Friday, September 29, 2006

vanishing posts and chocolate

What a terrible week for posting! Three times I have spent time typing up a post, only to have it disappear into blogger heaven (or hell). And it is really difficult to re-type a funny post from scratch. So I'll be typing my posts up on word from now on, and publishing them only once they are safely saved on my hard drive.
In the mean time, though, This week end is a bit of a mile stone. On Sunday I will have been in New York for exactly a month! Celebrate with me. I will be satisfying my unending chocolate cravings by baking my mother's wonderfully sticky chocolate pudding!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Intrepid

I spent the entire day today at the Intrepid museum. I didn't quite make the 10:00 opening, but I arrived quite soon afterwards, and stayed untill closing. And what a superb day it was. My feet are swolen from the 2 mile walk both directions, and the almost constant standing, but I feel quite satisfied with myself. I walked the entire aircraft carrier from end to end, one deck after another. I rode both of the flight simulators, wondered through the submarine (what a terrifying place to have to live in!) and pretended I was a passenger, and then the pilot of the concorde. I saw the statue of liberty off in the distance, down the hudson river, and New Jersey surprisingly close. I admired war planes, and paid my respects of Harmon Rabb and his Tom Cat. And on the way home I wondered how many of those starry-eyed young men and women who walked the same deck returned home to write about it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fire drill

I just got expelled onto the street outside my building, in my pajamas, with my dinner cooling on the table, for a fire drill. Mom, I am so grateful for your wonderful dressing gown!

Under cover in New York

When the thermometer tops 30 degrees Centigrade, the melting-pot of New York city turns into a simmering cauldron. It has been one of those days, with low cloud pushing the humidity up, and creating a muggy atmosphere that teased the already frayed nerves of the city's commuting public.
I began walking uptown, against the wave of pedestrian traffic, as the sun began sinking below the line of the tallest buildings. After a block or two, I became aware of an unusually high number of police officers around, directing the traffic, or watching the passing pedestrians from below the peaks of their severely tilted hats.
Further up the street, their ranks were swelled by legions of plain-clothes officers, identifiable by their dark business suits, and the tightly-coiled earphone wires running down the backs of their shirts. Their vehicles, all black, all larger than the average New York family car, stood in stark contrast to the paler, gaudily adorned vehicles of their uniformed counterparts.
I reached my destination, flashed my photo-identification card at the nearest police officer, who was patiently explaining to an agitated woman why she could not be admitted without proper identification, and headed down the street to a tall, mirror-covered building. I sat down in the paved courtyard beside the entrance to the building, and pulled out my pen and note pad. On the opposite side of the street, the United Nations elite and their wives paraded, waiting for tables to become available in the hotel restaurant. To my left, a man finished his cigarette, stubbing it out on the bricks before rising and pacing to the edge of the road. Looking impatiently at his watch, he sighed, and walked back to his former perch on the edge of an immaculate pot plant.
I waited about ten minutes before a short, business-suited Asian man exited the building, and walked uncertainly towards me.
"Nicol?" he asked, straightening his tie. I nodded and extended my hand. He grasped it briefly, before leading me into the building and down a set of stairs.
The interview lasted about a half an hour. Afterwards, I retraced my steps down-town, smiling to myself as I walked. The sun had nearly set, and the first tentative drops of rain began to fall, lowering the impossible temperature only slightly. I bought a doughnut two blocks from my apartment, and ate it under the shop awning on the sidewalk, spilling powdered sugar over my black purse as I did. It was a small celebration for a personal victory, but I felt it was worth it.

Sounding enough like a detective story yet? I couldn't resist trying my hand at the style, because the atmosphere on the upper west side yesterday really lent itself to it. In reality, all I was doing was attending an audition for a choir (I got in, by the way), but it was held in the basement of a United Nations building, and because of the opening of the general assembly, the streets were literally crawling with police officers and general security. And American security services really do look just as they are portrayed in the films. The dark suits, black SUVs and discrete ear-pieces are a reality!

Unfortunately, today my attendance at my first choir rehearsal was thwarted. I have fallen victim to the inevitable "new city tummy", though there is just a slight possibility that it may be an e coli infection. I am already feeling much better, though, and the doctor I saw this morning suggested just resting up and keeping hydrated, so I am certain I will be 100% tomorrow.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Freudian auto-correct

My auto-correct in Word keeps changing "Exoticized" to "Eroticized".
(If you don't find that really amusing, read Orientalism, by Edward Said, or, if you have neither the time, nor the inclination, try this pretty good summary of the main issues.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Learning to walk like a New Yorker.

