You Can’t Take It With You

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In the past year, I’ve mastered the art of of packing an entire life into two suitcases. The first, a practical black carry-on that has long since pledged its loyalty me. The second, a large soft-shell Samsonite sturdy enough to sustain the weight of any pillar. I’ve learned to do without a good deal of worldly luxuries. And yes, I’ve learned that you can survive without two dozen iterations of the same black shirt.

Now I’m getting ready to make the trip back across the Atlantic for good – or, at least, for now.  I’m starting learn that there are some things, both material and immaterial, that will never fit into my two trusty suitcases. The things that have shaped me the most: these are the things I am forced to leave behind.

From my childhood home:

  • My piano. I remember, I was seven when the movers heaved it up the steps. An upright from Kranich & Bach,  made of warm mahogany and with a sostenuto pedal that never quite worked. I lovingly, sometimes loathingly, worked my way through Hanon finger exercises, through Fur Elise and Sonatina in C. Then on to the Romantics, Chopin and Schumann and Mendelssohn and Listz (all of which, I still struggle through from time to time). Between the classics, I mixed in movie scores and showtunes and all the Beatles’ greatest hits. A song for every mood and every occasion. When I played, the music would fill the house and my mother would say it made her feel rich.
  • My library. Treasured books with worn creases, read over and over until the stories knitted themselves into my brain. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Ella Enchanted and The Book Thief, all still near and dear to my heart. My annual summer reread of the Harry Potter series became my marathon training. Eventually, I trimmed down my completion time to just over a week. My thirst for magical plots and magical people fed my growing imagination but ruined me for the real world. It inspired me to write the stories that I wanted to read. From my messy scrawl emerged a voice of my own. From the bookshelves, the books chanted: Write! Write! Write! And so I did. And so I became a writer.

From Boston (where I did the rest of my growing up):

  • The euphoria. That feeling of being young and invincible on a crowded dance floor, when you realize that everything is going to be alright when just hours ago life seemed so shitty. The feeling that no mountain is insurmountable. The naive resilience. The bombastic bounce-back. I can’t take it with me.
  • The connections. I can’t pack those 3am conversations, full of empathy and understanding and awe. Lovers and friends I have since lost. On my twin bed. On the docks of the Esplanade. On the ninth floor study lounge overlooking Fenway. The first time I’d felt that elusive spark. Chemistry: I finally understood what it meant. Both platonic, and, well, something more. Two intellects meeting, it’s a kind of electricity that you’ll never replicate. This person. This person! You get me. You get me!
  • The heartbreak. It had been my first. Just a few short months, I hadn’t known it would hurt this much. A fire that burned out too quickly, suffocated by all the things we didn’t know about ourselves and about each other. The words that we didn’t communicate. The feelings that we couldn’t convey. We colored in the spaces with the absolute worst. One minute, it was Thanksgiving and I had engorged myself on your story, my heart swelling with the wonderfulness of you. The next, it was Christmas and you slammed the door in my face. If you’d opened it, if I’d insisted… What if? Tearfully, we asked each other this question one year later. Already, the divide was far too big.
  • The “we” that never was. The boat we both missed. Call it chronic heartbreak, for lack of a better word. There were so many things I wanted to blame you for. Maybe that’s where I went wrong. Not blaming you, that is. You were the first spark, long before any of the others. School hadn’t even started and I already decided that I liked you. You were a puzzle to be solved, so I let myself become the mystery. You were wrapped up in your own Personal Legend, while I was convinced that you would somehow be a part of mine. Cursed with my childhood imagination, I didn’t know if any of it was real, the way you searched my eyes when you said you wanted her (i.e. not me). If you’d wounded my pride, I wouldn’t have let you see. I know I never made it easy. Only let you guess at how I felt. Kept half of myself hidden and called that victory. Perhaps I should have never placed you on that pillar. Perhaps the boat was only ever sinking. I’m flying away now to a place where I know who I am, to where timing has never stopped someone from loving me.

 

How You Write About Me

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Artwork by John Paul Antido

Silent-stepping, soft-caressing;

Tinsel-twittering, jasmine-sipping;

Everything I am not.

