Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Special Things About New York: #1

Consider the following numbers. (don't worry, there wont be a quiz).

8 million: The number of people in NYC

32 million: The estimated number of rats in NYC

Rats are everywhere in the city. In the subway. On the streets. In the park. 
Thankfully, they are not in my apartment.

And, probably only for this reason, I can say that I think they are a really cool part of the city. Sometimes, I like to hang out on my fire escape and watch them run across the street and hop in and out of garbage piles. And, when I am walking home at night, I like how the trash bins on the street come to life when I pass them. When I run in the park, I like to chase the ones that run out in front of me.

Some might consider a 4:1 ratio of rats to humans to be problematic; I'm not going to lie to you, the idea of rats rummaging around in the kitchen of that diner that I ate at last night doesn't do much for my appetite. But I've never been to a city that has this sort of rat population. It's novel. It's one of the things that makes this place special.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Centre of the Universe

It's true: New York is the center of the universe.
The amount of stuff coming through this place on a daily basis is nuts. In the past 48 hours, without even leaving campus, I have seen the President of Ecuador, Jeffrey Sachs, and Wyclef Jean speak. The menu of upcoming speakers, conferences, exhibits and activities is too long to list, too long to possibly
take in. On top of that, I have friends coming through the city every weekend until Christmas. And I don't think that I'm just getting blasted with a meteor shower of awesomeness; this seems to be the exact place in the universe through which all awesomeness passes. I feel like I could stand in one place and the entire world will come to me here. It's fantastic. A little overwhelming. But fantastic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Confessions of a Born Again Academic

I have a confession to make. I haven't read a book for more than a year. In the five months that I spent crossing Africa, I didn't read so much as a trashy magazine. At a high level, my brain was undergoing some kind of indescribable transformation; a shift in values and attitudes, perhaps. Still, I could feel my brain soften, my vocabulary shrink. My trip across America was no better (psychological trauma, yes. Intellectual stimulation, no); conversations less frequent and often shallow on account of time constraints.

Upon my return to civilization, I struggled for words as though English were not the language that had carried me through my first 33 years.

Now, I've got three books to read this weekend for school. Like, full books. That hurts! I had to run down to the corner book store this morning to buy a pocket dictionary, which I frequently reference as I make my way through the inches of stacked text. Now, I'm thinking that I might need a latin-english dictionary, too.

I worried at first that getting back into this level of reading would be like when you go to the gym for the first time after a period of...laziness. And you try to press the same weight as the last time that you were there, as though your muscles hadn't atrophied...and then you can't walk or lift anything for a few days.

But, its not like that at all.

It's more like...going to the 7-11 on a really hot day and getting a nice, cold slurpee. Once you get past the initial (but temporary) brain freeze, the sensation of the icey crystals gliding over your tongue and then down your throat is refreshing and so, so satisfying.

Come to think of it, Columbia has other similarities to 7-11. For starters, the dated and not particularly fashionable interior of the building - which seems to be the standard decor for places of higher learning (let's just call it 'understated'). And then there is the more exciting element of there being a lot of really good stuff to choose from. It's hard to know when to stop; I'm taking 50% more credits than I technically need to (but, if you know me, that won't come as a surprise). I walked down the aisle of the curriculum, grabbing all of the goodies that I could fit in my pockets; a course on Politics and Economics in Brazil, another on Politics and Economics in Cuba, Political Development in the Third World, Politics of History and Reconciliation, and so on. So far, I think it will be plenty to satisfy my appetite for the next few months.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hurricane Tori has Touched Down in New York

Have you ever seen that movie with Will smith that starts out in Manhattan and it is like the end of the world has arrived? This is as close as I can come to describing the city as it welcomed me last week.
Irene had just left and the city was slowly emerging from it's hurricane-induced hibernation.
By the end of the week, there was a new storm making its way through the city; hurricane Tori.

The fun started on Friday night with a boat ride with a friend who was visiting from San Francisco. Anchoring somewhere close to the Statue of Liberty and watching the skyline light up as the sun set was amazing and I'm left wondering how on earth I forgot to take pictures!

Sunday brought the Brazil day parade on Sixth Avenue. It was not a small gathering, though the absence of open liquor meant the atmosphere did not reach the level of chaos that I have come to expect from crowds of this magnitude.
Monday, on the other hand, was a different story. Still a 'dry' event, the West Indies parade in Brooklyn was a demonstration that things can get crazy without adding booze to the mix. The music was decidedly more my style and the parade had a much more local feel (versus thousands of tourists piling on to sixth ave at the brazil day parade).
There were more cops at this parade than I've seen at any event that I've attended (in recent memory, anyhow). As the event heated up, I began to wonder if they were there to protect or there to watch. It was a good one!

Now, time to hit the books.