I realized today that catching up with my travel notes is an impossible aspiration. So I'm simply going to write up notes as things happen, and perhaps I'll refer to the events of the past two weeks if they come up.

Today was a really beautiful day. It started out with my fellow ethnomusicology first year and I (there are only two of us) meeting up to complete some mundane, but very necessary errands, before going for brunch together in a little cafe on 6th avenue. There was a light rain falling, the cafe was cozy , and the atmosphere was perfect for getting to know a new colleague. It turned into a really lovely morning.
From brunch I went to the library, and got a bit of work done, in particular, putting my class readings into Refworks, my latest online obsession (I love it when technology makes life easier). And thereafter I went to my first French lesson. That proved to be such fun! I don't know how much I will remember for the next class, but I learned to greet the class and introduce myself and my research, and to count from 1 to 30. I have ten weeks of these classes ahead, but as they are really informal, and require no prep, I am looking forward to the break from regular work they will provide. At the French class I met a lovely fellow student who made me feel really great about myself by complimenting my smile, and so it was with that in mind, I went to the first music department colloquium.

If my roommate hadn't mentioned that she often feels the same way, I would have thought that I am the only person who can't concentrate well enough on a blandly read paper to engage sensibly afterwards, but it sounds like it is a common enough issue. Perhaps with practice, it will get easier, but for now I have to wait until the discussion is well underway before I feel confident enough in my understanding to be able to contribute. I did make a sensible contribution tonight, though how sensible some of the department consider a comparison to cartoon morality is beyond my immediate powers to judge. But the real pleasure for me happened after the main colloquium. The practice of providing drinks and snacks after an even like this is really worthwhile, as it gave me an opportunity not only to meet other students I had not yet met, but also to converse at length with a very eloquent and fascinating lecturer. I really think I am going to get on well with these people.

By the end of the colloquium the rain had stopped, and so I changed my mind about catching the bus home, and instead walked. About three blocks from home I got waylaid by a very persistent Egyptian who tried very hard to to pick me up, and to my delight, I was rescued from a delightful New Yorker, who called out to me as though she knew me, and walked me across the street and out of sight. I was very appreciative and very amused.

I am beginning to get a feeling for the functioning of this city at last. I am learning to cross the street when the traffic is clear, rather than waiting ages for the traffic light to change, though I haven't quite got over my habit of skipping across the moment the light begins to flash a warning, instead of walking coolly in the face of on-coming, over-enthusiastic taxi drivers. I have learned to carry wettables in my bag in a second plastic bag, just in case it rains. I have learned that the sidewalks of New York sparkle like precious stones when they are wet. I have learned to walk like a New Yorker, at top speed, without watching my feet all the time. I have learned not to walk over subway vents wearing a skirt. I have learned not to entertain long-winded complimenters looking for naive tourists to pick up. I have learned that New York in the rain is amazingly beautiful. And I have learned that New Yorkers' passion for their city can inspire them to speak the loveliest poetry. A little bit at a time, I am learning to be a New Yorker.

The Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields, Central Park.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Getting acquainted with Musicology

I found myself writing up what was essentially a web search for today's musicology class, last night, and so I thought I might blog the assignment: "Record the process you followed to get acquainted with "As Steals the Morn Upon the Night" by George Fredrich Handel".

The result follows:

Perhaps it’s a symptom of living in the digital age, but my first step toward finding out about this piece of music, as with anything unfamiliar, was to search for it on Google.

The first thing I found on the first search was the Hyperion catalog listing of a CD containing this track, and from that I found the name of the larger work which I had been unable to write down in class: “L’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato”. The CD was listed under the Samplers, Compilations and Special Issues page, and this immediately set up an expectation for me about the type of recording I was likely to encounter. And it was not a particularly positive expectation. Perhaps it is the nature of the recording industry to package music in a manner that makes it easily accessible as pure entertainment, and I feel terribly elitist reacting negatively to that, but I can’t help but feel that compilations like this that extract a piece of music from its broader performance context also somehow damage the piece. As an ethnographer and student of popular music, I absolutely recognize the value of music for pure entertainment, and yet, with music from the Western Classical tradition, as with much of the ‘folk’ music I study, I feel that this process of selection sets up a canon that, by its very nature, excludes certain texts, and hence restricts certain potential areas of knowledge about the composer (or tradition). In this particular instance, the CD on which the piece in question is found is called Essential Handel, a title which implies not only that these are likely to be the most popular of the composer’s works, but also to some degree that knowledge of these works is equivalent to knowledge of the composer in general. I was therefore surprised, upon clicking on the link that took me to a page containing the track listing of the CD in question, to discover that the “Halleluiah Chorus”, for the Messiah, was not included. Nonetheless, the inclusion of “As Steals The Morn Upon The Night” in the Essential Handel suggests that it may be one of the core (i.e. representitive) pieces from his repertoire.

