Tag Archives: culture

{B} Travel postcard #1: Brooklyn Bridge

There are so many lovely photographs we take on holidays, a lot of which just end up on our computers. I’ve been wanting to start a series of Travel Postcards – one picture with a short little write-up – since a while now. What better way to kick-start it than with the A to Z challenge?

Travel Postcard Brooklyn Bridge, New York

New York’s iconic Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, was originally designed to carry horse-drawn and rail traffic with a separate elevated walkway along the center line for pedestrians and bicycles. That’s one of the biggest differences between the US and India – the culture of walking and cycling freely. There are wide open spaces where people can walk, play, cycle, skateboard, sit and read all around the city.

This is in stark contrast to India, where we have bridges and flyovers solely for vehicular traffic (which, admittedly, is much higher than in New York), with scant attention paid to pedestrians and cyclists. So bad is the situation that various cities have designated areas on Sunday where vehicular traffic isn’t allowed – the space is opened up to people, allowing them to walk or cycle without fear.

But one day a week does not a culture build. Will we ever get to the stage when people will eschew their cars in favor of cycling or walking short distances? I wonder…

Zombiefied: Social media and the rise of the zombie culture

At the Movies, 2013 | World War Z

At the Movies, 2013 | World War Z (Photo credit: erjkprunczyk)

“Why is Go Goa Gone a zombie movie? And come to think of it, why the hell is Brad Pitt doing a zombie movie?! ? Why? I hate zombies!”

“Relax, we are going to see a zombie apocalypse soon anyway.”

Those pearls of wisdom from the husband got me thinking – aren’t we, in a way, already seeing a zombification of society?

Traditionally, a zombie is an animated corpse resurrected by mystical means, such as witchcraft. The term is often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli. (Wikipedia)

Look around you – at the mall, in the garden, on the road – and you’ll find people walking around with their nose buried in their smartphone. Chances are they’re either Tweeting or Facebooking or texting.

Texting

Texting while walking (Photo credit: Steve Crane)

In the midst of all of this social media – where, admit it, you’re projecting your life, not living it – where is your “real” social life? You know, the one with family and friends.

Oh, you meet every week for drinks and dinner? Then do this little experiment:

The next time you’re out, just take a look at your own table, or heck, even at the people around you. Most of them will have their smartphone out, BBMing or Whatsapping or updating status messages while trying to hold a conversation with their dinner mates. C’mon, admit it – you do it too. I know I do.

3 people making cell phone calls simultaneousl...

Dinner companions – more connected virtually than really (Photo credit: Wonderlane)

Plus, any time I find myself alone anywhere – in the car, at the mall, the coffee shop, wherever – out comes my smartphone. It’s like I hide from the people around me behind that tiny 4 inch screen.

Instead of expanding, my life has contracted.

Instead of observing, I’m obsessing – over the hand I was dealt in Solitaire or my latest Facebook update (why has no one liked my brilliantly funny status update yet? Why!?).

Instead of connecting with people around me, I’m a voyeur of people’s online projections.

But this is not what I signed up for.

Student texting during class

Student texting during class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to laugh at people needing to “unplug” to live life. (And really, how does doing that for a week or a month help, when you’re back at it like you never left?) And again, life has reminded me not to laugh at others, because I may soon be part of the group I was laughing at.

So am I going to “unplug” to live my life? No.

Am I going to delete all my social media accounts and throw myself into living? No.

Am I going to throw away my shiny beautiful iPhone and switch to a non-smart phone? No.

What I have done is to choose to live as part of the connected world and remain connected – but with more awareness of what I am doing and why.

I’ve limited my online time to a few blocks of 10-15 minutes a couple of times a day, and when I find myself alone, I (mostly) resist hiding behind that shiny 4 inch screen and instead observe people around me. Or read a book, which is much more desirable (and fun) than playing endless rounds of Angry Birds.

It may not be easy to resist the temptation of obsessively checking Facebook or Twitter to see if my latest brainwave was liked or retweeted, or to give in to the lure of those Angry Birds, but it isn’t that hard either. All it requires is a little bit of self-discipline and a desire to truly live life.

