Spring Break Pt. 2, Italian Communication & Roman Traffic

3 short months was the longest amount of time that I had spent away from my parents. We had used FaceTime regularly, talking about our week and enjoying tours of the monastery and house back in OKC. For many weeks, Max, my last childhood dog,  has been experiencing deteriorating health. My amazing best friend Peter took care of him while my parents readied their bags and flew east 5.5k miles.

My mother Amy is a rather picky eater, but she is expanding her horizons. She doesn’t like pasta, tomatoes, most vegetables, and is lactose intolerant (like her son). Perfect for Italy, right? My dad Ken, however, is much more adventurous. We used to the travel the world together by palette alone, and we discovered many wonderful things in the key elements of worldly cooking styles. 

After flying back from Dublin, I met my parents in Rome. It was such a wonderful reunion because I missed them so much. By that point, I had not eaten much food because I was trying to save my money while traveling from country to country. My father loves to feed, so needless to say I did not go hungry again for the rest of the vacation. He seemed wildly taken aback by the selection of food that there was to choose from. I always considered Italian food so good that it was really difficult to go wrong-just throw a dart at a map and eat where it lands. You won’t be disappointed.

After our culinary tour of the city, we got to do some sight-seeing. We made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica, and got some amazing pictures…

We even made our way up to the Cupola (the dome on top of St. Peter’s), and as you can see it was quite the endeavor. Turns out, due to the curvature of the dome, we had to walk nearly sideways in order to make our way through it. 

Then, as you do, we checked out the Sistine Chapel…

Noses ft. Creation

The amount of riches within the Vatican Complex was astounding. Every time that I am surrounded by so much grandeur, I cannot help but feel exhausted by it. It has a kind of numbing effect such that I can only appreciate so much before it kind of loses its impact and even value.

By this point, mom was having issues finding the kind of food that she could enjoy and we were fatigued from fighting Roman traffic (more about that at the end).

So then we flew back west to Spain where I could see Fernando once more!

I was honestly a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to speak Spanish with Fernando as well, but the Italian only affected my ability to speak a little bit. I consistently made errors like saying “ciao”, “grazie”, & “allora” instead of the Spanish counterparts, but people could still understand me regardless. On top of that, I was still fully capable of using more obscure verb tenses. 

We even found a place for mom to eat! Turns out Spanish cuisine is much more forgiving to my mom’s appetite than Italian.

Funny aside: We went into a little pub where we could get a few drinks and relax after so much walking. Dad was being himself and made some joking remark about Trump’s glory when the OWNER OF THE BAR FLIPPED HIM OFF. It tickled him pink, and they continued to chat for a while after that; I think he made a friend.

I can’t wait to go back…

(Cross posted from my class blog) I had some thoughts about Italian traffic. Here they are.

Communication goes much further beyond spoken word. For instance, animals are able to communicate their needs; Koko the gorilla was able to communicate almost 1,000 words before her recent death in 2018. That’s quite impressive, but imagine if we were to put monkeys in sealed cars and told them to communicate primarily through body language!

Italian drivers operate on a variety of ways to communicate right-of-way, ‘my god’, and ‘you’re an idiot, just cross already’. They rely on a few key components to conveying these crucial concepts in life-or-death situations: the eyes, scowl, and the proverbial Italian hand.

Much like the gay community, locking eyes is the first step in this encounter. Whether it is a game of dominance is dependent on many variables: the car’s velocity and model, the driver’s awareness and reaction speed, the pedestrian’s courage and position in relation to the sidewalk. When we first came here, it became evidently clear that the eyes send invisible rays of guilt that cause the driver to recognize they will regret mowing down another human being which usually brings them to a halt. An interesting aspect of Italian cars is that the default model is standard rather than the automatic that we are used to. While slowing down is easy, they must go through a number of gears when they get back up to speed after yielding to a pedestrian.

The scowl is a beautiful part of the expression which many Italian drivers share. It is reflective of the inner dialogue “why did this car slow down in front of me? Vai, vai!” It doubles as a means to express their disapproval at your use of crosswalks in their paths.

Finally, the Italian hand which we have venerated into true ‘memedom’. What is it really used for? Well, it seems to be used in a means of disbelief or exasperation at someone trying to dupe them yet again. In a ways, it is a real “come on, we both know better”. Should I really have made that decision as a pedestrian, or should I have just waited another moment for him or her to pass?