Upon turning to the sleeve notes of the CD (available online only with a Hyperion account, which can be freely obtained), I learned that L’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato was composed before the Messiah, though the librettist of the latter aided Handel in the preparation of the libretto of the former (King, 2005). I also learned that while the first two movements of L’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato were settings of poems by the English poet John Milton, the third part, the part under my present scrutiny, was an addition taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (ibid). At this point, I split my search into three parts, returning to the original Google search I conducted for “As Steals The Morn Upon The Night”, but also searching, in separate windows, for the John Milton Poems upon which the first two movements are based, and for information about the Librettist, Charles Jennens.

The first hit in the Jennens search turned out to be a page with information on the Messiah, though it did provide the librettist’s dates (1700-73), and some biographical information that revealed, among other things, that Jennens had done some editing of the works of Shakespeare, a particularly interesting fact in relation to “As Steals the Morn”. It also revealed that the date for L’Allegro is 1740 (Vickers). The next hit in the Jennens search suggested that in fact “As Steals the Morn” was Jennens’ own work (Gudger), an idea hinted at in the Hyperion CD sleeve notes, which suggested only that the first line was borrowed from the Tempest, a point that I had failed to pick up on when I first read it.

The search I conducted for the Milton poems turned up, perhaps inevitably, several hits for the Handel work, and so I selected one on the website for the Academy of Ancient Music in the United Kingdom (Hicks). On this page, Anthony Hicks discusses the dramatic structure of the works, with the Moderato section being added in order to suggest a middle ground between “‘The Merry Man’ (the extrovert) [L’Allegro] and ... ‘The Thoughtful Man’ (the introvert) [il Penseroso]” (ibid) depicted in the Milton poems.

At the point, I turned to the university library catalogue, searching for “L’Allegro and il penseroso” in order to find both the Milton poems, and the Handel libretto and sound recording. To my delight, the full libretto is available in a digital format (Milton, 1750), and a brief glance through this revealed that “As Steals the Morn” was not the first line of the Moderato section. In fact, “As Steals the Morn” is a duet from within the larger Moderato movement. I also noted that, ironically, John Milton alone is listed as the author of this libretto, and Jennens is not listed at all, despite the fact that it was he, and not Milton, who wrote the Moderato movement.

I selected (admittedly fairly randomly) a recording of the complete work in the library (Handel, Banchetto Musicale: 1986), and settled down to listen. I started out with the piece in question, listening to it once, before returning to the first CD, and the beginning of the work, and listening to the whole thing. I then returned to the piece in question, and jotted down some notes as I listened. I noted that the division of the words is fairly even between the Soprano and tenor, and that the bassoon (would there have been bassoons in England at the time this was first performed?) was rather soft and thin in comparison to the other woodwind, which I couldn’t identify. The liner notes recorded that this was a performance on historic instruments, and that in fact the bassoon had been replaced with a non-reed version. The vocalist’s transitions from solo lines to counterpoint sections are particularly beautiful in this recording, and I was impressed with the very effective balance of their vocal timbres. Frank Kelly and Sharon Baker are particularly well-matched in this liltingly lyric piece.

I completed my search with a fact-checking reference to the Grove Dictionary of music and Musicians (Sadie and Tyrrell, 2001), however this revealed nothing new, and did not contradict anything I had previously found.

Bibliography

Gudger, William D. George Frideric Handel's 1749 Letter to Charles Jennens. http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/collections/moldenhauer/2428129.pdf
Accessed 7 September 2006

Handel, George Fredrich. Banchetto Musicale, Martin Pearlman, conductor. 1986. L'Allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato. New York, N.Y.: Arabesque.

Hicks, Anthony. Mirth, Melancholy and Moderation – Handel’s L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato. http://www.aam.co.uk/features/9708.
Accessed 7 September 2006

Hyperion. Samplers, Compilations and Special Issues. http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/collection_page.asp?name=Samplers
Accessed 7 September 2006.