I’ve reclaimed my power to un-zombify myself.

Have you?

Museum hopping in New York City

New York City is home to one of the most vibrant art scenes in the world. From the brilliant graffiti at SoHo to the many art galleries dotting Chelsea and the sheer number of museums across the city, art lovers are spoilt for choice. So when I was planning my trip, I knew I had to have some kind of a shortlist in place, or I’d probably go museum-happy!

The Frick Collection | Metropolitan Museum of Art | Solomon R. Guggenheim | The Museum of the American Indian | Madame Tussauds | Museum of Sex

The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection

First up was The Frick Collection. Founded by Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist Henry Clay Frick, who bequeathed his New York residence and most of his art collection after his death, the museum has an excellent collection of early Italian gold-ground devotional paintings. Most of these are small panels depicting scenes from the Bible and from Jesus’ life, including Cimabue’s The Flagellation of Christ, Barna di Siena’s Christ Bearing the Cross, with a Dominican Friar and El Grecko’s Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple. Although some of these were quite interesting, and a lot were by painters I hadn’t even heard of, this style of paintings doesn’t interest me much. After a quick stroll through that room, I moved on to the Boucher Room.

This breathtaking room originally served as Mrs. Frick’s sitting room. Hanging on the walls are paintings by François Boucher, complemented with groupings of decorative art objects, including Vincennes and Sèvres porcelain, a writing table by Riesener and an elaborate dressing table by Carlin. And though this room was jaw-droopingly beautiful, I wonder just how comfortable it would have been in day-to-day usage. Surrounded by such exquisite works of art, wouldn’t you always be afraid of spilling or breaking something?

The other room that knocked the breath out of my lungs was the Fragonard Room. The dominant feature is The Progress of Love ensemble, which includes six floor-to-ceiling canvases — The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, Love Letters, Love Triumphant and Reverie — four overdoors, and four slender panels of hollyhocks. For a while, I was dumb founded, my mind went blank, and my heart very nearly stopped beating. These were paintings that I had gazed at for hours in books. To imagine someone once having lived surrounded by these, and to be actually standing before the original canvases, was almost unbelievable.

The museum boasts other masterpieces such as Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert, Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid, Degas’ The Rehearsal, and Monet’s Vétheuil in Winter; as well as a beautiful collection of sculpture, furniture and brick-a-brac. Overall, the best thing about visiting The Frick Collection is that it feels like you’re visiting someone’s tastefully done up private home with an excellent collection of artwork, sculpture and furniture that you can see in a couple of hours without getting overwhelmed.

Metroploitan Museum of Art

Metroploitan Museum of Art

Contrast this with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably New York’s largest museum. Spread over more than 7 square miles and home to over 3 million works of art, you’ll need at least a week (if not more) to look at everything on offer. If you’re a tourist, and an international one at that, chances are you won’t have that kind of time. To squeeze everything into one day, the only piece of advice I can give you is this: plan beforehand.

Before I even booked my tickets to New York, I had started listing and refining the galleries that I absolutely had to see. I started with a list that was a mile long. But when I actually reached the Met and took in its sheer size, that list quickly dwindled to two, maybe three departments that I had to see or I would cry. These included the Egyptian collection and the famed Temple of Dendur, the European masters, and the impressionists.

Room from Hotel de Cabres, Grasse, recreated at the Metroploitan Museum of Art

Room from Hotel de Cabres, Grasse, recreated at the Metroploitan Museum of Art

Of course, I couldn’t just go directly to those areas. That would be sacrilege! I spent a lot of time gawking at the European and Greek sculpture and sighing over the gorgeous rooms – like the English State Bedroom, Wainscoting from the Chapel of the Château de La Bastie d’Urfé, and The Lansdowne Room – that have been recreated within the Met. I took a quick trot through the arms and armory section, ran through (yes, ran) the Japanese room. I also managed to squeeze in some Islamic art, American stained glass and pottery along the way.

