One of the most important things a city should provide to its residents is, in my humble opinion, plenty of open and green spaces. London is no stranger to parks as it seems every where I turn, I'm in some sort of garden or park. I find it quite soothing to sit amongst the trees, read a book, or enjoy some time with friends. My next couple of posts will be about the beautiful green spaces of London.
1. Hampstead Heath: It is in Zone 3 so a bit farther out of the city center but nonetheless, it is my favorite park so far. It's rolling hills, ponds, trees, and views of London offer something for everyone. John Keats, the 19th century poet, lived in a home nearby and walked through this heath and may have composed several poems here.
If there is one place in London that has enough space for people, it is Hampstead Heath. Once away from the entrance and the path, one can truly be alone in this park. I stopped by a bench and sat under a giant tree, listening to the birds and the movement of the grass with the open expanse of sky before me. It was glorious. Big benefit: One can walk up to Parliament Hill and get a view of the London skyline, spotting all the buildings and all the cranes building up the newer buildings.
I am fascinated with history and with it, the evolution of government. Naturally, a tourists visit to London included a trip to the parliament and the infamous Big Ben clock tower. The building represents one thousand years of British government; think of how many important pieces of legislation went through those walls. If only those walls could speak.
Lining the Thames river on both sides are a series of docks that have been turned into commercial/public green spaces. Tourists rush to the edge of the banks to take in views of the parliament and the London eye, armed with their selfie sticks. There are so many people, it's like equivalent of visiting Times Square. Hilariously, there were two places that offered "New York" food, burgers and NY pizza, neither of which I had any desire to eat. Traditional British food itself is not too appetizing, which is my theory as to why restaurants are so successful in the UK.
The Thames river reminds me of the Hudson, green and gross. It's no wonder I love this city so much, it reminds me of home.
I am currently in England for a couple of weeks and I will be blogging my experiences for you!
It has been one week since my arrival in London and it has been a week of history, learning, and adventure. Not surprisingly, it is easy to fit in as a New Yorker. The movement of pedestrians, especially in and out of the Underground is similar to our movements on the subway.
The tube (undeground) is an extensive network that I quickly got the hang of. People move fast here, it almost feels like everyone is racing each other. The bankers all wear a distinct blue suit that I have now dubbed "banker blue."
I love the history of London, the different distinct architectural styles, the old buildings mixing with the new, the cafe culture, the art, and how one does not need a car to travel and live comfortably here. Everything is new and foreign to me at the same time.
I'll bring you new posts daily on my trip in London and my journey along the way.
The joy of spontaneity is in the word itself. An unpredictable surprise at an unknown point in time. In a life of routines, spontaneity is often thrown aside for an easier, predictable life. I prefer to go home and spend time watching reruns of the same shows instead of going outside and doing or trying something different.
Last week however, in a burst of spontaneity, I decided on a last minute trip to Edinburgh, Scotland and Amsterdam. I met with some friends in Edinburgh, spent 2 days touring the city and on the way back I toured Amsterdam alone. What a great way to have spent the weekend and I certainly encourage every person to be spontaneous in their lives. It changes things, one meets new people, tries new things (like hiking a dormant volcano); all in all it fosters change in a generously sheltered life such as mine.
The rest of the city (and country) is very green. A dormant volcano called Arthur's seat lies in the city limits and we hiked up its 800 ft summit to enjoy spectacular view of the city.
There are many streets closely packed together, alleys called "closes" that have very interesting historic stories and were, essentially, tenement apartment dwellings without proper ventilation. Plagues festered and destroyed the lives of thousands in those closes. Walking along the royal mile in the old town feels as if one has stepped back in time. It is stunningly well kept, the closes are in great structural condition, too. One can easily imagine how life must have been in those days, in small cramped rooms beneath towering steeples and grey skies.
Two weeks ago I never would have thought that I would be standing on the summit of Arthur's seat, looking over the city of Edinburgh, with volcanic ridges and moors around me. Absolutely love spontaneity...the idea of not knowing tomorrow has become quite a romantic idea indeed.
There has been this persistent grey color to the sky, the ground, and the very air we breathe in New York City. The lack of sun and this endless winter has turned this city into a page out of a Dostoevsky novel, cold, snowy, miserable, and grey.
I was lucky enough to escape for a few days in January; we went to San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I felt that warm sun on my skin I completely understood why people used to worship this majestic, celestial body. It is rejuvenating and magnificent in its splendor; it is life.