In all reality, Italians seem to have a rich and deeply ingrained means of communication, and I have only scratched the surface. While walking around Italian drivers can be scary at first, the trial-and-error process of learning to share the streets with them was primarily a matter of learning to take the trust from street signs and put it into your fellow traveler. Just look and be aware, and you can even get through Rome unscathed… more or less.

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Being Exposed, Spring Break, and Bum Knees

Anticipation is tied to planning which ultimately breeds stress. What little measures can one take just to avoid it? Well, I found out that not putting off tiny tasks (anything that may take less than 10 minutes) should be handled immediately. My issue comes from an earnest part of my soul; I aspire to be a perfectionist.

It is a hard pill to swallow that I cannot possibly achieve perfection, much less really come to terms with the mediocrity of my work. I don’t know how many people from younger generations like the show Courage the Cowardly Dog, but it was a masterpiece. In one episode, a malignant tutor comes to Courage’s home to provide him puppy training. Her style is perfection, and always pushes Courage to become better and better. Her harsh criticisms wore him down to the point of basically killing him. Just an aside: this show has always been kind of odd being filled with moments that are non sequitur and random elements (this is from the dog’s imagination, after all).

That being said, Courage finds a piranha in his bathtub who turns out to be very wise. He advises Courage by telling him that true perfection does not exist, and that he is being too hard on himself. Courage is moved by this–and so was little 9-year-old me. I do not quite remember another moment when the moral of an episode ever hit so close to home. For all my life, I had not been able to ever achieve perfection or even anything close to it.

For instance, writing a blog post can take as long as several hours given how I worry that I will look back on these posts in the future and sigh at my ignorance. Shouldn’t my travel blog be enlightened and contain great amounts of information on the level of being a guru? Many of my peers seem to know so much already, and I cannot even aspire to be half as informed as them. I try too hard to anticipate the possible mistakes that I could make, and ultimately I do nothing that all. It is crucial that I get my own opinions out there, because otherwise this experience is for not. Even more importantly, I must understand the true importance of not putting things off. Getting things done on time and not begrudging the deadlines is so important.

I feel that familiar self-conscious exposure as I write this, but I am driven to continue because the feeling of hitting the publish button after a potentially risky post is always so cathartic. It brings me one step closer to dropping my own personal censuring and just throw my own peculiar combination of 1’s and 0’s into the web. It’s good practice to eventually try practice it in everyday conversation. It is scary to do, but as always I will try to remember the piranha’s lesson and develop my own personal Courage.

So I went to Dublin for the beginning of my travels for spring break <3

This of course introduced its own set of problems, since we missed a bus ride. On the plus side, we got to stay an extra night in London!

Funny side story: We had missed our bus earlier that day, so we felt a bit dejected being two broke college students that had to spend another 60 pounds. We were trying our best to find a decent and cheap hotel for the night, so we went door to door on this street of hotels trying to find the best deal. Desperation started setting in around hour 22, and my knee felt like it was about to break. The British were closing in on all sides… and there it was. A hotel that gives students. Abby went in to get a quote, and when we decided it was too high even still, the man decided to give us an offer that we could definitely refuse. He took us down into the basement which double-backed under the street. There was no heating or air conditioning, and the room smelled heavily of cats. There, under the pavement of one of many London streets, in the bowels of cat aroma, was a singular mattress covered by a stained blanket with a single dangling 60 watt light bulb (which flickered to life). I could not help but laugh right there in front of the man. 

So we booked it out of there and I used some of my precious data to find a decent hotel nearby. 

The next day, after a full night’s rest, we made it on time to a really nice train. I got to sit next to this American man who was exploring grad student programs in Europe in molecular biology. He was so intelligent and told me all about the research that he’d like to do. We got to talking about his experience, and I did my best to learn from it. Eventually we made it to the ferry station on the opposite side of the British isle in a town called Holyhead. We got on board this huge ferry that was much more akin to a mini cruise ship, and I got to try a lager. On the down side, it was very windy that day, so the waters were incredibly choppy with 20+ foot waves. We unwittingly sat at the very front end of the bow and settled in. A rugby match was playing, and people were really getting into it.