King, Robert. 2005. Essential Handel: Excerpts from the sleeve notes. Hyperion. http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/notes/king6-N.asp.
Accessed 7 September 2006.

Milton, John. 1750. L'allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato. As set to musick. http://galenet.galegroup.com/.
Accessed 7 September 2006.

Sadie, S. and J. Tyrrell (eds). 2001. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan.

Vickers, David. Messiah (HWV 56): A Sacred Oratorio. http://gfhandel.org/messiah
Accessed 7 September 2006.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Encounters After Method

As a devout technophile, perhaps the only thing that makes me more excited than the fact that I will be submitting my first assignment for gradschool online, on a blackboard site designed for the class, is the discovery that the author of the book that the assignment is a response to has a website to further explore issues raised by the book.

The point which John Law makes in various forms in this text is that the conventional methods of social science research are limited and limiting in their scope, and that, as in any situation, that much sought-after, 'objective' 'truth' on which the idea of modern science is based, is more than a little elusive. Perhaps it is because I come from a third-world country, and an institution within that country that has always been closer to the perimeter than the average academic ivory tower, or perhaps it is simply the very specific set of mentors who have shaped my own reading and research to date, but somehow a lot of this questioning of the Euro-American conventions of research and scientific method feels rather familiar. Isn't the idea of plurality one of the founding tenets of postmodernism? And while John Law points out that a simple binary between ideas of singularity and plurality is as undesirable as any other essentialist construction of the empirically ‘knowable’ world (Law, 2004: 63) it feels like common sense that social science exists in the indistinct hinterlands (27) constructed by, for example, religion, or myth, because it recognizes the possibility of a functional overlap. Would religion even be an area of study within social science if it were not recognized that the metaphysical realities of a religion-based understanding of the world overlap with the empirical realities of the practitioners of that religion, to one degree or another?

It seems to me that the essence of what John Law proposes is a self-reflexive mode of research, a formula which probably inevitably comes to bear most strongly on the write-up, in whatever form it may take. Conventionally, a “methods” section of a scholarly paper is included in order to give the reader an indication of the processes that shaped, for better or worse, the data collected. While Law does suggest that it is only the “most novel” of the inscription devices that tend to make it into these methods sections (36), at least in scientific, rather than social science, monographs, the reality is that the purpose of this practice of writing up method is to create an environment in which the structuring devices are visible alongside the worlds they produce. When this alone proved insufficient, most specifically in the post-colonial moment, when the ethnographer could no longer be understood as an educated white male from an imperial center, practicing his craft in a rural, colonized but ‘uncivilized’, far-flung periphery, the move towards “writing in” the ethnographer began. Scholars from Clifford Geertz (1960) to John Chernoff (1979) began writing a new style of ethnography that made the presence of the ethnographer more strongly felt than had previously been common practice. And when even this proved insufficient, the likes of Louise Meintjes (2003) responded to Geertz’s call for a “thickly descriptive” ethnography (Geertz, 1973) that refers not only to the nature of research, and the identity of the ethnographer, but also to the intimate detail of circumstances surrounding the performed reality under scrutiny.

I recognize, then, that there have been successful attempts at achieving what Law seeks to synthesize in After Method. And yet, as I page through the text for what feels like the hundredth time, though it is probably actually the fifth or sixth, with my eyes growing bleary from the effects of one too many late night, and the impact of a residual jetlag impinging on my spacially displaced, third-world, feminist, elitely educated, economically privileged, racially complex self, with the sounds of a city and them memories of a distant home, the music of my homeland – music adopted by my people from one generation of immigrants to my spiritual, but potentially not historical homeland, I wonder, “when is it enough?” At what point does the reflexivity have to give way to the real business of trying to make sense of this delightfully complex world we all inhabit? When is it just alright to pick a structure and run with it? When does the mess yield to the method?

Bibliography

Chernoff, John. 1979. African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 1960. The Religion of Java. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

___. 1973 The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.

Law, John. 2004. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London and New York: Routledge
Meintjes, Louise. 2003. Sound Of Africa! : Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio. Durham, NC : Duke University Press.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

some more travel notes

I've been here nearly a week now, and all the blogging I have managed are my notes from the flight. But that should give you an indication of how busy I have been. It's all been good though, despite little fits of home-sickness, and periods of feeling very daunted, and out of my depth, and a bit out of control. I guess, though, that the challenge of all of this is part of what I wanted when I decided to come here. I had the option of another apparently fairly cushy position at a university with lots of South African faculty and students, and while that had its appealing side, I really wanted to be exposed to difference. So that is exactly what I'm getting. But New York is a great city to be doing this in. There are so many different environments and opportunities that it takes only minimal effort to find at least something you like, even if it is only the parks and green markets, or a particular eatery, or whatever. There are just opportunities for everything everywhere.