I know there’s a lot at the Met that I did not see, but some of it was closed, and some of it was uninteresting for me. The opportunity to see canvases by some of my favorite painters, to walk through the Temple of Dendur, examine some fine Egyptian artifacts up close and personal…to just be at the Met, was enough. Of course, I’d better start making a list of the other galleries that I would love to see if I do go back to New York!

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Speaking of European masters, the Solomon R. Guggenheim’s Tannhauser collection, which includes works by Pissaro, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet and Picasso, was the main deciding factor for its inclusion on my list of museums to visit. However, the collection is housed in one largish room and has only a limited number of paintings on view. Apparently, the Guggenheim never puts its entire collection on display, instead letting out most of its space to showcase the works of different artists.

During my visit to New York, most of the museum was given over to the Lee Ufran: Marking Infinity exhibit. Some of the pieces on display were interesting, but most of them left me unmoved. There were multiple canvases with one line painted either horizontally or vertically, in the middle of the canvas or on the side. It apparently shows the passage of time. But anyone – and I mean even my 5-year old niece – could have painted that line across a canvas and passed it off as the passage of time. I mean, really?

There were also numerous installations of boulders and metal sheets in different groupings and placements, boulders with cotton, with wire…I heard the audio commentaries on the pieces, but I still couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to pay good money to see something like this. Call me an ignoramus if you must, but I do not understand modern art. End of topic.

And so, when I came home after that visit, I moaned and groaned about the whole experience. And the wee sis made me strike MoMA off the list, saying that’s a lot more of the same stuff. I now think it might have been a mistake to not see MoMA, but I was running out of time, and didn’t want to waste money and time to go through another set of canvases and installations that I just wouldn’t get.

A sculpture flanking the entrance to the Museum of the American Indian, New York

A sculpture flanking the entrance to the Museum of the American Indian, New York

Far removed from the heady world of classical paintings is The Museum of the American Indian. The museum is housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, which is rich in architectural detail and is one of the finest examples of Beaux Arts architecture in New York. At the main entrance are four huge sculptures of seated female figures representing America, Asia, Europe and Africa – the major trading partners of the US. Above the columns of the main facade are 12 statues representing the sea powers of Europe and the Mediterranean, while above the main-floor windows are sculptures representing the different races.

The exterior elegance does little to prepare you for the gorgeous interiors. The rotunda dome in the main lobby is decorated with two series of murals – one depicting early sea explorers and the other tracing the course of a ship entering the New York harbor. We scheduled our visit to coincide with the Building Tours (45 min.–1 hr. Monday & Friday: 1 PM; Tuesday : 3PM), which took us through the Collection room, where captains had to come in to pay taxes, and the gorgeous Collector’s Reception Room with oak-paneled walls and Tiffany lamps. This room is only opened up for this particular tour, which gives you a more in-depth understanding of the history and significance of the building.

The Collector's Room, US Customs House (now the Museum of the American Indian, New York)

The Collector's Room, US Customs House (now the Museum of the American Indian, New York)

During the time of my visit, the museum also had a special exhibition showcasing the work of internationally renowned glass artist Preston Singletary. Titled Echoes, Fire, and Shadows, the 54 glass objects displayed Preston’s interpretation of Tlingit myths and legends. There were some stunning samples of his work, including a huge glass scuplture titled Clan House, which shows the interior of a Tlinglit longhouse.

The other galleries in the museum showcase various objects of cultural, historical and aesthetic importance, such as tunics, chief blankets, headdresses, jewellery, shoes, and pottery. On weekdays, the Insider Tour (2–3 PM, except federal holidays) – an interactive session with a Cultural Interpreter – offers an insight into Native American life and crafts such as beading, music, textiles and traditional foods.

And finally, onto two completely different museums – Madame Tussauds and The Museum of Sex.

Waxwork at Madame Tussards, New York

Waxwork at Madame Tussards, New York

Located in Times Square, Madame Tussauds brings you up close and personal with the who’s who of celebrities. The Opening Night Party and Gallery are incredible spaces, bringing you face-to-face with Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Robert Pattison, Julia Roberts and more. The Gallery features numerous historical and political figures, including The Oval Office Desk with President Obama and Michelle Obama standing attendance, and the White House press room. The Spirit of New York is the newest interactive exhibit celebrating everything, well, New York! From classic movie scenes to daily New York life, there’s a little bit of everything in this space.