Old San Juan was particularly inviting, a 500+ year old city surrounded by forts built by the Spanish in the 1500's. The two forts, El Morro and San Cristobal, were high and mighty and must have been quite a sight in the days of colonial trade routes in the Caribbean Sea.
San Juan was fantastic however the best things to do were outside of the city. El Yunque rainforest, a national rainforest about an hour away from the city, had fantastic trails and interesting plants to discover and kayaking at night in the bioluminescent bay was one of the best experiences of my life. I was frightened a bit by the dark and the water however once we reached the lagoon we saw nothing but the green lights of the phytoplankton in the water below us and the bright stars above. I lived the entire trip in that one moment.
Several years ago on a cold day in February, I was lucky enough to spend a single day in Paris, France. While I hated the time constraints we had, in retrospect that single day left memories that have idealized the city for me. Everything I remember about Paris is beautiful because my time there was so short. That philosophy should be applied to life in general- it is short, therefore make it as beautiful as you possibly can.
I can go on and on and repeat what the world has said about Paris, about its beauty, the architecture, the monuments, the people, the river Seine and its idealism even in the cold, dead of winter; however, I will let my pictures reflect it.
That cold day in Paris is one that I will never forget.
I have a job that allows me to travel to some cool places from time to time. Back in October we went up to West Point in the town of HIghland Falls, NY. It was the best time of year to visit, autumn, and the leaves were just beginning to change.
Some of the most impressive and inspiring views of the Hudson River valley are in this area. This picture above really takes my breath away; I could hardly believe it when I was standing there to take the picture. It reminded me of the scene in the Fellowship of the Ring, where the companions are traveling by boat through the river with enormous mountains on either side of them. Just beautiful.
I have been visiting Pakistan once a year for three consecutive years now. My family is forever hospitable and hosts me as if I had never left the place. It is a blessing to be a part of an exclusive group of people that one can call one's own.
In the past three years, the currency of Pakistan (the rupee) has fallen considerably against the dollar. In 2011, $1 was equivalent to 80 rupees, in 2012 it was 92 rupees, and in 2013 it is not 105 rupees. Likewise that which cost 100 rupees in 2011 costs 150 rupees or more in 2013. Inflation is rampant and salaries have not increased. We see the same thing here in the United States, my salary has been frozen for the past two years yet the cost of rent, electricity, gas, water, heat, etc has gone up. Nevertheless, folks work very hard to make ends meet and to try to provide a better life for the next generation.
We took a trip to Thatta and Kheenjar Lake (about 3 hours from Karachi). Families were out and about, enjoying the break in the weather and the day off in the cool waters of the lake. On the way back from the lake we stopped over at the Jame Masjid built by Shah Jahan in Thatta and then headed over to see the historical cemetery at Makli.
The mosque was as beautiful as i remembered it to be two years ago. This year it was crowded; it made me happy to see Pakistani people enjoying their own history on the day of their Independence (we went out on August 14- Pakistan independence day). The front portion of the mosque, the mihrab (where the imam leads the prayer) was redone. My favorite parts were the different ceilings (above and below). The precision, the colors and the patterns all fit perfectly with the grandeur of the mosque.
Makli Cemetery lies in the outskirts of the city of Thatta. This cemetery is five centuries and is a testament to several styles of islamic art and architecture. There are over half a million graves here. The rise and fall of several islamic civilizations are shown through the architectural designs of the mausoleums that the rich built for themselves and their families. The sands of Makli are rich in the turbulent history of the region. If folks could be buried in such ostentatious displays of fortune, what must their normal lives have been like?
The city of Thatta was once a flourishing place as one can see from the remnants of grandeur left behind. Now, it has fallen into decay and with the huge city of Karachi near by it seems as if there is no interest left to preserve it. There is a rise and a fall for everything and every place.
Seaside in Karachi, Pakistan
I have had the luxury of observing Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month) in Pakistan with my extended family for the past two years. My employers have been very generous in giving me that time off and I luxuriated the holy month in an Islamic environment. Ramadhan has been in the summer and that meant long, hot days of no food and water and the thought of that was depressing and frightening to me here by myself in New York. So, I went to Karachi and my relatives accepted me with open arms and I loved every minute of it. This year, however, I chose to stay in New York during Ramadhan. I wanted to get over my trepidation of a summer Ramadhan in NYC and just do it. So far, I am glad that I did.