So here we go on the next lot of travel notes:

I was expecting long queues and hold-ups with unsympathetic officials at the airport, but to my amazement, things moved pretty quickly. There were queues, but they were really well marked, and there were lots of attendants to help me get all my papers and such in order, and then my meeting with the inspector literally took seconds. He opened the massive envelope that had been stapled into my passport since it was returned from the embassy with my visa, and despite all the scary looking seals on it, all it contained was the form that the university had sent me, and that I had to sigh when I applied for the visa. He then stapled a little card into my book, took my two index finger prints digitally, took a digital photograph (I can only imagine how terrible all those photographs of people who have been traveling for hours must look), and I was done. Then it was a matter of renting a luggage trolley for $3, quite expensive, I thought, but absolutely essential with my massive bags, and collecting said bags, before heading out into the airport to seek out transport. While there were no signs for them, I had read about the SuperShuttle online, and in one of my travel books, and so I found an information desk, and asked about it. The woman behind the desk very nearly undid the great impression I had received of the airport up to that point by being very unfriendly, but she phoned and ordered the shuttle for me, and gave me a number which was called when the driver arrived. I then got my first taste of what New Yorkers are really like when so many people rushed to my aid when one of my bags fell off the trolley that you would have thought it was a medical emergency. So many strangers willing to help....
The driver of the shuttle then led me out to his little blue minibus which, to my South African mind, looked suspiciously like a South African taxi, though in better repair, and loaded up my luggage. Once inside the bus, though, all similarities to a taxi dissipated. It was airconditioned, high-tech with GPS, fancy radio and cellphone hands free kit for the driver, seatbelts for the passengers, and far more space than you find in the average taxi. There were other passengers, and the woman who ordered the shuttle for me warned me that it might stop at other locations on the way, but in fact, it stopped at my building first. We got into the city via a really long tunnel under the East river, and I was a bit disappointed that we weren't taking one of the famous bridges, but I'm sure it was much quicker underneath. Traffic doesn't stop in the tunnels, and so we moved through quite quickly. There is a toll gate at the enterance, but unlike the manual pay booths we have at home, or even the card swipe systems you get in some places, the driver operated this one with a little white plastic box-like device that he held up to the windscreen, and that was read by some sort of sensor. I've never seen anything like it before, but it is obviously quite effective, as we didn't even need to hesitate at the toll gate.

There is something almost magical about arriving in New York. The city seems to suddenly grow up around you, the buildings getting taller and taller, and the pace faster, untill you are imersed in it like in the tidal pool at the bottom of a high-speed water slide. It fills your ears and nostrils, and all your senses, and you are there in the center of it in moments. I was so busy enjoying the sights around me as we drove that I didn't hear the driver call my address (the Brooklyn accent didn't make it any easier, though. I had to have him repeat it a couple of times before I was sure I had heard correctly), and landed up holding the shuttle up a bit. He seemed a little annoyed that I didn't know what the building looked like, but as it was, and still is, covered in scaffolding, that wasn't too surprising. The building number was completely invisible from the street, which created some confusion. Nonetheless, there were other students unloading in front of it, and so that made it all somewhat easier to find.
The shuttle driver unloaded my bags, I paid him (substantially less than I would have paid a yellow cab driver), fiddled around with the unfamiliar money for a bit, and finally added the inevitable tip, and he was off, and I was left to my own devices. The first challenge was to get my bags across the street. I could lift any of them one at a time, but with the exception of the hand luggage, one at a time was all I could manage, and the thought of leaving anything unattended, even for the amount of time it would take me to cross the street, was not appealing. And so I opted in stead for a mixture of dragging and carrying all of them at once, in very slow stages, across the street and down the pavement to the building entrance. At that point I hit another snag, in that the street was suddenly frighteningly busy, with cars wizzing, it seemed, in all directions. The fact that it was a one way street didn't occur to me untill a few days later. At that moment, all I could think was that the cars should be coming from the wrong direction, though which direction right was, exactly, was beyond me, and I had to not get run over. I waited untill a lull in the traffic, and then gathering all my final reserves of energy together, I picked everything up at once, and hobbled across the street at the fastest pace I could manage, looking, I'm sure, every inch the confused tourist, sweating profusely, and puffing like an old fashioned stove-top kettle that has been over-filled. The fact that I found myself so funny I couldn't help but laugh out loud just added to the chaos, as I lost my ballance climbing from the street onto the opposite sidewalk, and dropped everything but my precious computer. Again, the generous New Yorkers stepped up to the plate, rushing to my aid, and getting me and my bags into the appropriate building and in front of the check-in desk in no time. What great people!

