Finding lost Treasures: The Summer of Rediscovery

I knew I could not cope with the future unless I was able to rediscover the past.
– Gene Tierney

It has been a while, hasn’t it? My words never did go silent – they just went from being digital to dusty cursive choosing to live in physical notebooks for some time. I wrote, I was prolific. Perhaps the reason why it was more literally pen to paper is because so many of these thoughts were deeply personal. That’s how this summer of travel affected me – the sights that I saw, the people I met – almost gave rise to emotions and aspects that I thought I had lost in the buzzing world of Business school.

These post-MBA travels before restarting my career after a two-year hiatus serve as a perfect bookend to my pre-MBA exploits around Southeast Asia. Back then, in 2011, I had set out to discover new worlds and push myself in directions that I didn’t know. These past 2013 travels were almost like shaking hands with a familiar friend – a best friend – who one doesn’t get to see that often. A friend who I had forgotten in my pursuit of a higher education. Ah – well – I am glad that I have found her again. She’s alive and thriving!

The Arno

The Arno, Florence

In Croatia, I confirmed the strength of beautiful friendships that I had cultivated over the last 2 years.

In Vienna and Budapest, I felt my inner history-loving fire come to life, waltzing around the Schönbrunn, pumping my fists up in Jewish Ruin pubs, singing “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” with an eclectic, musical trio.

In Italy – ah Italy – I met Bernini. I came face-to-face with his majesty – finally. I rediscovered my Art. Dancing on the streets of Venice, Prancing through cobbled stones of Florence, Hiding in the caves of Cinque Terre’s Ligurian Sea, Playing with fountains in Rome. Running across a friend from primary school days after 10 years of separation.

In Paris, I unearthed my love for Absolute Immersion. Living in the heart of Montmarte, traversing the City of Lights with friends who had defined me in my days in Boston, relishing on pan au chocolat and a café from a corner bakery every morning.

In Freiburg, I again understood the joy of Living Simply and the Art of Conversation. Picnics, munching on berries, swimming in green lakes, debates of society and politics under stars. And yet again, this time too, with friends who had shaped an amazing few months for me back in Boston.

In Peru, I found all of the things above in a wonderful package juxtaposed with some of the most astounding scenery that I have ever seen. And, saw my Macchu Picchu – a site that I have been chasing for about 10 years to get to. What was the most wondrous? While Europe rekindled with my old self in beautiful backdrops, Peru unveiled an entirely new dimension of me.

My travelogues eventually will follow. I wanted to write this piece to join together jumbled thoughts.

Heart of the Andes, Peru

Heart of the Andes, Peru

Shanghai: Capping it Off

Two weeks in China have flown by. Through the course of the last few days, I have witnessed slices of this country that are constantly changing my overall opinion of it. From the somber hutongs (streets) of Beijing to the cities in the skies in midland China (Chengdu and Chongqing) to the urban, international metropolis of Shanghai – Commercial China has been, overall, steeped in new money and quick development. The developing China left me impressed but there was still something missing to tie me inherently to the country. In Thailand, the history and markets of Ayutthaya were the trigger; in Cambodia, the ruins of Angkor Wat; and in Spain, the vibrant oranges of Sevilla.

 

 In my last two days in the Land of the Pandas, I have found that trigger – it’s called a tiny city of Shanghai. This city is the perfect blend of modernism, Europeanism, and ethnic Chinese culture. And there is a further element to it that renders it a perfectly suited city to my sentiments – its love for art and architecture. Ranging from an exposition on Miro’s modern swirls to ancient Chinese urns, sweeping from wooden houses of old China to Nuevo-Greco architecture brought on by European colonizers, the flavor that Shanghai gives is that of historic east blended with aspects of the west.