Behind a thousand legends,

An untold story.

Neither dragon nor butterfly

Nor tiger nor monkey

Nor helper nor victim

Nor mistress nor slave.

Woman of her own conception,

Unbeknownst to the Imagination;

She who stares, unflinchingly,

Saber-toothed student of Western tongues.

Cursed are the meek

For all that I am:

Giant-slaying, disobeying;

Unmoored outcast

Aboard a sailing ship,

Unmanned.

xx

S. Bansil

Tulip Fever!

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Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Recently, some of you may have caught the trailer for the movie Tulip Fever, set in 17th-century Amsterdam. The historical drama, adapted from Deborah Moggach’s novel, explores the era of “tulip mania” that swept the Netherlands by storm.

Long before the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, tulip bulbs experienced an unprecedented commodity boom. Prices of these exotic blooms quickly reached dizzying heights. This economic bubble – the first in recorded history – finally burst in 1637.

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Although far from Holland, the tulips of the Skagit Valley certainly lived up to the expectations set by their coveted predecessors. With their plump shape and vibrant hues, it is clear why these flowers captured the Dutch market, as well as the Dutch imagination.

Interested in seeing these beauties for yourself? Washington’s annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is held from April 1-April 30

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North by Northwest

I just came back from a trip to the Pacific Northwest, where I was absolutely floored by the region’s natural beauty. From dizzying summits to skyscrap-ing evergreens, America’s wondrous topography is part of what defines her greatness. I’m a city girl myself, but my vacation to Washington and Oregon, having coincided with Earth Day, reminded me once again that the environment is worth saving.

Cascade Mountains

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Caught a glimpse from the Cascade Mountains from the airplane (one of the few perks of having a window seat, in my opinion).

Deception Pass

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The view from this lofty bridge connecting Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island simply took my breath away.

Edmonds, WA

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A waterfront community in the Seattle suburbs, Edmonds boasts quiet beaches and unparalleled views of the Puget Sound.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

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Located just half an hour outside of Portland, the water here spills out from Larch Mountain, dropping 620 feet before flowing into the Columbia River.

Z is for Zeitgeist

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“Talkin bout my generation…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “zeitgeist” lately, and what it means for my generation. I remember stumbling upon this word in an excerpt of Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. He speaks of a lost world of “security,” Europe in those pre-war days. I write this in the year 2017, and I can only guess that this feeling of loss, of dread, will stretch well into my adult years.

Born in 1995, I toe the line between the Millennials and Generation Z. We are assumed to be materialistic and self-centered, but these stereotypes cannot be farther from the truth. When I entered college in 2013, I found myself surrounded by passionate individuals who were genuinely committed to making the world a better place. The Obama years, how faraway they now seem, only pumped optimism into the public consciousness.  It was easy to get swept away in the upward momentum. Our world was moving forward: Yes we can, yes we can.

And now? Foreboding. A doomed spiral. The imminent fall of Rome. The death of the liberal ideals that had been instilled inside me from a young age, beliefs that I still cling to, a vision of the way things should be.

Everything, an entire worldview, toppled overnight.

How to describe our generational zeitgeist? In a few words: resentment, blame, injustice. A sense of powerlessness having been screwed over by the Baby Boomers in everything from elections to climate change, again and again and again. We were born into a world of uncertainty. An eternal war on terror; fear that cuts into youthful invincibility. Historical atrocities on repeat.

The façades have begun to peel away. Generation Z doesn’t buy in. We say no to traditional advertising, to the 9-5. We mourn the American Dream. There’s a desire to become masters of our own fate, to define our own success (once we free ourselves from the debtors’ shackles, at least).

It’s freedom from delusion, paradoxically coupled with the fight for idealism. Just as we reject the established standards, we condemn the wrongdoing we see all around us. Because, despite everything, we still take to the streets. We still believe that humanity can be rescued from the rubble. There is still a part of us that is worth saving – whatever that may be.

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Protesting in Boston Common after Nov 2016 election
photo credit: http://www.Michie.ru Mirror mirror via photopin (license)

Paris Touristique

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A few weeks ago, I toured my family friends around Paris. They were here on a day trip from the UK, and I did my best to give la Ville Lumière a fighting chance in the centuries-old London-Paris rivalry.

