Thursday, December 27, 2007

On My Way

In about eight hours, I will be on my way to Bangladesh by way of Dubai. This is exciting (if I ignore everything else, that is.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Finnegan in Indonesia

Two weeks ago, at a Lang on the Hudson lecture, Bill Finnegan, Rob's friend, spoke to the class about the Hudson and East River waterfront and its ties to New York and New Jersey mobsters. Finnegan is a writer for the New Yorker and an avid surfer (which, in New York City, is kind of hard).

I looked Finnegan up before he came to the class because his name was familiar. (We read him in Rob's Introduction to Non-Fiction class.) What caught my eye was the preface to many-a-biography statement describing his reportage of South Africa and apartheid: He went to Africa to fund his Asian trips. Now, since I'm interested in traveling around that part of the world, I wanted to hear what he had to say about it.

After talking to Finnegan about New York's waters and the such, I made my way towards Asia. I mentioned how I looked him up and read that he'd been to Asia. We started talking about Indonesia. He said that no one there really knows the language (Indonesian) which makes sense because the country is wholly made up of many, many different groups of people. This, in addition to the lack of conjugations (everything is spoken, or was spoken, according to Finnegan, in one tense--no pesky past perfect or indicative tenses to worry about) made the language pretty easy to pick up. He mentioned how he felt the Muslims were friendlier than other groups.

Granted, he was there in (I might be remembering this incorrectly) the 1960s, during Sukarno's dictatorship, but Finnegan made it seem just that more real to me.

There is more I can say about what I talked to Finnegan about, but I'll save that for next time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Berger's New York: A Frozen Hudson

Remember in The Day After Tomorrow where people walked on the Hudson and through the mouth of the harbor in search of someplace warmer? Yeah, and how you also thought that couldn't happen in real life because of the salinity of the Hudson? According to Meyer Berger's column, the Hudson used to freeze over all the time:


January 19, 1955

A group of middle-aged gentlemen in town got talking about the weather the other day and how modern winters are sissy periods compared with those they passed through in youth.

One stubborn fellow insisted that in 1918, when World War I was on, he and a whole group of small-fry from Ninetieth Street walked across the frozen Hudson to a point on the New Jersey shore--Fort Lee he thought it was.

The talk swelled to uproar at the bar, one faction holding that there has been no bank-to-bank freeze below Yonkers in modern times, though such a phenomenon was common in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Newspaper files show that a munitions worker named Fred Gabay crossed on the ice from Hastings in Westchester to a point on the New Jersey side in a free-up on Jan. 2, 1918. The same file indicated a Hudson River freeze-up just five years earlier but didn't say how far down it came.

The files also showed a photograph, published Jan. 13, 1918, showing Dr. Lee de Forest, the inventor, and Miss Nancy Mayo crossing the Hudson opposite 230th Street, New York City.

Edward Rindwood Hewitt of Gramercy Square, son of Abram Hewitt, who was Mayor of New York in 1887, remembers that the Hudson froze almost every year around that period, mostly about February.

It sticks in his mind, he says, because he and the other silk-stocking kids used to sail-skate from somewhere around Yonkers down to Manhattan's upper reaches. They did it year after year.

Mr. Hewitt, pushing 90 down, recalls clearly that one winter day in 1875 it was the East River that froze, and probably both rivers. That freeze is fixed in his memory because the cash boy for his grandfather, Peter Cooper, due at the office in Water Street that morning, didn't show up until mid-afternoon.

It turned out that ice had stopped the East Twenty-third Street-Greenpoint ferry, so the cash boy had come down the hard way. He had walked from Cooper's Bushwick glue factory to Greenpoint, then to the Manhattan shore and all the way downtown without wetting his feet.

The last ice-up anyone could remember was during the record cold of February, 1934, a bitter depression year when the thermometer only once struggled above freezing. By that time, though, river traffic was so heavy that there was no shore-to-shore ice bridge, only heavy floe accumulation.


That would've been so amazing to see. I need to get over to the Hudson when it snows, because I've never seen it like that before.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

With Bag, Must Go

In a hilarious op-ed about traveling overpacked, rollin' grannies, Seth Stevenson had this to add:

The swashbuckling adventurer hoists a leather rucksack, or a battered canvas duffel. He doesn't tug his bag behind him on a leash like a stubborn and especially boring pet.

Let's hope I look badass when I travel.

In Great Need of Something Far Away

This what I need right now, among other things.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What Awaits Me in Asia

I hope I run into elephants in Bangladesh and monkeys in India. Hell, and maybe even Shakira. At least she's better than Paris Hilton.

And this is the craziness that would've greeted me if we were making that stopover in Dubai. Oh well, there's always 2009 with Hannah during our proposed Middle East/Central Asia trip.

New York City From Above

I took this during my flight to Florida a year ago.

Despite all of my grumbling about being stuck in New York, there still is a certain charm to it that even a New Yorker can find every now and then. Just looking at the city from afar (meaning Brooklyn or Queens really) is something amazing--I can't think of any other skyline that remains (almost, just ignore all of the new, stupid development) classically magnificent without being gaudy.

While I want to get away from New York now, I know eventually, I will come back. Because you can't really escape New York.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bits: Majoring in Facebook, Russian Muslims & Traveling Online


"About Facebook! Forward March!" by Monica Hesse, from the Washington Post

Leaving the silly headline aside, this article is about schools, specifically the Rochester Istitue of Technology, Cornell and University of Michigan, expanding and developing their computer sciences program into the new frontier: online social networking. Or, as Hesse puts it: "You can now major in MySpace, sort of." There is even a scholar in the field: danah boyd (intentional lower-case), a graduate student who is an expert in all things Facebook, MySpace, Friendster (oh, 2003) and whatever else is out there. Hesse also delves into the voyeuristic characteristics (poetic, I know) of these sites, because you outrightly present yourself to people without having to physically do so, and say things to people that you know others will read (the Facebook wall).


"An overflowing of Muslim pilgrims from Russia for the hajj" by Michael Schwirtz, from the International Herald Tribune

Considering how the Russians (or Soviets at that point--my history is kind of rusty in that respect, I need to read up more on it) were courting Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries for arms and ammunitions sales, it's weird that Russian Muslims wouldn't be allowed to perform hajj, (one of the five pillars of Islam--you undergo a religious journey to the birthplace of Islam in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. My father was going to go in March and take me with him, but alas, it was too expensive. It would've been great because you can't enter Saudi Arabia legally as a tourist, only religious, work or family reasons. My dad's brother also lives there, and my father used to live there too.). Practicing Islam in Russia used to be forbidden too, but now, it flourishes, with mosques and head scarves everywhere.


"Travel guidebooks expand online presence" by Eric Pfanner, from the International Herald Tribune

My problem with online expansion in this case is, why would you want a guidebook online? If you're traveling, you don't want to be glued to your computer (this says a lot coming from me), you want to be out there, in the country, experiencing everything there is to experience. Having more online materials, therefore, would be detrimental to that experience. I love having an actual guidebook with me because I can whip it out whenever I need it. And Pfanner brings up the point of short trips to a region where you don't necessarily need the entire country guidebook, but I say that it's an investment. But this is probably just my love with print talking.