30 minutes later, I noticed how much up and down movement we were making about the same time my stomach began to abandon ship. I wasn’t the only one, sadly. The whole ride lasted about 4 hours, so I was miserable for a substantial part of it. We finally made it to land (solid, immobile, beautiful land), and found our home in Ireland. We settled in for the night at our Airbnb with a Domino’s pizza and watched a bit of Queer Eye. It was the closest to an American experience that I could possibly get, and I enjoyed every moment of it (besides seeing my parents, but that’s a topic for the next post).

There was surprisingly much more Gaelic than I anticipated; turns out it is far from a dead language. I guess that I just assumed that it is so close to England that the inevitable influence of English over the people would squash out other local languages. It was nice to see it on every sign and hear it over my shoulder on the bus.

We got to see the St. Patrick’s Day Parade of 2019 in Dublin which was wicked cool. We explored the streets and got just a little tipsy before heading to our tour of the Jameson Distillery. I learned that it is incredibly easy to malt barley, and it is quite tasty. It would make for a perfect addition to trail mix, so I might try that out.

Overall, this experience was all over the place. It kicked off my Spring Break to a really great start, and I would not have it any other way.

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The Passage of Time, and Pics from Firenze & Venezia

Something that I have been thinking about a lot lately has been the passage of time. This post will likely start off a bit existential and might not make that much sense, but it will hopefully provide the catharsis that I need to get past this mental block.

It started months ago with the innocuous comment “Jacob, you seem like an old spirit”. Considering somebody’s spirit to be old or young seems like a ridiculous idea to me given that I am agnostic. Perhaps it is willful ignorance that the spirit shouldn’t be given personification or credence in the first place, but my friend told me this anyway.

The basis? She said that I think long term. Huge compliment given that thinking about the future in general stirs my anxiety on every level-I have been willfully avoiding many future decisions. Future example: what to do after graduation. Past example: my paperwork which I had neglected until the deadline for studying abroad which I am currently enjoying right now. Aren’t I the procrastinator? How did I fool my close friend into thinking that I am anything other than a last-minute, craze-driven fool? Certainly she is completely misguided in her opinion and does not know me as well as I thought.

Well, multi-million dollar schemes meant to target audiences have crafted some of the most unnervingly accurate algorithms; they observe user behavior online and give back advertisements meant to both cater to the user and craft new desires within them. Those very algorithms agree with my friend because recently I have been receiving advertisements meant for men in their mid to late 40s because I am concerned about prevention of diseases brought by bodily neglect.

Why can I consider taking care of my body in such a time when other issues are so much more relevant? It seems like all my peers are willing to pull all-nighters and endure the stress that I’m sure is wreaking havoc on their bodies. I must be buying time.

We do not really have that much of it, and as I get older, the more apparent that becomes. Nothing surprises me more than the steadiness of its pace and how illusory it really is. Already I am in the third month of this study abroad experience.

When I get back, I must certainly face the reality of adult life: what will I do to fill my time that will also fulfill me? After all, there are so many possibilities.

Even though it feels daunting, it should be liberating to know that I can always quit a job and try for another. So many people have expressed that they believe in me, yet I can’t seem to hear them. No matter how many idea trees I make will settle this uneasiness. It’s been distracting me from my studies, but I have already written my presentation for class tomorrow and deconstructed it to its basic components. My thesis for the presentation is currently only half clear in my head, but I am sure that it will become solid as I talk towards it tomorrow.

Back to time. Something that I try to maintain is my curiosity. The friend that I mentioned is one of the most curious people that I’ll ever meet, and her intense bouts of intrigue are the most enviable part of the human spirit that I could only hope to truly possess. I think that bound to curiosity is the spirit of learning which means adaptability in our society, and it feels like the current goal is just to strive to be relevant.

SHOW AND TELL

Onto a lighter topic, I wanted to upload some of my pictures from my trips in the end of February!

Florence remains my favorite city in Italy to date (March 6th) because it is like the big city–it’s got the nightlife, the sights, the ACTUAL STATUE of DAVID, and all sorts of food that I can’t get in Arezzo. Going to Florence still makes me giddy.

The most picturesque cat from my route through a nearby suburb

As promised, Venice…

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Siena, Luca, and My Run

I love, LOVE travelling on my own. Perhaps that is a bit problematic, but it is the best thing in this world. I’ll try to limit that, but on my solo trip to Sienna, I got to see many amazing sights.