Museum of Sex, New York

Museum of Sex, New York

And finally, the Museum of Sex . Do I really need to say anything about what you can expect here? ;-) I’ll just tell you about two of the best exhibits I saw there: Action: Sex and the Moving Image – an audio-visual walk-through of the visual history of sex on the screen, from the first kiss caught on film through to the rise of the modern porn industry; and the Comics Stripped exhibit, which explores the limitless sexual imagination of comic artists from the 1930s through to the present using humor, scandal and fantasy.

Of course, there are so many, many more museums that you can explore in New York City. But if you’re pressed for time, these should certainly be on your must-see list!

Do you have a favorite New York (or other) museum not listed here? Let me know in the comments!

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Marching to a different beat: the difference between India and the US

Marching to a different beat: the difference between India and the US

Statue of Liberty, New YorkEgypt. Venice. Turkey. The top three destinations on my must-visit wish list. Europe, Australia and South East Asia are some of the other places I want to travel to. The US has never been high on my list of priorities. Yet, for my first international vacation as an adult traveling on my own money, I chose New York City.

Why you ask? Well, my wee lil baby sister lives there and I have a US visa courtesy my office. The official trip fell through, but I figured the visa shouldn’t be wasted.

I managed to wrangle a 3-week vacation, and decided to spend that time in NYC, Washington and Orlando. I could have rushed through a few more places, but I wanted to soak in the atmosphere instead of checking things off an imaginary things-every-tourist-must-see-and-do list.

Picnic at Brooklyn Park

Picnic at Brooklyn Park

The differences between the US and India were palpable almost from the moment I got off the plane. Within the first few moments, I saw both the famous American rudeness courtesy an airport ground staff member who harangued a bunch of passengers who were standing unobtrusively in one corner and quickly filling out their immigration form, and American friendliness, as another staffer patiently explained the immigration process to an elderly man on a wheelchair who was evidently visiting the US for the first time.

Walking out of the airport, the first sight that greeted me was a line of yellow New York taxi cabs. That’s when the feeling of being abroad really sunk in, and the excitement mounted. So what if I never had New York City on my places to visit before I die list.

New York taxi cab

New York taxi cab

The wee sister lives in Weehawken, New Jersey. The cheapest way to get there was by the bus – the cab charges $40 from Port Authority, opposed to the bus, which takes $2.50 for the 7-minute ride – which we took from the Port Authority bus station. That was a bus station? It was HUGE! The advertisements called it a place to hang out and have fun…and maybe even take a bus. If you really wanted to hang out at a bus station, you could choose to go there for a meal, a quick coffee or deserts, and even to do some quick shopping! Plus, it was clean, and despite the huge number of people, it was quiet! A sharp contrast to Delhi’s main bus terminal (for inter-state travel), which is a huge, sprawling, littered cacophony of noise and smells.

Grand Central Station, New York

Grand Central Station, New York

Being a tourist in a foreign land with a limited amount of money means that you have to do the unthinkable and use public transport. I rarely use public transport in India. My only experience is with the Mumbai local train, which most people in my adopted city of Delhi find nightmarish. I mastered the trick of using the local early on, though. Positioning. Position yourself in the middle of the crowd waiting to board or disembark from the train, and the mass of humanity will push you in the right direction. You really don’t need to do anything else. In Delhi, though, I either drive or call for a cab. So the thought of having to use the New York subway gave me the heebie-jeebies. Until I got to the subway station. And got into the tube. No pushing and shoving. No touching and feeling. Even if the compartment was crowded and there was no place to sit. What a revelation that was! If someone accidentally bumps into you they immediately apologize and try to create some more space. Which is so welcome after the uncouth Delhi men. Though that also means that I had to be careful about invading someone elses space. Stand too close (like at an arm’s length away from someone) to a person and you’re likely to attract dirty glances. In India, we’re used to this kinda closeness. To people glancing over your shoulder at the cash counter, for example, to look at what you’ve purchased. Or to just stare at you. Yeah, that happens a lot. You just get used to it. So being ‘invisible’ in the US felt…good!