Monday, December 17, 2007

the great advantage of being alive

For you:

[by E.E. Cummings]

the great advantage of being alive
(instead of undying)is not so much
that mind no more can disprove than prove
what heart may feel and soul may touch
—the great(my darling)happens to be
that love are in we,that love are in we

and here is a secret they never will share
for whom create is less than have
or one times one than when times where—
that we are in love,that we are in love:
with us they've nothing times nothing to do
(for love are in we am i are in you)

this world(as timorous itsters all
to call their cowardice quite agree)
shall never discover our touch and feel
—for love are in we are in love are in we;
for you are and i am and we are(above
and under all possible worlds)in love

a billion brains may coax undeath
from fancied fact and spaceful time—
no heart can leap,no soul can breathe
but by the sizeless truth of a dream
whose sleep is the sky and the earth and the sea
For love are in you am in i are in we

[I love that Cummings used emdashes in his poems.]

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Odyssey

I told him Afghanistan was the missing section of my walk, the place in between the desert and the Himalayas, between Persian, Hellenic and Hindu culture, between Islam and Buddhism, between mystical and militant Islam. I wanted to see where these cultures merged into one another or touched the global world.

I talked about how I had been walking one afternoon in Scotland and thought: Why don't I just keep going? There was, I said, a magic in leaving a line of footprints stretching behind me across Asia.

—Rory Stewart, The Places In Between


In May, the prospect of graduating scared me. I didn't want to let go of everything I'd come to learn so well—the newspaper, my classes and just the school itself.

The time after graduation is, as David Brooks so eloquently put it in his column, "odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood." He goes on to describe it as a period of trying and delaying: with so many different options, there's no rush to settle.

I am in the middle of my odyssey. Soon enough, I'll be in the real world dealing with real things, like salaries and rent and insurance.

I always had vague ideas about what I wanted to do in life—something involving writing, something not typical. In college, I came to realize that I wanted to do journalism—reproting on the unseen and unnoticed, like exploring the rivers of Bangladesh like the BBC did or how the television blackout affected Pakistanis during martial law, those are the articles I want to write.

New York is too familiar to me. This idea haunted me throughout my last year of college—I needed to get away.

At the time, I was finishing up my senior work, a collection of poetry and essays about traveling presented in a nicely-designed booklet. Reading about my previous trips mad me realize how much I missed traveling. I thought about my friend Jon and how he planned to move back to China, which he did. Then I thought about my professor, Peter Godwin, and how, after he graduated, he and his friends bought two former-military British cars and drove from England to South Africa, while writing and submitting articles to publications.

I needed something like that, something epic, where I could and actually be abroad. I needed an adventure to look forward to, a time where I knew I would be gone. I wasn't going to school, I didn't have a permanent job, I didn't have any obligations. I could be gone for as long as I wanted.

With this idea stuck in my head, my only question became, where?


I'm not sure how I came to decide on South and Southeast Asia. It was between that area and South America, but I was pulled more towards the former. Once I had that thought in my head, it was set: I would spend at least four months on the other side of the world.

I told my advisor, Rob, about this and asked what he thought about it. He said it sounded fine, but I needed a mission, a reason for going. Considering he's a freelance writer, it made sense he'd say that. If you're going to do something, you need a purpose, no?

I needed a purpose.

I learned as much as I could about the area. I kept up with the news, from both local and established papers. I read books, some recommended and others that I stumbled upon. I read Richard Lloyd Parry's In the Time of Madness, where he saw Indonesia fall apart in the late '90s amidst a corrupt dictatorship and vicious ethnic battles between the Dayaks and the Madurese. More than just simple reporting, Parry describes actually being there and witnessing pure savagery: decapitated bodies being dragged by motorcycles, heads displayed prominently along the road and cannibalism, while dealing with his reactions (fear) and his own life (broken heart).

I read Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana. While he doesn't travel to the areas I planned on (instead he stirred a new obsession with Central Asia, anyone want to go to Iran with me?), he trekked across Afghanistan and Iran and wrote about his experiences, which is exactly what I want to do.

Next on my list was Rory Stewart's The Places In Between, an updated version of Byron's traverse. When I finished reading, I realized what my mission was.

This idea of interaction of cultures is why I picked Asia. I already have my own identity: a Bengali Muslim (though I'm not really much of a true Muslim, but that's besides the point). In South and Southeast Asia, there is a whole array of cultures and religions: Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Indian, Bengali, Pakistani, Indonesian, Madurese, Javanese, Thai, Dayak, Chinese, Catholic, Confucian and more that I'm not even aware of. Indonesia's official motto is even "Unity in Diversity."

Observing these exchanges and writing about them is what I want to do. There are so many different places to start. In Malaysia, Indians are protesting because they feel marginalized. After the Burmese protests in September, Bangladesh housed refugee monks. I read an article in the International Herald Tribune about Indians who pretended they were vegetarians so they could stay in their apartments and just imagine the lengths they went to hide their meat-consuming ways. Imagine having to do that in New York. You really can't.

Being South Asian, I wonder how that will play into my interactions, but I'll never know until I'm there.


Originally, I planned on going to Bangladesh first to reacquaint myself with my extended family and country. I read an article about the Moitree Express, an old train that used to run between Calcutta, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Being obsessed with transportation in between countries, I had my heart set on taking that train into India.

That idea has been scrapped, though, because I'm going to Bangladesh this winter with my family.

Now, my journey will begin in Calcutta, India. Taking the train, I'll stop in major and random cities—I've yet to set a solid plan—but I know I'd want to stop by Mumbai and Agra for the Taj Mahal. If possible, I'd like to make a short trip into Pakistan, or, at least, witness the border ritual.

After spending a month or so doing that, I'd fly out of New Delhi and land in Jakarta, Indonesia. Since it's the world's largest archipelago country, I would stick to the island of Jakarta and maybe hop on over to Sumatra.

Then, because of my love of boats and a need to vary my travel methods, I would take a boat into Malaysia. After exploring the country and visiting Kuala Lumpar, I would cross into Thailand by bridge, either taking a bus or train, or even walking if possible.

In Thailand, I'd judge their beaches in the south (which are supposed to be the best in the world) and work my way north to Bangkok, where I'd get a taste of the urban bustle.

My dad doesn't know about my plans, though he knows that I wanted to go to Bangladesh sometime in the spring/summer. He thought it suspicious and probably has an idea as to what I'm up to. When I tell my parents, though, I won't be asking permission; I'm merely telling them.

I already have contacts in those areas of the world, thanks to friends and editors, but there is more I need to do. I need to have more concrete ideas about what I want to do and see. I have all my travel guides (I swear by them) and I'm constantly on the look-out for anyone who can guide me, whether from experience or knowledge.

This all feeds into my larger life goals: writing and traveling. Being there, I know I I will constantly stumble over stories that I will be itching to share.


The idea of wandering alone resonated with me. I've done it in spurts—my first solo trip to San Francisco two summers ago comes to mind. Before that, I was too used to being with other people. Now, I can be alone, and sometimes, it's just better.

I want to do, as Robert Byron said, "wonder at a forgotten world." Though mine isn't as forgotten as his world of ancient mosques and villages lost within the barren deserts of Iran and Afghanistan, I will be in worlds that aren't often thought about.

Another book from my travel reading list was Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, where I found this quote:

We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.
—Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
That insane restlessness brought Chatwin to Patagonia from England. That same restlessness drove Stewart all across Asia. The same, exact insane restlessness will take me to wherever I end up, hopefully.

There are many reasons driving my need to get away, some of which I just can't out it out there in actual words, with others including my fears of being stuck in a job I don't love.