On the side of Sienna’s beautiful cathedral, one can find the palindrome that works forward, up, down, and backwards. It’s amazing. Every consonant is surrounded by a vowel, and vice versa! I am sure that it makes sense in Latin, but it’s Greek to me! (Cue the crickets)

Sienna was absolutely gorgeous! The cathedral itself, which is shaped like a cross, used to be considerably larger. Every church built in cruciform has the major and minor axis, but this church was bombed.

After my trip to Sienna, I met up with my good friend Valentina and her girlfriend Mary! They were amazing and told me lots of info about the region. For one, people in the city of Lucca can be sometimes annoyed by the presence of archaeological objects that they dig up during construction projects. Too bad, Luccians, we don’t have that problem. No history for us!

We first traveled through the walls which completely surround Lucca, one of two cities in the world that do that. After, we checked out the most touristy place of all, Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. It is the sight of an ancient Roman amphitheater similar to that of the Colosseum.

We checked out the tower of a church in Lucca, where I could see the beautiful sights. And we so happened to see a rainbow…

I cannot wait to get back to them in April!

My friend Abigail and I single-handedly carry the OUA running club on our backs, and I’d like to recount the beautiful trails that we explore on our journeys.

We have made considerable progress, graduating from 2 to 3 to 5 miles. We are going to keep pushing the envelope. On top of all of this running, I have  a personal trainer here in Arezzo. Rob helps me with regimens that don’t require weight, but the lack of weights shouldn’t be a problem for much longer; Student Activities Council is petitioning to get more free weights!

Another nice update: all my classes are going well. It’s only February, but this semester is going so much better than I could have thought (knock on metal, that’s the Italian tradition!)

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L’Italiano, il Freddo, ed Nuovo Orario

Sooo the internship did not work out, but that’s alright; there is still plenty of time! My friend Daniel works for a nearby museum doing translations, and that sounds right up my alley.

Allora ho imparato abbastanza dell’italiano già, ma sempre faccio errori. Il mio amico nuovo, si chiama Federico, mi ha mostrato molte cose belle. 

Do, a deer, a female deer
“Here Guido Monaco was born and lived”

Guido Monaco had invented our modern 5 line notation system in music! Ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do! In addition to that list of famous who-done-its, we have Petrach! Many quote him as essentially starting the renaissance (thank you, humanists!). I must always include Cole and Dylan Sprouse on this list because that fact tickles me absolutely pink.

Among the other things that Federico has shown me, I got to try out Italian hot chocolate. It is absolutely phenomenal. It is so thick that you eat it with a spoon. Try it con panna and you won’t be disappointed. Will post pics soon.

From my favorite caffe

The espresso here is by far one of my favorite things about this country. I am taking at least 3 cups a day (which is fine, I checked). 

This is a heated towel rack. America, get your shit together and follow the European example.

These towel racks are the only thing getting me through this Italian winter. We walk everywhere which is problematic because it is friggin’ cold outside and snows twice a week.

Pictured on the left is a beautiful vista from one of my runs (3 miles) in the morning with Abby, and on the right a large piazza in Eastern Arezzo.

I’ve finally had a normal week of classes, and it is definitely lighter than many of my other semesters, so an internship just seems like the natural choice to keep me occupied here.

I do have to admit that I am already not looking forward to leaving this place, so I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

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Arrival in Arezzo

Here I am! So much has happened since the wheels touched ground in Florence.

Made it past the initial jet lag and introductions. So far, my initial impressions of Switzerland were all very positive. The mountains were absolutely gorgeous (insert picture here).

The Gorgeous Alps

I made many new friends so far, including my roommate Daniel, Abigail (who I go on runs with) and her roommate Lisa (a local who is staying with us at the Monastery). There are many more, and for that reason I decided to join SAC as the chair of programming! I am particularly proud of this because I have never led a position of leadership like this in college, so it seems like a nice cherry on top of all that I’ve accomplished in these past few months. Hurrah for personal growth!

Non e molto difficile fare foto nella citta.

Italian is coming along nicely (very well, in fact), but that’s another post.

Also random: I am really getting into foosball. Hopefully those skills transfer over to real football in the spring!