I checked into my room with minimum fuss, and suddenly, for the first time in about 30 hours, I was alone. Quiet (relatively). Peaceful.

The apartment is simple, and functional in a fairly basic sense. I had hoped to have a pick of rooms, but in fact the rooms had been assigned, and so there was no choice. My room is lovely, though. My window looks out over a tiny patch of garden, at present filled with scaffolding, but frequented by a single, rather weary squirrel who comes across the road looking for who knows what. I hadn't brought sheets or towels or such like with me, and there is no overhead lighting in the bedrooms, so for my first night I slept in a sleeping bag straight on my mattress that I found by stumbling through the dark after switching off the kitchen lights. I was tired enough that it didn't matter.
And I slept for about 14 hours.
When I woke in the morning, the first thing I wanted to do was go to my department and get registered, so I left my room as it was, and headed down-town, map in hand. I had figured out that the simplest way to the university was to walk all the way down fifth avenue to Washington square, and it really is. The only problem was that on that first day, I counted the first few avenue numbers, and then assumed that I was on Fifth avenue. For anyone who knows New York, you will be aware that that isn't quite how it works. The avenues are numbered 1-3, and then named Lexington, Park and Madison avenues, before the numbers begin again at 5. I counted Lexinton avenue as 4, and Park avenue as 5, and as Park avenue is pretty big, it seemed to make sense. So I walked down Park avenue to Union square, and began searching for the Triumphal Arch. No luck. It took me a good ten minutes to figure out that I was at the wrong place, and get out my map book. Luckily, despite these slight anomalies, New York is relatively easy to navigate, and so I found my way with relative ease to Washington Square. It really is a lovely park, with a fountain South of the arch, and really tall trees everywhere, with squirrels and birds all over them. And 5th avenue at the top end is beautiful, lined with lovely old buildings and, to my delight, Gingko Biloba trees. Now aside from being really beautiful, and medicinally beneficial, Gingko is also supposed to remove pollution from the air, and is therefore a particularly good tree for a city like this. Whoever planted them (and there are many all over the city) has made me very happy.

Once I had walked around Washington square admiring it, and my new university, I set out to find 1/2 fifth avenue, which is the address of the Graduate School offices. With an address like that, you need only guess at the type of location. I walked up and down both sides of that block, and around the block, searching for the building numbered 1/2, to no avail. The fact that there are several private, high-class apartment buildings in the same street with signs on them strongly reinforcing the desire for privacy of the residents, is not conducive to asking for directions, and so I gave up, and walked to the other side of the park, to the Kimmel center for Student life. It really was the best solution, as there were tables with maps and flyers and all sorts of helpful bit of information for the lost student, and in no time at all, someone had instructed me on all that I needed to do to get around. As it turns out, I don't have to go to 1/2 fifth avenue at all, untill I collect my first cheque (check in the American spelling), and so the fruitless hunt was unnecessary. Nonetheless, it turns out that in order to reach it, the intrepid student has to ignore one of the privacy notices posted at the entrance to a little garden between 1 5th avenue, and the building on Washington place that backs on to 5th, and walk down a pathway, towards a statue of William Shakespeare, untill a door which is, to all intents and purposes, concealed from the street, comes into view. That is 1/2 5th avenue. So now I know.

My next stop was the Office of International Student Services, one block away from the Kimmel center, and there I was given a list of times for the check-in workshops, and a series of maps and pamphlets that directed me to my next location. The student card center. It was a bit of a walk from the OISS, but I was beginning to discover that the violet NYU flags that hung from all university building are my friends, and so it wasn't difficult to find. My card took about 20 minutes, more forms and a digital photo to get, but suddenly the world of the university was open to me. I could get into the buildings at will, and get into the library, though I would only be able to use those resources once I was registered.

From the card place I went back to the OISS, where I was plied with wonderful big, chocolaty biscuits, and all the info I need to remain a legal alien :). And then on to my department.

The music administrator who I have been corresponding with the most was the only person in the building when I arrived, but she is just so lovely and friendly that it was great to meet her. She gave me a tour of the department, and all the keys and security codes I need to get in, and also gave me great info and suggestions about getting my first shopping done. And so that was my next stop.