I hope my fears and unidentifiable feelings go away once I buy that ticket and know for sure I will be gone.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

San Francisco from the Air

That Powell's post made me think about that Portland trip, so I went through my pictures. I didn't take that much, but I found that picture up there. Although that day was a disaster (We missed our connecting flight because we didn't know which airlines it was under--our tickets didn't say, and, come on, whoever heard of Horizon Air? And there was a fiasco with Peter's expired passport, so we had to run through SFO many, many times.), I did come out with that almost perfect picture, if it weren't for window smudges, glare and maybe if I used a camera with a better resolution. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge connecting greater San Francisco to Marin County, the wonderfully blue San Francisco Bay and the expansive Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bits: Linking Westchester and SF to NYC via Path & Ferries, Dining Over Graves, Magdalen Island, Broken Elevator Woes & Israeli Operations


"Inwood-Westchester Greenway Link Planned" from Inwoodite

This pathway would connect upper Manhattan to my definition of upstate New York (or Westchester, same thing) and allow for access across the Henry Hudson Bridge, a bridge I've had the pleasure of rowing under twice. And they're improving/creating more bridges over the Harlem River


"Cross a Continent by Water to Another City by the Bay" by Patrick McGeehan, from the New York Times

With the impending contract closure with Circle Line Downtown, California-based Hornblower Yachts is joining the mess of traffic along New York Harbor. These different boats will or already have journeyed to New York from varied distances: New Orleans, random places in New England and most notably, San Francisco.

That lucky boat, the Freedom, left San Francisco Bay last month and has yet to travel through the Panama Canal to its eastern goal.

Both McGeehan and the chief executive of Hornblower, Terry MacRae, had wonderful, water-related (anyone know a better word for that?) quotes that I just have to put here:

MacRae: [Referring to the scheduled arrival] In the ocean, anything can happen.


This is not the Freedom's first oceangoing tour. Before its stint taking visitors to Alcatraz, it ferried summer-vacation crowds to and from Nantucket. It made the long haul from Nantucket to San Francisco Bay in April 2006, Mr. MacRae said, so it has proven its seaworthiness. "It's been in the ocean its whole life," he said.


"Indian Eatery Features Graveside Seating for 'Good Luck'" by Sam Dolnick, AP by way of the New York Sun

What's interesting about this restaurant in western Indian isn't its food or even its service; instead it is the location, more specifically, where it is built over, which, in this case, is on a Muslim cemetary. Customers sit right next to scattered gravestones throughout the restaurant.

And really, all that matters is:

Customers seem to like the graves, which resemble small cement coffins, and that's enough for him.


"An Island in the Hudson, Plundered in Search of Indian Artifacts" by Anthony DePalma, from the New York Times

I'm pretty sure I've gazed longingly at Magdalen (a.k.a. Goat) Island during MetroNorth trips. And now, after reading this article, I want to go there. Rock shelter? Right on the Hudson? People who go there illegally anymore (I'm all about that--still holding onto my Bannerman's Island dream)? Possible buried goods?


"At Bronx Court, Elevator Woes Slow Justice" by Leslie Kaufman, from the New York Times

Now that's just fucked up.


"Israeli Forces Move Into Gaza" by Steven Erlanger, from the New York Times

What pisses me off about this is that the Israeli troops claim to be performing "routine" operations "to disrupt rocket and mortar assults" along the border. Come on, seriously, am I supposed to believe that?

Underground Travels

[A piece I wrote during my short stint in Advanced Nonfiction]

Step down into this subway station, into this entrance to this submerged world trapped beneath layers of asphalt and concrete of Briarwood, Queens, into this transit hub that connects people to places, and instantly skin is warmed from the stale air entrapped below.

Walk down the first staircase that leads under this small neighborhood. Stroll through the hall lined with proudly displayed large paintings filled with swooping blues, dense greens and spattered reds from students of the local public schools (two of which I attended). Walk down the second staircase that delves deeper underground while cars speed along the massive transit artery that is Queens Boulevard above the station. Stroll through this hall where walls are decorated with water stains and unidentifiable grime.

It takes two minutes to finally arrive at the turnstile and underage (under ten years old, that is) kids slip under the shiny metal bars because the MTA is sometimes friendly. Responsible adults swipe their gold and blue MetroCards through the readers (oh the simple days when the sound of dropped tokens rang through the station). Now on the other side, walk down this final set of stairs and now they get to ride the subway.

Oh wait, step behind the thick, bumped orange line and never, ever lean over the very edge of this gum and liquid-stained platform (don't think about what kinds of liquid) because everyone believes religiously that whoever does is doomed to get hit by that rushing train.

Now at this final level of this subway station the walls are plastered with the name, VAN-WYCK. The black-tiled words are surrounded by a thick border of the same orange from the subway steats, and underneath in tiny letters, Briarwood is identified

Rest against the pale gray-blue-green beams that line the platform, stating the station name again in that sans-serif, white lettering on black background for those passengers looking to get home on the subway as it enters the station from the black, empty tunnels, each pale gray-green beam replacing the previous until the train slowly, gently rolls to a stop that always forces those passengers inside to jerk back a little, no matter how much they brace for it.

In that rushing air brought by the trains, there are vague scents of worn down rails that dingy signs warn to never touch in fears of electrocution, burning rubber, the very faint smell of intermingled people and their personal perfumes and of course, exhaust from the constant stream of trains coming and going to and from Manhattan and the deeper depths of Queens.

Linger for train as people crowd that same platform, waiting for whatever their destination may be: work, school (in New York, students wake up at ungodly hours like 6 a.m. to join the suited rush hour crowd on their way to work while they were on their way to learn) or gatherings. Waiting is always important for this subway system that is never set--sometimes the subway would immediately arrive with another right behind it, and other times, we waited minutes and minutes for that subway.

Sometimes, lean over side (oops, weren't supposed to, but it's thrilling, exciting, the feeling of being bad and dangerous all at once) and look to the left, eyes searching for headlights further down that mysterious tunnel, those yellow-white lights that meant one step closer to wherever the final destination or stop of the day was.

Shiny gray metal outside, inside three shades of orange fill the seats, divided by beige lines that match the hardly noticeable imprinted wallpaper, look out that smudged, scratched Plexiglas windows as the subway lurches forward, and Van Wyck becomes a mess of white, black, orange and pale-gray-blue-green blurs and then the sudden darkness of in-between tunnels and soon, they will arrive at another station, another stop, another world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Outside World

The combination of watching Stand by Me at Kayley's a while back and taking the train between Cold Spring and Beacon, retracing our walking adventure around Dennings Point made me miss camping. I wish it wasn't so cold outside so we could wander the woods with a hand-drawn map again.

Josh and I went back to Selkirk a couple of weekends ago. For the sake of adventures, we decided to go visit Kaaterskill Falls, after deciding not to hike the Catskills for our lack of ice gear as Rob suggested we bring. After getting lost and being misdirected quite a bit, we finally found the stream from Kaaterskill Falls, but no actual waterfall. We parked the car in a little offset from the road, climbed over the railing and and slid our way towards the water. What fascinated me were the icicles. I wished it were summer because I know the water would've felt nice. We jumped from rock to rock, trying to get as far up as we could. Then we went back and warmed up in the car. Despite the cold, it was fun and something I needed.

Recently, I looked through my rowing pictures and I realized how much I missed it. Once spring rolls around, I plan to fully utilize the warm weather and everything I learned from the past year: camping, hiking, rowing, just about everything.

I want to explore Bannerman's Island, however illegal it might be. Rob and I talked about this during dinner at his house last weekend and he said that we couldn't use a Whitehall; we'd have to take a smaller boat, like a kayak, but that doesn't allow for many people. I need to think of something else. Or some way to work around that...

In the meantime, I'll dream of faraway tropical places and New York in the spring.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Berger's New York: Bunnies on 11th Street

The First Presbyterian Church on 5th Avenue and 12th Street.