La chiesa e piu bella di notte!

I’m enrolled in an Art History course with Professor Kirk (as he wishes to be addressed by his first name) and Antonio for Italian and Italy through Cinema. Today was my first really tough day of classes since Kirk really pushed us to analyze the piece with rigor.

On top of all of this, I am looking forward to trying out an internship with Fabio, the chef who prepares all of our meals (alongside Marianne who assists him). How cool would it be to learn directly from an Italian chef?

This semester is really looking up.

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Arezzo ’19

I’ve been trying to contain my excitement for this announcement post… 

I’M GOING ABROAD IN JANUARY!!!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to gush a little about the process. There is some part of me that loves preparing for the trip: the paperwork, orientation sessions, figuring out what luggage to take, and imagining my flights ahead of time. I even look forward to the jet lag.

It is not quite apparent yet whether that excitement will ever go away, so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe someday it will just become second nature.

This post is mostly going to be coalescing all my thoughts into a single place about the journey so far and where I think it will lead me.

1.) I got the job! I will be working in the main annex center alongside the staff to welcome people, take care of various duties, and help my peers. I am hoping that this job is a way for me to connect with the staff and make friends because, honestly, my only ‘in’ this far is my Nintendo Switch (and I don’t even have Super Smash Brothers yet…). On top of that, this makes my trip so much more affordable. I was not entirely sure whether this trip could be reasonably financed just a few months ago, but now it is becoming a reality. 

2.) The housing assignments came in today. I’ll be with one other guy in a two bedroom unit, so it will be a lot like freshman year.

3.) I’m going on a road trip to NY before my flight takes off, so I am hoping to see some sights and post those along with the rest of my journey to here as well!

4.) Everyone is telling me that my proficiency in Spanish is going to help me out, so here’s hoping!

5.) I’ll be doing research while I am abroad as well, so I get to see where that leads me.

The semester is over, so now I get to relax a little. And find a sublet/move out. And submit more paperwork. 

I guess my work is not really over…

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Climate Change – Everyone’s Problem

I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about this topic over the semester despite the numerous instances that it has been popping up.

It is really difficult to imagine the perspective that somebody must have in order to actively deny it as one of the most influential people on the planet, but I cannot avoid thinking that he must have some back up plan in case things really do go downhill in the next 50-100 years. Does he realize that generations down the line deal with the consequences of our actions? Surely his followers understand? How has our distrust of specialists gone so far as to allow for such extreme levels of ridiculous self-blinding?

It does not help the overall cause to quarrel over small details like whether the pole’s ice caps are both melting when the net effect is a 2/3 decrease rather than a whole. That is still alarming.

Many attribute the way these people vote due to fear, so why does this not incite it?

“Why, vested interests in oil, Jacob!”

After a painful amount of lobbying through the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the EPA managed to remove lead from gasoline despite its proven effects on vertebrates (what humans happen to be a part of). So, I guess you have a point.

Despite its credibility from 300-or-so million people at the time, the EPA was quieted for years and, in my opinion, we are still dealing with the rippling effects.

How are they capable of such actions?

This is my hypothesis: They are relatively unaware of how they affect their environment. Such individualistic tendencies puts less emphasis on the consequences of actions on a group of people, but rather on one’s own outcome. They have not been encouraged to see how they affect a group of people, and in doing so have only a mind for their own outcome.

Of course everyone has this tendency, but the difference is the cost-benefit analysis that comes after comparing one’s own needs to that of many. Are my needs greater than that of others?

They do not consider that their actions, or that maybe even humanity’s as a whole could affect the planet. Surely it must be hubris to assume our actions could do that.

But no one snowflake ever blames itself for the avalanche it precedes.

No matter who the true snowflake is, we shall all melt soon enough.

 

 

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Anti-Muslim camps in Western China, East Meets West & What I learned in Dance

The state of China has been doing some shifty stuff in the Xinjiang province out west.

The Uyghur group in western China is being reeducated in hopes of snuffing out any extremist behavior and encourage devotion to the state; these retention centers have been made legal in the past year and possibly hold people against their will.

Read all about it.

On a lighter note, the #MeToo movement has caught hold in the state under the hashtag “Rice Bunny” in order to subvert the country’s strict censorship laws. Why Rice Bunny?