What sweetened my already favorable opinion of the city was seeing the place through the eyes of a local Shanghainese. My friend and I had the goodfortune to meet a friend of a friend who is from a smaller town in China but has spent about 10 years is Shanghai. He showed us bits of the city here and there to indicate why this city really has a character that is truly its own. We went to an area in Shanghai that was less accessed by tourists – cobbled roads, narrow streets, intricate wooden buildings. And within these structures lay galleries, artisans, and restaurants that were so unique (and some, so Chinese) that we spent hours roaming a very small circle

A perfectly spiced lunch was fueled by conversation that for both my friend and I was riveting. For the last 12 weeks, we had been studying Modern China and its business growth diligently. We had spent the last 2 weeks in country visiting stalwarts like IntelJohnson and Johnson, and Baidu to better understand growth, government, and, to an extent, stagnation. We had even had the opportunity to meet with the Chongqing government (currently in the center of global media frenzy due to the sacking of a top official, Bo Xilai). Getting a perspective from our friend, a budding entrepreneur in a country where innovation is now a top priority was a fascinating cap to our ideas. Through him, we saw a China whose young people were passionate, driven, worldly, and above all, very confident in their country’s future prospects.

The China that I got to see in two short weeks is one that has an underlayer of tradition and order while opening its arms to embrace modern ideas and thoughts.

The youth wore the latest designers but in their own unique way, the buildings (especially those in Shanghai and Chongqing) could give some western cities a run for their money, and the interior street- and food-markets, selling a vast array of animals and vegetables that I had never seen consumed before. It was an interesting visit and in Shanghai, I felt that pang of saying goodbye before one is ready to do so.

Take me out to a baseball game…and sing!

Even entering the venue of Johnny Baseball, American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)’s latest production, feels like one has stepped in the midst of a baseball game. The bar is selling beer and peanuts, there is a smell of hot dogs cooking, and one is sitting with all those in a hand, looking on to essentially a baseball diamond. Only when the lights dim and the actors come onto the playing field then does one realize that you’re not actually at a game but watching a theater performance.

I was scared, initially, to see the show because never in my life have I taken even the slightest interest in baseball. My knowledge of the game comes from what pop culture bombards me with (it was hard to ignore the BIG, BOLD headlines back in ’04 when the curse-prone Sox beat the Yankees). Therefore, I was truly surprised that I emerged from the play craving more, wanting the dashing lead, Colin Donnell, to hit a home-run and for the mesmerizing Stephanie Umoh to sing yet another enchanting number.

The musical centers around baseball, Red Sox, and The Curse of the Bambino. Although on first glance, it would seem that the story too revolves around the American sport, one soon realizes that the sport assumes more of the role of a background or a prop to propel a compelling story about love, race, and the communal spirit of watching history happen together. The historic moment is that of the beginning of the end of the 86-year old Red Sox curse breaking in 2004.  This is the year the play starts from and ends in, but along the path, takes many dives into history and the audience meets characters such as Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. The dives are taken to help put together a fictional story of why the curse was there in the first place. Interjected in the intriguing story are foot-tapping musical numbers that one cannot help but clap to. And the cast sings them with contagious enthusiasm.

Johnny Baseball is playing at the Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square, Cambridge which is extended by popular demand to July 11

Finding a Gem in your own backyard

When I used to live in India, I used to dream of Venetian palaces, French chateaus, Chinese summer homes. It took 24 years to open my eyes and see the history surrounding the place where I spent my childhood summers, the city of my birth. Often we passed by the Laxmi Villas Palace in Vadorara in rickshaws but never did I have the curiosity or the fascination to go visit it. Vadodara back then was associated just with long, lazy summers lounging in Grandma’s apartment and going shopping for pretty Gujarati dresses on R.C.Dutt road.

Laxmi Villas Palace, Vadodara

That dusty, boring Vadodara too could have its own fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and an on-site royal family never struck me.

Darbar Hall, Laxmi Villas Palace, Vadodara

It was the permanence of the backyard that strongly hindered my exploratory spirit when it came to this palace. It took a physical, permanent removal from India to get me dreaming about one day visiting the sprawling construction in the heart of the city.

Laxmi Villas Palace, build circa 1890, is gorgeous. One of the seven wonders of India, the palace is a fusion of styles – going from Italian stained glass window (the most in any private residence) to Islamic arabesque carvings. Yet, it retains within itself that charm that makes it a true Gujarati construction – that airy feeling, those open aangans (courtyards), those sculpted wooden arches.

Amusing call-back to America: The palace tour is conducted via an audio guide (in English!), reminding me of my Fall ’09 visit to the gilded mansions in Rhode Island.