While exploring Portland during a newspaper conference last year, Hannah, Peter, Brandon and I made sure to visit Powell's Bookstore, this amazing independent/used bookstore that blows Strand out of the water. As we explored the different floors and colored sections, I found myself drawn to the history section, more specifically, New York City history. There, I found Meyer Berger's New York. After flipping through it quickly, it intrigued me (and hey, the price was right, $5 for a hardcover? Hells yeah) so I bought it. Stashing it in my bag, I soon forgot about it until recently.

Meyer Berger was a New York Times reporter, with a short stint at the New Yorker under his belt. His column, About New York, explored the many stories New York has to offer, the kind of stuff I'm interested in. His column most likely gave way to blogs today like Gothamist.

So I want to share some stories from the book, which I will do as I continue to read the book.

One of the first stories I read as I went through the book was the following (if you know me, then you know why I chose this article):


February 26, 1954

Residents in lower Fifth Avenue who tip a companionable cup now and then have been bothered by the notion that they have been bothered by the notion that they have seen white rabbits hopping along the pavement, or down side streets.

Well it wasn't just a notion, but it's nothing to be concerned about. White rabbits do appear in Fifth Avenue and sometimes in Eleventh Street, just west of the avenue. They belong to the nursery school of the staid First Presbyterian Church in the neighborhood.

A gentleman called this newspaper the other night to report that he had caught up with a white rabbit in the avenue near the church, learned that its hutch was on the church grounds and put it back inside the church fence.

Michael Kennedy, a sturdy fellow who works around the grounds, says there's just one rabbit in the hutch right now, an all-white one that is the pet of the kindergarten class. Someoneno one's ever found out wholeft him on the lawn one night two years ago and the children adopted him. He has the run of the lawn sometimes and rarely strays.

Three weeks ago another unidentified benefactor left a second white rabbit on the lawn. Mr. Kennedy, after a talk with the kindergarten teacher, put him into the hutch with the first one.

They didn't get along, it seems, so Mr. Kennedy put the newcomer out on the lawn, and he's the one who keeps hopping through the fence to sample dangerous living. A Chinese laundryman brought him back after he'd gone almost as far as the Avenue of Americas in Eleventh Street.

The other day he was gone again, but Mr. Kennedy didn't know where and didn't seem to care much. "That second one was too quarrelsome for a rabbit, if you ask me," was his comment.


I also like this story because it's where Eugene Lang College is (11th Street) and that's the same church where we had our divisional graduation.

And there's something special about reading older articles. I remember researching articles from the 1968 Columbia University strikes for Inprint, and a reporter used the phrase "Bogarty" to describe someone and it made me giggle.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Back to Bangladesh

I'm going to Bangladesh this winter (December 27 to January 17—I'd be keeping in line with my newly imposed resolution as of last year to spend New Year's away from New York) with my family. God knows when we'd be able to do it again since we're already so involved in our own separate affairs. And anyway, it makes sense to experience Bangladesh with my family instead of on my own (to be explained later).

This time, rather than just shuttling back and forth between my parents' homes in Dhaka, we're actually going to explore the country: visiting Rangamati, Chittagong, Cox's Bazaar (home to the longest beach in the world, where my mom and dad had their honeymoon, and where you can see the sun rise and set along the same horizon—my dad is really happy about this) and hopefully hit up southern Bangladesh and see the Ganges Delta, the confluence of the Ganges, Jamuna and Meghna Rivers. My dad told me we're going on some boat trips too, for me.

My cousin is a photographer so I'll (hopefully) go on adventures with him. My uncle used to work for a newspaper and I plan on contacting English-based newspapers myself. I want to visit their offices, see how they work and maybe even write something. International clips never hurt, no? Ted already introduced me to his political activist friend who is there already, and the situtaion is crazy in Bangladesh so it will make for amazing stories). I also plan on writing something for the Brooklyn Rail when I get back, in addition to finishing up my waterfront development story.

My family and I will familiarize ourselves with this country that has become largely foreign to us together. My dad worked it out so we'll never need visas to enter Bangladesh, because my parents were born there. Now, we can go whenever we want. This visa is a nice addition to my barely-there Italy stamp and the very-clear Homeland Security imprint.

And hey, it's a nice excuse to buy travel gear I've been meaning to get (nice big travler's backpack, SLR, good shoes).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Suspension in Midair

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

Bridges of all types are usually above bodies of water. During the act of crossing a bridge, you (usually) cannot fall into the water. You are not on solid ground, you are in transit. You are up in the air, like an airplane, except, you immediately experience your temporary suspension.

Bridges: conform to nature and necessity, are suspended through air and, most importantly, bring you from point A to point B.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Tampa Bay, Florida.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Siesta Beach, Florida

I stepped into the Gulf
looking westard and pretended I could
see Mexico beneath
pinkpink skies and orange tinted
clouds crashing into coconut trees.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bits: Viagra for Votes, Majestic Pink, Border Games, Indo-Bengali Relations and AP 2.0


"Thailand fights vote buying with black magic, jail" by Nopporn Wong-Anan, from Reuters

In efforts to get rid of corruption in the face of the upcoming election, Reuters gives examples of how candidates buy votes, as Sayan Nopkham describes:

"He [unnamed candidate] hands out one or two Viagra pills to middle-aged men when he is campaigning. Another trick is to hand out bags of rice."


"Thai King sparks pink shirt craze" from BBC

When Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej came home from the hospital wearing a pale pink blazer with matching shirt, he jumpstarted Thailand's latest pink obsession so much so that

"Civil servant Rose Tarin, 56, recently camped outside a clothing store from 4 a.m. to ensure she was able to buy one of the latest shipments of pink shirts."


"Ritual Combat at the India Pakistan Border" by John Soltes, from Time

After all the wars (1947 Partition War, bloody disputes over Kashmir that still continue), India and Pakistan play nice with this nightly event across the highly-guarded border, complete with lowered flags, elaborate soldierly gestures and to end exchange, a friendly handshake.


"India says lifts ban on rice export to cyclone-hit Bangladesh" from AFP

It's interesting that India would have a ban on rice with Bangladesh in the first place, considering their proximity and the fact that India backed Bangladesh during its 1971 Independence War. The article attributes this to illegal immigration from Bangladesh to India across the border. That's why India's trying to build a fence along that border. It also shows the difference between Indo-Bengali and Indo-Pakistani relations.


"A.P. to Reorganize Work and Accent Multimedia" by Cate Doty, from the New York Times

Another news service refigures for the new media era.

Early Morning New York Harbor

I don't really feel like writing today, but I just wanted to share this gorgeous photo I stumbled upon by way of Gothamist (who also featured some of my photos, woohoo):

[Photo by Matt Semel, via flickr]

The little island to the left is Liberty Island. New Jersey is in the foreground, with Brooklyn on the left and Staten Island on the right. That bridge right there is the Verrazano Bridge. Here, the Hudson River feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, which stretches on and on in this picture. All those little black spots on the water are boats and barges. How wonderful.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Picture Perfect

Come Wednesday, I will be the proud owner of this beautiful baby.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Taking the Science out of Bronx Science

So besides being Bronx Science alumni, E.L. Doctorow and I have more in common:

In fact, at Bronx High School of Science [1944-1948], Doctorow fled as fast as he could from algebra and chemistry and all the rest of it—all the subjects for which that legendary public high school, cradle of Noble Prize winners, was famous—and straight into the offices of the literary magazine, titled Dynamo.