Despite the current conservative nature of the state, some see the silver linings as a prominent professor was removed from his post after multiple allegations.


As I do, I want to share with you my experience from early October when a Beijing dance company came to the states to perform with the OU School of Dance under the name “East Meets West”.

Recycling some of the dances they had already performed just a few weeks before, “I Rise” and “Skinwalkers”, but a few new collaborative works came from the mix, which featured members from both colleges dancing across the floor in pairs. Their interactions suggested collaboration and friendship.

As expected, their performance was phenomenal. The dance majors spoke of the devotion and intensity with which the Chinese dance company performed, increasing the stakes for OU’s dance company. The mutual love for dance and healthy competition allowed for the two groups to grow and connect; it was clear during the performance.

After a small intermission, a timer brilliantly announced itself in bold white letters against a dark background. Oddly enough, this performance was quite long and cerebral. A repetitious soundbite of unintelligible words were played along with irregular rhythms, and the dancers matched the transgressive nature of the performance; they wore all black and white, and they danced with a single stool. It was quite comedic at certain points, almost turning the seat into a dancer of its own-they did an excellent job with the prop. At some points, the dancers conveyed themselves with a certain cockiness and style that you would believe that you were watching a boy band battle for your heart. The characters went through their own ebbs and flows, growing larger with their ego and shrinking back into themselves.

While I did not understand that dance in its twenty minute entirety, I was captivated.


This semester will likely be my last college dance class 🙁

I have learned so much about my body since January-what balance is, how my body moves through space, and how to stretch.

At first, I  was not sure how to feel about it. Staring at myself in the mirror for an hour and a half in tights? No thanks! (s/o to Peter for helping me get past the class anxiety)

However, this class had some AMAZING benefits of given definition to my midsection because of the heavy focus on abs, back muscles, and supporting obliques that control the motion of your core. If one’s core is not engaged during dance, one can expect to compose oneself as a wet noodle across the floor. My posture has improved leaps and bounds. There is a spring in my step, and I have more body awareness that allows me to move through space with a bit more grace than before (which I desperately needed after being such an awkward teenager).

Balance comes from fine, slow-twitch muscles all over the body. If one ignores the muscles that control the ankle, you can expect to fall over on your face. Interestingly enough, dance was just the right class that I needed to restrengthen my ankle after rolling it; it is completely back to normal despite most people saying that it will have the tendency to roll again. Sure, it has the potential to roll, but dance has given me the strength and awareness necessary to make sure that does not happen again.

Your body does not like to move a lot, so if you’re breathing hard, than you are doing it right. Your limbs might like to compensate for such movements, but don’t let your body be lazy: that is the key point in this class. If your body can be lazy, it will find the way to do it.

It is a natural mechanism to protect oneself against pushing further than one must in an environment which can challenge at any given moment, so be sure to make yourself move.

It is difficult to push yourself as much as a teacher does which makes it so difficult to retain the good form and exercises that are demanded from a knowing instructor (thanks Sara!).

I am SO FLEXIBLE!! That is a skill like anything else, and if it is on the edge of pain, then you’re doing it right. The grunts and moans that you hear from people as they stretch means that it hurts so good. Such a weird concept.

Since the end of my classes, my posture has improved significantly as well as my mood. This exercise is not as demanding as its cardio contemporaries and strengthens your joints (as long as you push yourself the right way and ice if you go too far).

Sometimes a muscle spasm isn’t the worst thing (quick aside: the worst muscle spasm I ever have was in August this semester. While trying to do pelvic raises and clench the booty for best results, I have a double-cheek, agonizingly mind-splitting muscle spasm in my gluteus maximus. It stayed contracted for what felt like 10 minutes, and I was in actual tears). Getting your foot to have the proper point is really just an temporary low-intensity muscle spasm (at least that’s where mine is at the moment).

Try it out sometime, you’ll love it.

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Garba

Per usual, I attended an event two months back and just now getting around to writing about it!

Ready to dance!

Back on October 14th, I got to attend a ceremonial dance called Garba which is translates roughly to ‘womb’ (fun fact: matrix is the Latin word for womb!) and spans the nine day period of Navratri. It is traditionally from Gujarat, a northwestern state in India where my dear friend Lisa is from.