I found a KMart on Broadway, and spent a frightening amount of money buying just the basics I needed to get settled into my apartment: bed linen, a towel, basic crockery and cuttlery, and a deep saucepan for boiling water in (the kettles were all sold out), and later for cooking, a lamp for my bedroom, and my first round of the very basic groceries that one just can't live without. Of course, what I didn't think of was how I was to get all of it home, and while the shop has a delivery service, I had spent just too much cash to be able to afford that. So I stood on the side of the road for about an hour with an overflowing trolley, trying to catch a taxi. Again, the friendly New Yorkers made the situation far more pleasant than it might have been. A man selling jewelery and painting on the side of the road chatted to me about the city, and his home town, and finally helped me catch a taxi with a fabulously friendly driver who helped me carry my shopping into my building when we got there. What great people!

I was just unpacking my new belongings, making my bed and arranging my crockery when my new roommate arrived. I blogged about her before, twice, and so it was really great to put a face to the name. She really is lovely! The first thing we did together was go and visit Whole Foods, and get our first shopping done. It is a great place! a bit like Woolworths or Fruit and Veg City (the smarter one) at home. Lots of pre-cut fruits, and pre-prepared meals.
By the time we got home, I was so tired, and my feet were so swolen, I felt like I might never walk again. New York is really going to keep me fit. So it was a light supper, a quick shower, and into bed.

And I'll post the next installment when I have finished my first class assignments! That is a whole other story.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Oh man, I'm in New York! it is so amazing. This is such a massive city. I am so delighted to be here.

The last few days have been, as you can imagine, pretty intense, but I'm going to at least start typing out the notes I took during my trip, and hopefully in a day or two I will be caught up, and onto current events. So here goes....

30th August 2006, 19:40
On the plane at last! I love flying. I have been crying for weeks about saying goodbye, and I absolutely bawled tonight, but I really am excited. I spoke to a little greek lady named Christine, from Bruma in the line to passport control. She is visiting Greece, and it is her first overseas travel ever. She was a little nerous about navigating the airport, so I pointed her in the right direction, and got a lovely great hug and kiss for my troubles. I also met a couple from Cape Town, who have travelled a lot. From one extreme to the other, I suppose. They were also really friendly, though.

19:50.
We are beginning to move. I am delighted that there are television screens at each seat. I love the on-board info, and expecially the maps showing where we are, and where we are going. We have 10 hours, 50 minutes flying time ahead. The captain just announced that take-off will be in 3 minutes. I must remember to ask my cousin, who is going to be a pilot, about the different coloured lights on the air-field, and what they all mean.
20:04
Take-off. SSE. We're flying over Johannesburg, and I am crying. It is sad to say goodbye for so long.
The lights are amazing! There is smooth jazz playing in the headphones. I think it is French, but I wouldn't swear to that.
My dear friend Stephanie didn't make it to the airport in time. We were on the phone just before I went through the gates. She really tried, and I was so sad. I really am going to miss her.
I have a window seat behind the wing. Nice view.
An advertisement for the airline has just been played over the speakers: "Welcome to civilized aviation". I'm sure my mentor would have had as big a laugh as I did, had she heard that!
The woman who was next to me switched places with a pleasant younger girl who is much friendlier. It is so dark below! there are a few dim lights in the distance.
I thought the Swiss used the Euro, but the currency mentioned in the in flight magazine is CHF.
The captain has just announced that we are flying over the Victoria Falls. I wish I had a watch so that I could see how long it took us to get here. My cell, which I usually use as a clock, had to be switched off for the flight.
The air hostesses have just brought the first drinks trolley around. I am having some orange juice before dinner, but it is so sweet, I wish I had picked something else!
It has been so long since I last watched TV without working, that I am really enjoying watching the in-flight shows now, in between chatting with my very sweet companion. There is a documentary on Swiss medical research on now.
I just completed a great supper. Pasta with a creamy sauce, salad, bread and cheese, and an almond-topped cake for desert. I had some red wine and some soda water with dinner, and am now watching a film called Along Came Polly, staring Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller. It looks funny, but I'm getting sleepy, so I don't know whether I'll get through it.

22:40
I dozed off for a bit, and just woke up to the most amazing sight. There is lightning in the clouds below us and to our right. The cabin lights are out and the sky is spectacular, shining through the windows. The storm is in the vicinity of Dar Es Salaam, east of us.