I didn't realize Dynamo was that old. While I wasn't involved in Dynamo (I stuck to the Observatory, the yearbook), I was published in it several times. And, to my credit, I did really enjoy forensics biology.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Needing California

[This was the beginning of an assignment. I didn't like the rest of it, so you just get the intro:]

He tried to walk straight. It was his goal: walk straight along that line that ran between the road and the rest of the world. Walk straight until white, white headlights that started off as a faint twinkle slowly turned into an explosion of rays that blinded him. He stumbled, then steadied himself. He needed the ride. He stuck his arm out, trying to flag down the car. He needed to get out of Chicago, out of Illinois. He needed California.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

In Air

[This was an assignment I had for my Advanced Journalism class. We just read John D'Agata's "Martha Graham, Audio Description Of" where instead of scribbling out a regular dance review, he divides his essay into compartments and focuses on different perspectives and backgrounds, like Graham's background and choice of costumes. From that, we had to write our own piece inspired by this style. This essay was the starting point of my final for the class, "On Travel."]


Eyes closed. Not humming, but whirring. Engines. Pushing plane through air. No one is talking—it is midnight, New York time—everyone is trying to sleep. Snore. Occasional snore.

Constant whirring.

On thought process:
Because I am confined to this one seat for twenty minutes/four hours/eight hours (pick and choose depending on trip/destination), I need to do something. Magazines and books, while interesting, cannot capture my attention. Preset words are too still for me. I fidget, with papers, pens, chapstick, water mind fidgets too. I think about: being on the plane, homework, my hair is too frizzy I should do something about it, I wonder if he likes me, my God look at that mountain, I am going to eat gelato and pasta in Italy I hope it's delicious, I hope I get there soon.

Down below:
I don't hear much about looking through airplane windows, except for musings on clouds. (This is because clouds are up there and we're usually down here so clouds are majestical and when we fly, we are up there with those wondrous, permeable clouds and we somehow become majestical as well.)

Bird's eye view: boxy patches of nondescript land that are various shades of green and brown, winding swirly highways and thinner roads and it is impossible to see any cars, mountaints that look so tiny but you know once you step down there, they are huger than anything you could ever imagine.

I take many pictures.

Don't get me wrong—I love clouds. I love their shape and how they look when the sun hits them at just the right angle and the sky is that perfect shade of sunset-orange and their shadows darken green, green ground.

But this isn't about that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Where Manholes Begin

Reading and seeing J. Adam Huggins' (& apparently Heather Timmon's) story and photographs about the Indian origins of New York City manholes (which always remind me of my brother's obsession with sewers when he was younger, because of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all) was fascinating enough. Then, I caught Gothamist's blurb about the story and J. Adam Huggins became one of my journalism heroes. He saw something that interested him and he went out and investigated it. The New York Times even wrote an editorial about it.

And now Con Edison is taking another look at its safety standards. That's journalism for ya.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bits: Diving into the Gowanus, FDR on Roosevelt Isle, Cyclones in Bangladesh, Hearing from Sharif, Importance of Palestine & Citizen Journalism


"Divers Who Jump in to Take the Mystery Out of City Waterways" by Jennifer Millers, from the New York Times

Ludger K. Balan has the right idea:

"[Balan] wanted to demystify urban waters like the Gowanus to change them from environments that are ignored and shunned to those that are protected and perhaps even loved."

And here's a nice recap by Gawker.


"Plan Revived for FDR Memorial in NYC" by Richard Pyle, from AP

Pyle offers a nice history of Roosevelt Island, a.k.a. Welfare Island, home to fabulous hospitals and asylums. Now, there is two hospitals—the functioning Coler-Goldwater Speciality Hospital and the abandoned Smallpox Hospital which I hope to explore sometime soon.

This article also runs through the proposed FDR memorial for the southern tip of the island, where it is currently home to said Smallpox Hospital and assorted wildlife. This, I think, is a huge mistake. Instead, as paying homage to FDR, they should keep the area the way it is and just open up access. Or, I'll just go anyway. Just don't cement it over, please.


"After Cyclone, Bangladesh Faces Political Storm" by Somini Sengupta (one of my new favorite journalists) from the New York Times

Amidst the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr, Bangladesh still has to deal with its political crisis and state of emergency.


"Back in Pakistan, Sharif Condemns Musharraf" by Jane Perlez, from the New York Times

I thought it was weird how, when Musharraf declared martial law, the media focused solely on Benazir Bhutto's reactions and responses rather than hearing what Nawaz Sharif thought. Now that Sharif's back in Pakistan, he's getting attention.


"News Analysis: Seeking a Mideast Path, Bush Offers a Nudge" by Steven Lee Myers, from the New York Times

"Mr. Bush, for now, seems to have accepted the argument that the Palestinian cause is at the root of Islamic mistrust of the United States—or at least that resolving the Middle East conflict could halt the march of Hamas, the radical Islamic group."

Thaaaaaank you.


"Storming the News Gatekeepers" by Jose Antonio Vargas, from the Washington Post

A look at the differences between journalism and citizen journalism.

Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, describes citizen journalism as:

"There really is no simple definition for what a citizen journalist is, just lots and lots of examples...It ranges from people who do journalism all the time to people who do what you might call a random act of journalism to people who don't consider themselves journalists but are in fact practicing journalism...for a lot of them, the underlying motivation is frustration with the traditional media."

[emphasis added by me]

Oh Puerto Rico

The beach at Isla Verde. Photo by Catherine Iftode.

Reading this article made me miss Old San Juan and made me wish I appreciated it more. Granted, the trip was extremely last-minute (decided and booked on Thursday night, flew out of JFK Friday night, came home Sunday night), so we couldn't really plan it that well. It was also very well-deserved, after a grueling and trying junior year semester and both Catherine and I had a lot of fun just losing ourselves in those Caribbean nights (nothing too wild though).

I miss that me.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Through the Vias di Roma

Walking through the Colosseum.

March, 2007

Narrow, cobblestoned streets where cars, scooters and people alike make way for each other. Vias e vicolos. Gelato. The seven hills of Rome. Palm trees standing next to fig trees. Hail falling through the ceiling of the Pantheon. Piazzas. The Tiber. Old, weathered, beautiful buildings. Detailed churches and statues. Restored architecture. Throwing a Euro into the Trevi Fountain.

The ceiling of the Pantheon.

The Tiber River through the railing of its many bridges.

Via Della Conciliazion and Via San Pio X, the streets that lead up to Piazza San Pietro, with Rome's logo (featuring Remus and Romulus being nursed by the wolf) in the background.

A Roman street.

Basilica S. Maria degli Angeli e del Martiri, which used to be a bathhouse until Michaelando redesigned it into a church.

View from Palatine Hill.

Bridge into Isola Tiberina on the Tiber River.

From atop the Spanish Steps.

Trevi Fountain.

The streets of Rome during some evening hail.

San Pietro.

And there are more pictures here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Creative Definition of Yourself

So for Northwestern I have to write something creative about myself and it reminded me of my college application essay for Eugene Lang, where they asked you to write a creative definition of yourself. This was my response(slightly edited, of course):

Right now, I'm approximately seventeen and six months old. 6,385 days have shaped and added to the layers of my life. Every single of those days.

They say before you die, you see your entire life flash before your eyes. Can 6.385 and even more days be summed up in that last nanosecond before you're gone? I think that it's more like flashes of the clearest memories, the ones that stick in your mind and you don't know why—

Like coloring dinosaurs orange in my coloring book the day my sister was born.

Like getting lost on the first day of high school on way back home (it seemed fitting).

Like meeting people who are so different but share similar traits.

My friends and I were liked by experiences and interests. Always, there were things to talk about within the group of unlikely friends.