 

When we first got there, we ate (never a miss in my opinion) and sat around to chat. Since Lisa and I are wallflowers, we didn’t chat as much as admire the brilliantly colored Chaniya Choli (three-piece dresses) surrounding us. I could feel the eyes of everyone on me… I was the only white person there. Typically I feel like an outcast, so this didn’t bother me too terribly much, but I did worry that I might actually be welcome at all in the ceremony.

Typically enough, all the men gathered to one side near the entrance, chatting and taking admission tickets. The women were dispersed throughout the entirety of the building, huddled into groups of 4 or 5. The adolescent girls followed suite, and the boys sulked outside in the parking lot. Children ran amok, but they seemed to be having the most fun of all.

This continued on for about an hour until the loudspeakers came on. Everyone began filing into the large auditorium room which had an altar with depictions of a female deity sat squarely dead-center. Surrounded by offerings like marigolds and small plates of food, this would become the centerpiece of the dance. We sat at the edge of the room and removed our shoes and socks.

A live band struck a chord, and the dance began. It was slow at first, and only a few women had gotten up to perform. They were in a line moving in a circle about halfway between the altar and the people at the extremities of the room; their movements were repetitive, simple, and almost a bit lazy. More girls volunteered to go up and join the line until it eventually made a full circle, moving constantly one way or the other. Enough people had joined that a few renegades broke the circle and moved inwards, creating another level of complexity. The dance seemed to be evolving as it gradually got faster.

These girls know what they’re doing

After about 30 minutes, Lisa seemed eager to join. She talked to her mother a bit, making sure that it was fine that I participate. I was still incredibly nervous despite being told that it was fine, so she said that she would go around a few times until I felt comfortable enough to join. She disappeared into the concentric lines, identifiable only by her bright blue dress. Each revolution around the circle seemed to take about 4 or 5 minutes, so I must have waited another 10 minutes in indecision, wanting to join but feeling like an outcast. Eventually I got up enough nerve (or her yanking me by the hand to get my immobile booty off the floor) to enter the ranks, intently focused on trying to get the foot pattern down by copying the moves of the women just to my right and left.

They seemed either indifferent or happy enough with my inclusion, so I allowed myself to get lost in the dance. The music was repetitive with clearly eastern melodies in Gujarat, a language that I had absolutely no familiarity with (besides how to say water and a few numbers). I am no stranger, however, to listening to music that I do not understand. I came to feeling at home, and I just focused on making sure that my movements were similar to others. Our dance was simple and faced inwards towards the altar. People really did not make much eye contact or speak to each other, so the dance felt rather isolating but connected somehow.

Eventually I began to lose track of time as the dance became second nature; even the aching of my bare feet on the cold floor gave away to an indifference as the habituation of input set in: this aligns with the intent of the dance. It is a representation of the circular notion of time with birth, life, death, and rebirth; the altar in the center was the only constant among this. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and while I am not Hindi, I was able to appreciate the spiritual aspect of the ceremony.

Exhausted from the constant motion after lord knows how long, Lisa and I took intermittent breaks. My feet were not happy, but thankfully two semesters of Modern Dance gave me enough callouses to endure. We rejoined and left without regards to anybody else. While I still received looks, they were less often as the night went on. Halfway though the night (around 11 pm or so), we got to eat little sandwiches as a snack to reinvigorate ourselves.

Apparently the ceremony lasts into the wee hours of the morning, but I was sleepy and felt the need to part. Lisa was not interacting hardly at all with her peers, but there seemed to be good reason for that. Just as I was hesitant to join the dance, she was staying close to my familiarity. On top of that, I served as her human engagement ring. As long as we were together, nobody could have known my own proclivities or her relationship status. Near one of the entrances of the room, a line of young men were standing, watching over the event as if picking out prey.

Obviously they did not have bad intentions, but they were seeking out their potential match-made-in-heaven-aka-relatives. This concept is understandably a bit scary to Lisa, so she stayed close to me to avoid the whisperers of the family grapevine.

However, she is a brave girl. We parted, and she went on to embrace her family and friends. After I left, people began to speak to her unprompted.

I had received an invitation that night to attend other events like Divali, but let’s just say that I was not getting out much by the time it rolled around.

Hopefully next year will better.

Until next time (which should be soon),

Happy studies!

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