In Karachi, the awareness of Ramadhan begins a week in advance. Signs are up, lights are up, it’s equivalent to Christmas. It is a countrywide experience (since Pakistan is an Islamic republic), school/work days are shortened or timings are changed (I used to stay up all night and sleep a lot during the day), days off are accepted and charity is a given. People are incredibly kind to those who fast. I remember driving home with my cousins one day, it was close to sunset, and there was a lot of traffic. In the midst of the traffic, folks were going around to the cars and people on street, giving them food so that they may break their fast. Likewise in my family dinners, other people were thought of first, either in prayer or by handing out food in the community/mosque or by giving money to the less fortunate. It was the done thing - charity was a given. My Ramadhan experience in Karachi was an incredibly social one, I was constantly surrounded by people, family, friends, neighbors, etc, we dined together, talked and traveled, joined in happiness and sorrow, in remembrance and forgiveness. It was truly the wholesome family experience any person could ask for during a holiday.
This year in New York, I have faced a different sort of Ramadhan thus far, one of solitude and reflection. I live alone, my nights are spent eating, praying and figuring out a sleeping schedule so that my work is not affected. I do not attend the mosque here for I do not have enough time to travel back and forth and it is physically exhausting navigating the subways at nighttime in the heat. However, this Ramadhan is one of the best I have ever experienced. This struggle has helped me understand how much I have in my life and how imperative it is to help others who do not have the luxuries I enjoy. I find myself constantly reflecting on my life and my choices. There is no “New York” rush this month, I walk slowly, I talk slowly; there is no overexertion of any facet because there is a thought behind every action. The solitude in fasting is a joy; it’s a silent, daily journey for God and myself. There is a real chance to improve my character, to try and change for the better.
While these two cities have offered me entirely different Ramadhan experience, the lessons I learned are quite similar. There is an importance in constant reflection of ones character and there is equal importance in the establishment of charity. May the rest of Ramadhan be equally rewarding to everyone.
I traveled to Peru with some friends three years ago; It was my first venture into South America and I did not know what to expect. I knew of the Incas from school and the amazing feats of construction and engineering that they were known for but generally, the trip was to be completely and utterly new.
We traveled to Lima, Cusco, and Puno. Upon arriving in Lima and during our taxi ride to the hostel, we passed by several malls, highways, McDonald's and other fast food places. For a minute it seemed as though I had not left New York. Nevertheless we ventured out to eat at a sushi place and explored the city as best we could in the one day that we were there.
The next day, we departed for Cusco and when we landed in that airport, in that rugged valley between mountains, I felt as though I had escaped any reality I had ever known and entered a new dominion. As we roamed through the city streets, I was reminded of Che Guevera's quote from his infamous motorcycle diaries. He wrote about the city of Cusco, "The word that most perfectly describes the city of Cuzco is evocative. Intangible dust of another era settles on its streets, rising like the disturbed sediment of a muddy lake when you touch its bottom."
In Cusco we adjusted to the altitude by drinking plenty of mate de coca, a special tea, and exploring the neighborhood. The city center was populous and geared towards tourists- however we had the pleasure to go up horseback riding in the mountains and to visit some ancient sites away from the touristy places. History in Cusco was everywhere, in the buildings, in gravesites, and even in the people; I watched as a Quechua woman bound her baby in her garments and fastened it to her back with ease, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The children were exceptionally beautiful. I would be transfixed in watching them with their parents and friends. Family was important to them.
Our journey to Macchu Picchu took roughly 6 hours from Cusco. A train ride through a mesmerizing landscape took us into the village of Aguas Calientes (hot water). The mountains and trees around this place were green and flourishing, completely in contrast with the brown dirt in Cusco. Aguas Calientes probably started off as a small village but soon expanded after Macchu Picchu was discovered. One has to journey there and stay the night (the village is filled with many hotels), with buses leaving in the morning for Macchu Picchu. The bus ride up was scary, it took us to such heights that looking out the window frightened me. Nevertheless, the excitement I felt upon seeing those mountains, upon those clouds that we were going up into, that excitement was boundless. By the time we reached Macchu Picchu I thought nothing could make me happier. And was I wrong.
After roughly a 20 minute hike up some steep stairs, one gets the glimpse of the entire city. It was unbelievable, for lack of a better word. So many questions were going through my mind about this place, it's purpose, it's inhabitants, how it was so precisely created and engineered, that I barely listened to the guide who took us through the city. We sat for a while, surrounded by its stone walls, and I tried to understand the place. I could not and I had to leave it at that. It was beautiful, it had a quiet strength and dignity, and though the questions in my mind remained unanswered, they were pushed back. I let myself sit and enjoy the solitude and peace this city in the mountains brought to my heart and thanked the Lord Almighty that I had been privileged enough to visit this place.