Now, you're reading this and you know random bits of my life, but you're thinking, "wait, but, who are you?"

This isn't an autobiography. This isn't an exact definition of 'Nadia Chaudhury.' This is just me simply writing about myself.

Who am I?

I'm a contradiction to my astrological sign. The fiery red Aries doesn't even come close to describing me. I'm not effervescent, stubborn or utterly confident. I'm more like the watery blue Pisces—imaginative, selfless and compassionate.

I want to make an impact on the world: a silent one through words, a revolution of words that move people in ways they're not quite sure of.

I get frustrated easily, I do nice things for people because I feel like it, I walk around with a book constantly, I shut myself off when I'm upset, I hop up and down when I'm excited, I like compliments but I don't take them easily, I write and I forget about everything else and I look to the future with expectation and fear.

I like freedom with just a pinch of guidelines, just so I know what I'm doing.

I'm used to writing words with a poetic form, where words are written in s t y l e s that directly affect the way you see them(&feelthem).

I could also adjust and write with more structured forms, using 'one' instead of 'you' and refraining from using 'I.' I could write introductions and conclusions with body paragraphs to elaborate the clearly stated thesis.

I can adapt.

I can learn.

That's what life is for—experiencing and learning from different situations that you go through and how you respond to them. Already, I've learned that ignoring things will not make them better. I've learned that you shouldn't try to live up to others' perceptions of you, but instead, live up to your own.

There's so much more in life for me to learn from. What's better than writing about the things you know, the things you've been through, the things you've seen? Then the readers, my readers, could get a taste of Nadia through my words, because of scattered ideas and dialgoues, of people and situations that came directly from my life.

Every moment has its own effect. Learning how to read led to reading a book a day because I couldn't get enough. Creating my own form of script when I didn't really know how to write while underneath the dining room table led to writing nonstop on the train.

All of this, all 500+ words, it's just the beginning of the answer of who I am.

[And after rereading/retyping this, I've realized how much and how little I've changed at the same time.]

Friday, November 23, 2007


in         white         spaces

light pinpoints where bones curve faces
where hands go on bodies
my hair rests on your's
so comfortable and methodic
we can predict each other's moves

what we feel is
not empty, not lost
but something
less         tangible
than         lust
more         immediate
than         indifference

is stretched along the days.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Words of a Song

Most people were born with music--their parents listen to albums over and over again and thereby instilling the same songs in their children. So they grew up knowing who the Beatles and Billie Holiday were, from their parents and older siblings. For me, this wasn't the case. My parents moved here from Saudi Arabia in 1984. They had their own music: Bengali and Indian folk and pop songs, most featuring the strums and plunks of the harmonium.

That was the my background music of my childhood, but it was never the focus of it. Every Sunday, our "home" days, as we called them, my parents relaxed in their room, listening to their music. My brother, sister and I stayed in the living room, watching TV shows.

So the point is, I had no grounding in American music. I was familiar with television because my father made sure I had that special American privilege, but music? They knew nothing at all.

Eventually, I caught on, catching music videos on TV, listening to the radio and then to my major source of music: friends' recommendations and the wonderful world of the Internet.

While listening to my iPod recently at work, I thought about why certain songs caught my attention. There are specific subjects and words that captivate me, and when I can find them in a song, it makes the song just that much better.

- maps

Wilco's "You Are My Face"

I have no idea how this happened
All of my maps have been overthrown

Wilco's "A Magazine Called Sunset"

Let's take a map across your pillow
And breathe the sky in through your window
I'll stay in the riddle and watch your books cave in

- the water/rivers/boats/oceans/anything else water-related

Decemberists' "The Island, Come and See, The Landlord's Daughter, You'll Not Feel the Drowning"

There's a harbor lost within the reeds
A jetty caught in the overhanging trees
Among the bones of cormorants
No boot-mark here nor fingerprints
The rivers roll down to a soundless sea

Wilco's "On and On and On"

Please don't cry, we're designed to die
You can't deny even the gentlest tide

(I love the way Tweedy sings "gentlest")

- traveling

Modest Mouse's "The World At Large"

The days get shorter and the nights get cold
I like the autumn but this place is getting old
I pack up my belongings and I head for the coast
It might not be a lot but I feel like I'm making the most
The day's get longer and the nights smell green
I guess it's not surprising but it's spring and I should leave

- stars

Oasis' "The Importance of Being Idle"

I don't mind
As long as there's a bed beneath the stars that shine

Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row'

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide

- some sort of act of defiance

Decemberists' "And Here I Dreamt I was an Architect"

And we are vagabonds
We travel without seatbelts on
We live this close to death

- about other places

Arcade Fire's "Cold Wind"

If you're going to San Francisco
Lay some flowers on the gravestone

Spoon's "Chicago at Night"

But then she'd never been to Chicago at night before the fall
And it don't stop, not at all

Sufjan Steven's "Chicago"

Drove to Chicago
All things know, all things know
We sold out clothes to the state
I don't mind, I don't mind
I made a lot of mistakes
In my mind, in my mind

- about the city and New York in particular

Wilco's "Jesus, Etc."

Voices whine
Skyscrapers are scraping together

- dreams

Wilco's "Dreamer in my Dreams"

There's a dreamer in my dreams
Swinging from the beams
With a light shining off the lake

These examples, it must be noted, reflect my current listening habits, therefore certain artists appear more than once, like Wilco. I have to say, though, it's impressive that I still listen to Wilco because I usually tire of an artist after three months. Thank you, Chicago boy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bits: Marrying Your Loyal Best Friend and The Cost of an Island,


"Man 'marries' dog to beat curse" from the BBC

So, what this article's about is that this Hindi Indian man, P Selvakumar, thought he was cursed because he killed two dogs because of health problems. In order to remove the curse, he believed there was only one cure: marry a dog (female, of course). The wedding took place in a Hindi temple and was celebrated by the people of the Sivaganga district. The article notes that the bridge wore an orange sari and a flower garland.

And this article demonstrates the perfect way to end an article with a quote (said by a relative of Selvakumar):

"On the advice of an astrologer and others, he decided to marry a bitch to get cured. Then we arranged Selvakumar's marriage with a bitch."


"City Claims Final Private Island in East River" by Timothy Williams, from the New York Times

In a city made up of islands, the New York City government buys South Brother Island, located near the mouth of the Long Island Sound and near Rikers Island.

The island, home to untouched wildlife, was last sold for $10 in 1975. The city, thankfully, won't develop as they have a tendency to do, and will keep the island as a nature santuary.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Road Movie

Among articles about the new and old Western from last week's New York Times magazine, I read Walter Salles (director of Diarios de motorcicleta and Central Station) take on road movies, "Notes for a Theory of the Road Movie" (accompanied by beautiful photos of wide-open spaces in Australia. Salles looks at what defines a road movie, taking past and current movies into consideration and the state of road movies in today's world.

While I haven't seen many of the movies (i.e. Detour, The Searchers), I understand the concepts behind the road move.

First and foremost, the protagonist

"suffer[s] from a need to redefine [himself]...[being] uncomfortable in [his] shoes."
"Because road movies need to trace the internal transformation of their characters, the films are not about what can be seen or verbalized but about what can be felt--about the invisible that complements the visible.

The road movie embodies the search for (new) identity and meaning. Or, to put it in Salles' words:

"...the road movie is limited only by one obligation: to accompany the transformations undergone by its main characters as they confront a new reality."

And this search is a necessary search, there is no other option other than going out there, on the road, overseas, on foot, and finding whatever it is that everyone is looking for. Because of this, the movies are "driven by a sense of immediacy."

