beginning to end. You’re a true friend. Also, thank you more generally to people who are reading my blog regularly. Your support means so much to me!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Keeping it Cool in Cordoba and Sassy in Sevilla

I’ve been in Granada for just over two weeks and given the size of the city and the number of hours in the day I have for wandering the town, I’ve started feeling a little claustrophobic. I mean, it’s no Williams, but as Spain’s 17th largest city, there’s not much to keep you occupied if you’re a total spazz like me who finds lying around in parks for hours on end and leisurely walks by the river stressful. I decided to take a little “break” from all my “work” and head off to Córdoba and Sevilla for two days for a whirlwind tour of the other two mainstays in the Andalusian triumvirate. I headed out to Cordoba on a 7:30AM bus, getting there just after 10. I spent the morning and afternoon wandering the streets of the Judería (the old Jewish quarter), visiting the Mezquita-Catedral, the Roman bridge and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. It would have been a pleasant visit had it not been for the unbearable heat that descends on the city every afternoon (I’ve been spoilt by Granada’s strategic position at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that keeps it cool). I walked around panting and sweating like an old dog, finally thrilled when I was the air-conditioned train to Sevilla.


Sevilla. Oh Sevilla. Say it with me now: Se-beeh-jsya (forget that anglicized Seville nonsense). Sevilla is one big ball of sass. It’s a city with spunk: the clickity-clack of Sevillanas’ high-heels, the iridescent brightness of the afternoon sun and the Guadilquivir river curving around fountains, bullrings and palm trees. It suffers from the same intense heat of Cordoba, but even in the short 26 hours I was in city, I realized that this was a town that packs a punch. I enjoyed sitting in the unexpected squares of Barrio Santa Cruz as much as I loved walking by the whizzing trams of the city center, popping into Starbucks to cure a bout of homesickness and stopping off at a 4-storey FNAC where the Dreamgirls DVD was on sale for 7 euro (way to undervalue your merchandise… but hey, I’m not complaining). Though Sevilla has two H&M stores within walking distance of each other, the city retains a distinctive character and it was that perfect blend of the Andalusian with the international (it is, after all, Spain’s fourth largest city after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia) that I found strangely comforting after being alone in this province what seems like a lifetime.

But I’m back in Granada now and there are 10 days left to go. My best friend from school and her brother are visiting me for a week (they get in tonight) and I’m so ready to be tour guide. I’m also ready for a week of pure, hedonistic Spanish joie-de-vivre. There are only so many nights I can fall asleep while watching The Simpsons in Spanish.

P.S. Photos from Morocco are up on Flickr for your viewing pleasure. Marrakech and Fez/Meknes/Volubilis/Meknes are found in two separate streams.

P.S. Watched the season finale of Glee yesterday night curled up in bed in my PJs. Some joys are accessible everywhere.