Zumba class outside Macys

Zumba class outside Macys, New York

Then there’s the politeness. Though my uncle, who has been in the US since, like, forever, calls it a ‘chocolate’ society, as a tourist, you’ll find that the people are friendly. And friendly starts from your bus driver. Who you actually greet when you get on. And thank when you get off. Amazing. Especially since I come from a country where drivers are transparent. Seriously. Though in the US, so are we women. The people may be friendly and polite and nice, but no one really looks at you. Even if you wear clothes that show more than they hide. No lecherous stares. No lewd comments. No sleazy men following you around. Liberating!

New Yorker walking her dog, Battery Park, New York

New Yorker walking her dog, Battery Park, New York

Then there’s the sense of fun. If they like something, they’re vocal about it. Like on a Thursday outside Macy’s on 34th and Broadway, there was a free Zumba class. People kept joining in. Spectators watched. Tourists took pictures. And when they finished, everyone cheered and clapped and hooted. In India, you wouldn’t catch anyone doing anything like that out in public in the middle of the day. Ever. Nor would you find couples on the street or in the park, train, shop or restaurant smooching or hugging or publicly displaying affection. Not that it doesn’t happen at all, but let’s just say that it’s restricted to high-end malls and isn’t quite that blatant.

Hanging around in the park

Hanging around in the park

Ingrained with that sense of celebration is a love for parks. For sitting under the shade of a tree (or even out in the sun on the steps of a monument) listening to music, having lunch, working, relaxing. Which is probably why you’ll find a small park on almost every street. With a Witch store selling sandwiches and coffee. And more often than not, in those parks and on the streets (and even inside stores!) you’ll find fashionable New Yorkers with their four-legged friends (almost always dogs). You can’t go more than a few steps without spotting a dog and its owner. And if you, dear tourist, want to experience what that’s like, you can buy yourself a dog-shaped balloon that skims across the road alongside or behind you. Yes, really!

Fashionable, vibrant, bustling, always-awake New York – you own a piece of my heart!

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Museum hopping in New York City

If you are looking to book a holiday to New York, try Best At Travel for a wide selection of the best accommodation in the “Big Apple”

Wandering Wednesday #6: Food for thought

Ever since my college days, when I was pursuing a Masters in Mass Communication, I’ve loved feature writing – right from coming up with a topic to researching it and writing a piece. Lately, I’ve read quite a few interesting articles that made me pause…that made me rethink my world view…

think positive

Image by tango 48 via Flickr

For instance, how many times have we heard the phrase: “think happy thoughts!” Self-help books and  self-styled gurus try to tell us that we must change our negatives into positives to bring about a transformation in our circumstances. But did you know that research has shown that positive thinking can be downright harmful in some cases? Don’t just gasp, go on and find out Why positive thinking is bad for you.

Once you’ve figured that one out, come back and find out what is The problem with happiness. I’ll give you a clue – the more importance you place on being happy, the more unhappy and depressed you become.

Have you ever wondered how you think about your life? Is it a well-planned life, where you invest time in finding a clear purpose; or a summoned life, where you examine each concrete situation by sensitive observation and situational awareness? Find out in The summoned self.

Man of many languages - art installation in Vancouver Image by eyesplash Mikul via Flickr

The digital age has given rise to a whole lot of new words – such as Tweetup – that have become so popular that they’ve made it into the dictionary! Want to immortalize a “new” word of your own? How about going In search of a new word for Married?

Could you come up with a new English word, or did you find yourself leaning toward coining a new word in your mother tounge? Does that make you wonder if maybe your mother tongue places some restrictions on your ability to think? Find out! Does your language shape how you think?

Have you come across any interesting features recently? Thoughts on any of these articles? I’d love to hear from you! :)

(Click to read older Wandering Wednesday posts)