Other traits of road movies:
  • improvisation
  • unpredictablity/working with what you have (Salles recounted how he'd work with scenes he happened upon while filming Diarios de motorcicleta)
Despite the feeling that there is nothing left in the world to explore, Salles is still confident in the power of road movies:

"Road movies...are about experiencing, above all. They are about the journey. They are about what can be learned from the other, from those who are different. In a world that increasingly challenges these ideals, the importance of road movies as a form of resistance can't be dismissed."

"[R]oad movies are necessary as ever to tell us who we are, where we come from and where we're heading."

On another note, Salles is also working on the adaption of On the Road, of which the cast has yet to be chosen. I am iffy about this, since it's one of my favorite books, and it can very easily turn out messy. Looking at his track record, I'm hopeful, but there's always that fear.

And to end on a better note, as Kerouac wrote in On the Road (they released his original manuscript and I want to read it, and check out the new exhibit at my very first volunteer location at the New York Public Library):

"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's goodbye. But we lean toward to the next crazy adventure beneath the skies."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Touching the River

My beautiful boat at entirely accessible and regular rowing destination Maxwell House Beach in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The view from Roosevelt Island is gorgeous—midtown Manhattan just across the way, the 59th Street Bridge, the tram and the rushing East River. This is New York City at its finest. Sitting on the steps before this panaroma is awe-striking, the juxtaposition of the urban with the natural. But there is more to this scene than just pretty pictures. Dividing the city and the river are railings, lots and lots of railings. There is a sense of detachment. You can look, but you can't touch and all I want to do is feel the water beneath my feet.

There are no railings up in Selkirk, Poughkeepsie and Ossining. I could walk over to the Hudson, sit on some rocks and feel the waves lap on my legs. The coolness of the water touching my skin was soothing.

Where are these places in New York City? Thinking about it, there are barely any. Rob has a website (not sure if he updates it now) all about New York City beaches. There are a few, such as Valentino Pier in Red Hook and Hallets Cove in Long Island City, but it feels like there should be more.

There are pushes for more access, though.

According to New York Construction (which I stumbled upon by way of goingcoastal), the city, working with other agencies, is building an extension of Harlem River Park, from 139th to 142 Street. Wonderfully enough, this is one of the few, if only, parks in New York City that allow for actual water contact:

"...offer[s] visitors...water access-points that will allow people to dip their feet in the water and load canoes and kayaks."

Rowing in the Harlem River is completely different from rowing in the Hudson and East Rivers. Up there, you're less susceptible to currents and, at least for me, it's an area I don't know too well, so the views are gorgeous.

And then you have plans like for the East River Esplanade where there is no interaction with the water; the same goes for most of the proposed plans for my beloved Pier 40.

We don't need more retail space—New York is already filled with that. We don't need another Seaport. Forget all the barriers. What we need is a return to simplier, natural things, like accessible shores.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bits: The Global Candidate, Separate Muslim Territories and No Touching!


"Obama in Orbit" by Roger Cohen, from the New York Times

I still don't know who I'd vote for (Democract for sure though), but this is very, very compelling.


In order to appease the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (with the great abbreviation MILF), the Philippines is negiotating and creating a Muslim territory.


"Where Students Can't Hug" by Steven Gray, from Time

Really? No contact? At all?

Peter Godwin: From Zimbabwe to Greenwich Village, Via the Front Lines

Photo by Monica Uszerowicz

[This is an article I wrote for Inprint back in the day.]

December, 2006

From crossing the Silverstream River in former Rhodesia, strapped to his nanny’s back, to fighting on the losing side in Zimbabwe’s civil war, Eugene Lang journalism professor Peter Godwin has come a long way to New York City.

Godwin, 48, with pale blue eyes behind rimless glasses and dark hair flecked with gray, offers his student’s guidance with his intense, worldly experiences as a freelance journalist across the globe.

Godwin got his start in journalism in a different way than most others in his field. The son of British expatriates, he was born in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and spent his first 19 years there. Thanks in part to the country’s political instability, he left to study at Cambridge University in England. He soon found himself back in Africa for his post-graduate thesis research. But before leaving Britain, he contacted several publications and asked if he could submit articles about the journey.

“I didn’t know anything about journalism particularly, but it just struck me as it might be a fun thing to do,” Godwin recalled, sitting a classroom in the 12th Street building. “My friends all mocked me because I was doing it with sort of a blotchy ballpoint pen on school notepaper.”

He mailed his handwritten articles to publications to The Sunday Times, not knowing whether they would be published. After the trip, when he reached his parents’ house in Zimbabwe, he found out that The Times actually ran his pieces as a series which then led to a freelance job as a foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times. Over the next ten years, the job took him all over Africa and Eastern Europe.

Among the many stories he broke was the Matabeleland massacres in Zimbabwe in 1983, where the government-sponsored militia tortured or killed everyone they felt were rebels while also killed many innocent white farmers.

“If we could highlight it and actually blow the whistle on this thing, then there would be a good chance we could give them some pause and that it would stop,” he said. To report the story, he visited violence-plagued rural villages that were off-limits to the press. At one point, he dressed as a priest and accompanied three nuns to witness what was happening. That’s when he discovered a mine where soldiers dropped off corpses daily. He smelled “the unmistakable stink of rotting human,” he wrote in Mukiwa—A White Boy in Africa, his award-winning memoir.

By then, Godwin was a wanted man by the government, and soldiers were on the look-out. He managed to drive away from the site. Later, he picked up an unassuming hitchhiking solider. The sergeant at the next roadblock told the soldier they were looking for a journalist dressed as a priest, and because the soldier said Godwin was his good friend, he managed to escape.

“I was younger and it was one of those things where afterwards, in the cold light of day, you kind of think ‘What was I thinking?’” he recalled. “Yeah, I got out okay and it was then a whole different species of problems. Once I had written the piece, it got very, very hot for me, and there was a serious death threat to my life and I had to get out of Zimbabwe.”

Later in his career, Godwin didn’t stick to the written word—he produced documentary films for the BBC, covering a wide-range of topics, like Pakistani politics, Filipino pirates and the Thai sex industry. He won several awards for his work.

Now, he is focused on teaching. “If you’re writing books, you become very misanthropic and completely de-socialized,” he said. “Teaching is a very good antidote to that.”

“There’s no substitute for real curiosity and I think a lot of good journalism starts from that basis,” he said, about journalistic ambitions. “And that includes approaching subjects that you don’t know anything about.”

Students in Godwin’s course, Foreign Correspondence: Windows on the World, typically research a specific area of the world, like China or Indonesia, to find the beginnings of a story. One student arrived at an opium field in Afghanistan while another went on a heavy metal festival circuit in Sweden.

After teaching at Princeton and Sarah Lawrence, Godwin found that, “Lang students, to me, seem to be more cosmopolitan. They’re slightly edgier and don’t feel like the world owes them anything. I like the fact that it’s not a campus university. The kids go out the front door here and they’re in New York City.”

Currently, Godwin is working on a screenplay of Mukiwa, to be filmed next year in South Africa. His next memoir, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, is centered on the “disintegration of [my] family set against the collapse of the country,” of Zimbabwe.

After being exiled, Godwin was, to his great relief, allowed back in. This suited him: he can’t seem to escape the country and the continent.

“I miss Africa tremendously. It’s not just a nostalgic thing. If I’m not there after a while, I start to ache for it,” he said.

