upper upper west side dreamin’

On Friday I got off early from work and went up to my old stomping grounds. Ah, hello my old neighborhood! Hello dearest Columbia! Hello quiet residential streets!

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There isn’t much up there except housing, the university, the hospital, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, but I have such fond memories of the area! It’s where I first lived in New York, and while I was busy at grad school, that quiet environment was just what I needed. Oh, but seriously, Columbia isn’t in Harlem, it’s in Morningside Heights (the area west of Morningside Park, West 110th to 125th Streets), which I tend to merge with the UUWS (Upper Upper West Side, aka Manhattan Valley, West 96th to 110th Streets), which itself is differentiated from the more happening part of the UWS to the south.

But in truth, who really cares? I lump Morningside Heights with the UUWS because combined, that was the majority of my life, and culturally, it feels more like the UWS than Harlem. And after living in Harlem for a year (east of Morningside Park), I gotta say, that park is a pretty serious dividing line. Oh gracious, all those stairs. (Not so fond memories.)

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I was actually up at Columbia in order to get an alumni ID because my student ID had been stolen (along with the rest of my wallet) during my last few weeks in Shanghai. I also went to look at an apartment in the area, which was spacious and clean and recently renovated and overall great. But unfortunately not great enough to outweigh the location. That being said, I love the location.

The UUWS really does feel like home to me (or more like home than my current tourist-ridden pit of hellfire), but alas, it’s no good for me anymore. Sigh, if only I could transport the UUWS to Midtown. So yes, this is a bit of an ode/elegy to the Upper Upper West Side, because it was amazing. But is no longer. (For me anyway.)

architecture randomness (tbt)

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Back when I was at Columbia I used to sit in on a lot of the lectures hosted by GSAPP, and attended one that I made a note of. I shall now share:

Date: April 04, 2013
Setting: Wood Auditorium, Columbia University, New York
Event: “Converse” – Conversation between Mark Wigley and Wang Shu

Wigley was TORTURING this conversation about hard versus soft for what seemed to be forever. I was over it, I’m sure most of the audience was over it, and maybe even Wang Shu was over it (or at least he seemed kind of confused). Wang had brought up that he practices calligraphy in the morning before he begins pencil sketching his designs … and Wigley took off from there, trying to conceptualize Wang’s process. Then Wang mentioned that the first thing is actually making tea, which comes before the calligraphy, which Wigley took as the ultimate soft (id est, the liquid) that transitioned to the semi-soft (ink and brush) and then to the hard (pencil). In other words, this was a really weird conceptual sort of conversation and this particular topic went on much longer than it should have. But then:

Wigley: How hard is your pencil?

Wang: 1H.

[Laughter from Audience]

Maybe you had to be there? I think it was funny because of the literalness and simple specificity with which Wang Shu answered compared to Wigley’s all over the place hard-soft monologue. And the fact that an H pencil isn’t all that hard. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wigley … but this was not one of his finest moments.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why this post started with a picture of an alpaca/llama, it’s because it’s also random and somewhat Columbia/architecture-related. It was a Saturday, I was stressed and sleep deprived because the end of the year was nearing, and I was on my way to studio to work on my thesis. And then I ran into an alpaca/llama. Well, not literally ran into it. About a block from campus there was a street festival with bouncy castles and the alpaca/llama and I basically froze in shock. Because, seriously? How much more random can you get than seeing an alpaca/llama on your way to school? Or well, I actually have no idea if it was a llama or alpaca because I can’t tell the difference and didn’t stay long enough to ask. Anyone know for sure?

thesis? oh, that thing i turned in?

Thesis – done. Not fantastic and not actually done, but turned in so … DONE. Not completely happy with what I turned in so I’ll probably work on it some more before the End of Year Show, but that’s just for me. But basically I’m done. Absolutely done. Commence intake of food and alcohol and long periods of sleep!

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A bunch of us went to Five Lamps Tavern for dinner in celebration. Some people still had work for other classes so couldn’t join, but … it was a good night. I had fish and chips, which were yummy, made all the more yummier by the fact that they represented FREEDOM FROM THESIS.

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weird morning in new york

Thesis presentation went well – woot! Class paper finally done – woot! Final thesis turn in is … uh oh, back to campus then.

Yesterday morning I walked to campus, taking the same route I always do. Walk walk walk. As I was climbing a set of stairs in the park, a guy in a black suit walked by. Weird, but it barely registers. Walk walk walk. More guys in black suits. Huh? Eh, whatever. Walk walk walk. Woman in white puffy wedding dress. Walk walk walk. WAIT. WOAH NELLY, WHAT? Stop. Double take. Stare. Gaggle of women in sage green dresses walk by. They stare back. Oh, I get it now. Wedding pictures. They’re not actually crossing the park to get to Harlem, they’re just using the park and stairs as a backdrop. But still … woah.