My only hope is that I one day get to see it again. Che Guevera said it best, "How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?"
At an awesome family reunion this weekend in Pennsylvania, I took several pictures of the cabin, surrounding trees and flowers in the grass. I realized, in between my attempts at photography, that building and maintaining relationships is similar to how we maintain and care for plants. They require the same kind of effort.
When handling plants and flowers one must be gentle and nurturing. They must be tended to and cared for regularly otherwise the plants will wither and die. Likewise, relationships must be cared for and tended to, whether it be through meetings or virtual contact. That effort to care must remain otherwise that relationship will not progress, and humans who limit their contact with others find themselves at ease with a loss of social interaction.
I learned a valuable lesson this weekend in the importance of tending to relationships. Meet with your relatives, develop relationships with people, it's an important part of life. it is definitely an important part of mine :)
One does not have to look far to find great style and inspiration. It's in the street art anywhere and everywhere. The letters, colors, names, stickers, all being used to convey some message, angst and hate-filled or against hate. It's all around us (and it can be an eyesore at times), a basic freedom of expression, even if it does get painted over. Look around.
How often does one act without thinking, his feet moving forward, trained, and his mind one step behind or entirely closed off? Routine- it's almost like sleepwalking- every day is the same as the day before as one becomes programmed to move in a certain way.
During my morning and evening routines I am able to close off the world entirely. I can walk, get on the subway, get to work, sometimes without a serious thought crossing my mind. The conscious world becomes unconscious as I choose to believe it is not there. Humans are treated as objects, or obstructions in my path during the routine. This is where the part of a routine becomes scary- where it takes away my compassion and awareness of the feelings of others. I become rude, irritated, and even hostile when people are in my way, changing my routine.
And this is where I'd like to tell you that my heart steps in each day and reminds me that every person is important, that each of their stories are important. But I'd be lying.
It takes a real, conscious effort to recognize this, to build and rebuild this compassion day after day. It truly is a struggle to really care. We are not machines, we are not programmed. Just as we feed our bodies with food, we must feed our souls with compassion and awareness of the creatures and the planet around us. How do I do this? Through memory and really thinking about life in another persons shoes.
Though feeling compassion is only the first step. Actions are the next.
So what if it rained today? New York City has seen it fair share of hazardous weather and the city has overcome it. The cancellation of the GoogaMooga festival today really annoyed me. It's just water, really. And guess what? It dries and evaporates once one is back indoors!
Luckily the Fifth Avenue Street Fair still went on, despite the dreariness. There was music and food and all sorts of artwork and antiques. People were out with their umbrellas and plastic ponchos. That's the spirit of Brooklyn that I know and love.
The festivities on Friday in Prospect Park were inherent of the spirit of Brooklyn as well. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the GoogaMooga festival on Friday (see the pictures below). It's a great festival celebrating mostly local food and music. There were young and old mingling in the park eating gourmet hot dogs ($12 a pop), sampling the different kinds of food and enjoying the music. It's really a shame that it was cancelled today. I am sure if it had been based on a vote, the show would still have gone on.
With malice toward none, with charity for all...a mural dedicated to Lincoln in Philadelphia
Art, literature, and history are the biggest inspirations in my life. This week, Jack Kerouac's On The Road has helped rekindle my love for an adventure and it has reminded me of the importance of compassion. The monotony of the daily grind takes its toll in the worst possible way. Fatigue leads to indifference and the worst thing of all, complacency. I refuse to settle for that.
So began an impromptu road trip to Philadelphia. In less than three hours from Brooklyn we made it to the city where the colonists declared their independence from Britain, where the universities, churches and museums are rich in their exhibits and history, where open space was planned hundreds of years in advance, and where Rocky (a fictional character) is a celebrated hero.
There were many, many homeless and struggling people. It's hard to see someone struggle and not even offer a smile for support or a handful of change. May poverty be alleviated in all nations, may we strive for a better, more humane society.
I'll be adding pictures and commentary of the things I love. I am an ordinary person in an extraordinary place. There is no special purpose to this blog other than to project what I am thinking of at any given moment.
All the photos are mine (unless stated otherwise). Please do not use without permission. To learn more about me, check out my linked in profile below.