After spending one more semester at Eugene Lang, Godwin now teaches at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. You can read a more current interview done by my friend and former-Godwin-student John.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Islamic Cars

Apparently, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey are joining up and creating Islamic cars, through the major Malaysian car company Proton. What makes it Islamic, you might ask? Well, there will be a compass that will point out where Mecca is (during prayer, you face Mecca) and have special compartments for the Quran and headscarves.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bits: MTA Fare Hike, Kayaking to New Zealand, Night-time Appalachian Trail and old-school NY Mag.


"Don't Rush to a Fare Hike," Editorial by the New York Times

All this talk about yet again another fare hike makes me think back on the holiday discount program where discounted rides were given over the holiday weekends and extended 30-Metrocards by ten days from Thanksgiving to New Year's. If the MTA was so hard-pressed for money, why in the world did they do that?


"Kayakers begin Tasman Sea attempt" by Phil Mercer, from the BBC

So these guys, Justin Jones and James Castrission, are kayaking (in a custom-built kayak) from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. They're setting off now and hope to reach New Zealand by Christmas.

The article makes no mentions of where they plan to stop, though they expect to paddle for 14 hours a day.

Jones said,

"First and foremost [the trip] is for the pure adventure of it all. I mean, everybody, inside anyone has got a little bit of adventure in them and we've just got to go out and follow that. It would be a crime not to."

He might be my new boyfriend now. Oh, adventures...


"What's Lurking in the Dark?" by David A. Fahrenthold, from the Washington Post

Over the summer, Hannah and I stayed up late, enjoying ourselves and talking about things we wanted to do.

"Let's go hiking!" Hannah said. "Let's walk the Appalachian Trail!"

After looking at pictures on her laptop, we sent Rob an email about it. We never did it, though, due to scheduling. But this article reminds me about it.

So they set up cameras along the trail in Virginia to check out night-time critters (which I now know includes deer, thank you, Josh). The Appalachian is home to those deer, bears, bobcats and a flying squirrel.

Volunteer Trish Bartholomew said of bears backing into the cameras:

"I don't know of anything else that's that black and furry."


"Mailer-Breslin Seriously?" [May 5, 1969] from New York Magazine

Check out the old-school layout (in pdf form).

Living Life Once

"We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come."
—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Bits: Japan's Sexy Blue Fin, Too Hot to be a Journalist, Balkan Icons and Columbia & Israel/Palestine


"Japan's Sacred Bluefin, Loved Too Much" by Blaine Harden, from the Washington Post

Read this article if only for lines like:

"'Tuna cannot look like skinny Japanese women.'"

"'I look for beauty and balanced plumpness," Ida said. "I am looking for a Catherine Zeta-Jones type of tuna.'"

Now I'm in the mood for sushi.


"Hollywood Plugs Its Take of a Leak" by William Booth, from the Washington Post

So Hollywood once again dips into current events for ideas and turns the entire Judith Miller-Valerie Plame-Scotter Libby story into a movie. And what does the Washington Post point out, besides the major differences between the plot line (you know, in order to keep the narrative interesting for the viewers)?

"And while the real Judith Miller may be remembered as a stylish, slightly scary reporter of 59, headed off to jail in a quilted black jacket and tortoise-frame sunglasses, in the movie she is a sizzling Kate Beckinsale, 34, dressed in a, shall we say, form-fitting skirt."

"'People could say Kate is too good-looking to be a reporter,' admits Rod Lurie, the writer and director of the independently financed film."

What do I say to that?


"Balkan nations put cultural stars on a pedestal" by Dan Bilefsky, from the International Herald Tribune

You know, you just have to celebrate those ever-great cultural icons, like Rocky and Tarzan with enormous statues.

Bojan Marceta, an advocate for the project, explained the reasoning behind the celebrity choices:

"Nobody from the wars of the 1990s or from the former Yugoslavia deserves a monument, because all of our leaders did was to prevent us from progressing. My generation can't find role models, so we have to look elsewhere. Hollywood can provide an answer."

Taking another view, Buka Sandor said:

"I don't like Rocky—it has nothing to do with this town, and the money could have been spent on something we need, like a new school. We are just showing off."


"Bollinger's Backbone" Editorial by the New York Sun

Does this mean that a faculty that, among other viewpoints, is pro-Palestine/Islamic condemns a university to mediocrity? Oh yeah, and leftist equals anti-Israel apparently. I hate the NY Sun.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Design & The New York Times Magazine

[Disclaimer: I don't know many technical typography terms, so if I mess it up, sorry.]

I've always respected the New York Times—they usually have great coverage (they could do a better job with their Metro section, and don't get me started on the Style section...) and their design is normally great. Sure, they make mistakes (I get a sick pleasure looking for unintended whitespace and mistakes in paragraph forms), but they know what they're doing with their front pages, like on August 28th:

Look at the positioning of the main photo and the matching colors of both the Gonzales and the Greek fires pictures. Though I think they could've done better with white space in terms of the Greek fires article and the placement of the pear, it still looks amazing.

Then, there's the New York Times magazine. Magazine design differs greatly from newspaper design. With newspaper design, you have to take several stories and their interplay into consideration. Which story is the dominant story? Which is the related story? So many things go into designing news pages: grouping similar stories, making the photos play off each other, color schemes, making sure jumps aren't unnecessary, etc. Transitioning from my work on Inprint to the Brooklyn Rail, though, was simpler, because the Rail is more of a news magazine. Stories are laid out as feature stories, with their own pages and spaces. There is more use of white space and photos. I can make spreads, which I try my best to do, though I do show special preference for all things water-related, like that article on Jamaica Bay, my own article and the article on the boatyard in Staten Island...

There is more freedom with magazines and news magazines.

Usually, the NYT Magazine is simple with their design elements, especially within their feature stories. Their pull-out quotes and intro paragraphs tend to be just their regular font enlarged and bold in a different color.

But lately, they've tried to mix things up a little, but not in a good way.

Take Arthur Lubow's "Conductor of the People," in the October 28th issue, about conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The photos are great, but look at the title page for the article:

Why the need for superscript? It doesn't add anything special. And why even choose those letters? It is so pointless. It just makes it harder to read. The same applies to the pull quote. There isn't anything clever about using superscript and subscript, especially within a large chunk of text. The font choice itself is nice, it reminds me of the New York Magazine font, especially with its italics. Maybe if they stuck to just the title, it could've worked, but they went too far.

They didn't try anything too extravagant in last week's issue, besides oil-covered drop-caps in an article about Venezuelan oil, which was a bit too clip art for me.

Then comes this week's issue, their film issue. Normally, the NYT Magazine covers are simple—an amazing photo (like the cover of the October 21st issue's photograph of water sources depleting in the West for the article "The Future is Drying Up") and simple text that isn't obtrusive at all.

With this cover, we are smacked in the faces with the theme of the issue: the old West, written in, of course, a western-styled font, with heavy feet Right from the cover, we know what the theme of the issue is: the old West, with heavy, heavy base and mean lines and pencil-line thin serifs and body-lines [I made up that term..]. It's kind of hard to read, so as a headline font, it's alright. The image and the grayscaled images (was it necessary to leave the "(Again!)" in yellow?) make up for it.

Then you reach the inside of the film specials and this font takes over everything. Everything. The title pages for the articles, the intro paragraphs and the drop-caps. And it's impossible to read. Just look:

Your eyes strain, trying to make sense of the black lines. I will give this to them: as a drop-cap, the font works well. One letter doesn't make a difference.

I wonder what they thought when they designed this issue. One of the first things I think about after I design a page is readability. Sometimes, I'm too tired and stressed to care if it's that readable, but I do try my best, especially with covers. I hope the NYT Magazine design team got this out of their system and will stick to more readable, while being creative, design.