I know it’s not that weird, since it’s a park and the weather is AMAZING and it’s wedding season, but it was still surprising, maybe because my walk to campus is usually done on autopilot. After I made it out of the park I was still thinking to myself: That was weird, right? And then I was confronted with a children’s carnival. Right there along my normal path. It was set up in the street with pony rides and face painting and inflatable bouncy castles and OH MY GOSH IS THAT A LLAMA!?!

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Yeah. Weird morning. And in the afternoon I saw another wedding party, but those bridesmaids were wearing blue.

how to survive the library

Since I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in the library stacks of Avery, I thought I’d offer some tips on how to survive the experience. Also, I’m procrastinating. Can’t you tell?

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1. Beware overhead objects. Make note of them, but do not get distracted by the exposed pipes and/or wiring. When you are losing interest in your research material, letting your eyes wander to the fascinating aspects of the ceiling can be disastrous. Do not let your concentration shift upwards. Or sideways. Or any direction other than the next page.

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2. Put some muscle into it. Who said academics were all weaklings in ivory towers? There’s some real force required to shift some of the movable stacks, so throw your shoulder into it and get those gears cranking. Turning them bit by bit only reduces the momentum and prolongs your stay. If there are multiple stacks bunched together, you’re going to have to move each one individually, so just get it over with.

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3. Kick to save your life. If caught between electronically-moving stacks, kick the red/white strip running along the base to avoid being crushed. If you’re caught between hand-cranked stacks, for goodness’s sake, YELL. When you have safely escaped from the enclosing wall of books, smack the person who didn’t check the aisle before moving the stack and feel free to glare at them evilly any time you see him/her in the future.

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4. Don’t get lost. One of the worst things is to go down a row and forget the specific call number, volume number, or issue number of whatever it is you are looking for. That many books in a small area can be disorienting – arm yourself with a list and a game plan. If you have multiple books on your list, make note of which stacks are already open and then work out the best order to retrieve them before you go around shifting stacks. Be prepared for the onslaught of books!

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5. Accept assistance when needed. If you are short, own it. The stacks can go up pretty high and this isn’t the stretching Olympics, so don’t risk throwing out your back, pulling a muscle, or having a book fall on your head. Save your strength for flipping all those pages and grab a step stool. Plus, if there’s a step stool in the aisle with you, you can’t get crushed to death.

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6. Check the clock, at least occasionally. Or you will be in here forever. This is the only exception to #1. When there’s no window and you’re all by yourself, it can be hard to gauge how much time has gone by. If you don’t occasionally glance up at the clock, time will run recklessly wild. You will skip lunch, skip dinner, and before you know it the library is closing and some guy is telling you to pack up your stuff and leave. And then you will look up at him with tears in your eyes muttering about how you’re not done. Avoid that.

Happy researching!

all wrapped up: the phase box

I was in the library the other day looking at some old books, and I went off in search of Diderot’s Encyclopédie. And when I found the row of volumes, the books were all wrapped up and tied with bows. It was adorable.

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I had seen books in archival phase boxes before, but usually the boxes are fairly new, constructed of mounting board or some such, and the closures are Velcro. These boxes however, were … um, not really boxes. Only the front cover, spine, and back cover had hard surfaces, and the flaps that go around the pages’ exposed three edges were a flexible sort of textile. Not exactly archival.

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Oh, and I got really nervous at one point when the corner of the page CRUMBLED AT MY TOUCH. Woah. I wonder how long those books sat there before I messed with them. Pretty neat to see books that are super old, but at the same time, it’s kinda nasty thinking about how many people have touched the pages before you, and as you’re flipping through the pages, you’re basically breathing in dust particles that have been trapped for YEARS.

starting to feel icky

It’s finals season! Dead days, woot! Well actually, I still have one more class to go (a make-up class due to Sandy), but then I’m done with classes and can focus all my energy on my two papers. But … I feel like utter hell.

I had a major presentation last week, and wow that did me in. I’ve lost three or four pounds in the last two weeks. Also, I apparently pulled something in my neck/shoulder/arm, because it all really hurts, and my stomach is unhappy. So I’m having a hard time sleeping and have no appetite even though I need to be eating. Yeah … I am not in the mood to be writing papers. Darn school!

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libraries are scary

I’m not a big fan of libraries. I just don’t like the smell or feel of musty dusty books. Don’t get me wrong though, because libraries are amazing places. Why should you buy books when you can have access to them for free? However, not all libraries are created equal. And the stacks are always the worst part of any library.

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The C. V. Starr Library is great in terms of its content and I go there quite often, but I have to spend most of my time below ground where the stacks (and majority of books) are … and it’s not a very happy place. The ceilings are low, not all the lights work, and I’m always afraid I’m going to drop something down to the floor below, get my foot stuck in one of the openings, or take a tumble down the stairs in some of the aisles. Sigh. Those stacks always make me so anxious!