For all of the romantic clichés, you can’t expect fall in love with Paris in just one day. (especially when the better part of those 24 hours is spent in crowded museums and tourist traps by the Eiffel Tower or along the Champs-Elysées). Yes, these sites are beautiful and iconic: incontestable must-sees. But there is more – so much more – of Paris that I wish all tourists could enjoy.

It was as though I was introducing my friends to a new boyfriend. Desperate to make a good impression, I finished the tour in the lesser-tracked neighborhood of Montmartre. Sunset over the Sacre-Coeur. Dusk falling over cobblestone. The distant sound of an accordion.  La Vie Bohème.

 

 

{hudson blues} Best of Nyack

My mom is queen of day trips in the Hudson Valley, and Nyack is at the top of her list of places to visit. Once a bustling industrial center, Nyack is now an artsy town with a Main Street vibe. Twenty minutes north of New York City, a jaunt in this little village presents the perfect antidote to even the worse case of urban isolation.

The Pier

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My blogger bff @meganhana

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Village Shops

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Edward Hopper House Art Center

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Whether you want to walk in the footsteps of American painter Edward Hopper or take a scenic riverwalk, Nyack has loads to offer. Here are some of my favorites:

Concrete Jungle

When I was little, we were a family of nomads — traveling coast to coast, from sleepy town to bustling city. We left our mark in places like LA County and Flushing, Queens. I was seven when we finally settled in Northern New Jersey, where I spent most of my formative years. We always prided ourselves in being the more “cosmopolitan” types among our suburban peers. To them, the Bergen County born-and-bred, New York would only be known as the City. A monolithic creature emerging for the Hudson; a concrete mystery, best left undisturbed.

This spring I’m back for a brief sojourn from France. Free to lose myself in what has been, for the better part of the 21st century, the center of the universe. Despite its familiarity, New York can feel like something out of a Jules Verne novel. An island city? It should seem unimaginable. Almost as unimaginable as the fact that all the neighborhoods, in all the nooks and crannies in all of the five boroughs, could be united under a single address: NEW YORK, NY.

One thing is clear:

“New York is not a city. It’s a world.”


DUMBO

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Lower Manhattan

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Midtown

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Long Island City

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MOMI, Astoria

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That AM Sound

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Also known as the Soundtrack of Commonwealth Avenue.

Take a sip of your soul and it sounds like – wet-haired silence in front of a mirror. This is a mixtape for me at age 18. A parting gift along with a blessing: may your skin be spotless and your stories plentiful.

Spilling drinks on my settee – she trudges down Comm Ave half-dazed, thinking herself to be in love with her new best friend because oh, happy day, what a lovely storyline that would make. New city, new songs, new vocabulary. Nocturnal confessions: the album wills it to be true.

I want it all – after what feels like two decades of dormant sleep, she imbibes on everything life has to offer her. The downs, buried in a closet so her roommate won’t hear. The ups, slow motion on the dance floor, something out of a music video. Those moments, the splendid happy few.

Breathing in the dust – because anything is easier – even sucking on someone’s shadow – than finding your own air.

Come on, come on, before the moment’s gone – she’s trying on new skins, shutting windows. Staggering under the weight of moments with someone who was never really there.

xx

S. Bansil

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In a nostalgic mood. Here’s a tribute to the Arctic Monkeys for accompanying me throughout my freshman year of college.

Swans and Storks: Scenes from Strasbourg

Strasbourg has never ceased to amaze me. As one of the many perks of dating an Alsatian man, I have had the pleasure of visiting his ville natale several times in the past year. With rows of half-timbered houses lining the river, the city looks like a fairy tale come to life. Good wine, good beer, and a mere two-hour train ride from Paris – what’s not to like?

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Things to do in Strasbourg:

  • Eat Flammekeuche (a.k.a. tarte flambée)
  • Visit the European Parliament
  • Ride a boat in the Petite France
  • Stroll through Parc de l’Orangerie
  • Marvel at the Cathedrale