11:27
We have just crossed the equator.

1:30 (GM +2)
We are flying over the Darfur mountains. The sky is crystal clear, and there are stars all around us. Tranquility over a troubled land.

4:30
I slept so well! But now we're over a very beautiful editeranean, and the cabin lights have just been switched on. I'm listening to some fabulous Jazz as we fly over Palerme on Cicily. There are the beautiful little islands visible below, all lit with orange street lights.
The air-hostesses have just handed out hot, moist face cloths. They feel so good first thing in the morning. I really want to brush my teeth, but alas, no toothpaste on board. Imagine exploives in a tube of toothpaste!
We can see Italy to the east. Rome is below us.

5:30
The horizon is turning pale blue and orange. we are not far from landing.
The seatbelt lights have just been switched on, and we are preparing to land. We are flying over masses of clouds.
Just descended through the clouds. the city lights are visible, and the wings are changing shape in preparation for landing. I can see the lake below. The wether looks a bit overcast, but hte sun isn't fully risen, yet, so that may change. The roads are surprisingly busy for so early in the morning.
Touch down. I love flying!

10:30 New York time

This part of the trip is somewhat less delightful. There is a very overweight woman next to me, who is seriously encroaching. She has to lift the arm-rest just to fit, so I am only sitting in half of my seat, and she is in the rest of it. I don't want to be prejudiced towards overweight people, but it really is very frustrating having someone like this next to me. It really is worth it, both for one's own health, and the comfort of those around you, to maintain a healthy weight. This woman struggles to get out of her seat, and pushes the woman in front of her forward when she does, so going to the bathroom earlier was difficult.
Despite that, though, Zurich was great! what a beautiful city. It is a great mixture of old and new architecture, and that stunning lake with the snow-topped mountains in the distance. I sat and stared at it for ages, and thoroughly upset a swan, a seagul and a couple of ducks who think that everyone sitting on the lakeside benches is there to feed them. Next time I'll keep my breakfast roll in my pocket.... I can't wait to spend longer there.
From Zurich, we flew over France, and the top bit of Spain, across the English channel, and across the bottom end of Britain. It was beautifully clear over Europe, and I got to indulge my fondness for little squares of agricultural land, and serpentie, silvery rivers.
The clouds set in over Britain, unfortunately, so I saw none of it, or Ireland, or the Atlantic, but the mountainous clouds have their own charm. And I discovered a "refreshing facial spray" and a moisturizing lotion in the bathroom, both of which smell lovely, and worked wonders to lift my spirits.
So now I'm watching Robin Williams in RV (it's a bit below him) and enjoying the odd glimpses of the ocean that are begining to appear.

12:00
We're flying just South of Greenland, approaching a place called Goose Bay. Could it be tht we flew so far North to avoid the Bermuda triangle? I don't know how I feel about that....

12:45
We're about to make landfall. The clouds still obscure my view, but perhaps that's appropriate. This way it feels like the continents flow into one another in an endless stream, rather than trying to delineate them all as distinct entities. After all, we experience them more as a continual flow of experiences, resources and opportunities.
We're climbing a little as we cross the shore-line. I love the feel of the plane's power beneath and around me. I think it's that same sense of strength beyond my own that I enjoy during take-off and landing. But expecially take-off.
I forgot to mention that we had the most amazing continental breakfast this morning. Hot croissants and bread rolls, with cream cheese nd strawberry jam, strawberry yogurt and orange juice. And for lunch earlier, salad (mixed lettuce), vegetable pasta with a sauce not dissimilar to that from last night, bread, and a great chunk of Camembert cheese! talk about a treat. Desert was a swiss dark chocolate mousse. So good!
We're just crossing into Canada. My back is killing me! I really hope I find a good shuttle. Otherwize it will be an expensive taxi. There is no way I can lug my heavy (26kg is the heaviest) bags about myself, onto trains and such. I wonder whether I'll make the games night tonight? I'm pretty tired. It's dark in SA already, and I have been traelling for roughly 24 hours! It will total around 26.5 from when I got onto the plane in JHB untill we land at JFK.
They're bringing around hot towels again. I love them!
There are about 2.5 hours to go, and I'm watching Ice Age 2.
We were just brought hot tomato and Mozarella calzoni, swiss caramel ice crean and apple juice. The ice cream is unbelieable, and there are a bunch of Vultures singing "Food, Glorious Food" on the film.

13:40
The clouds are clearing a little. We are over water again. I can see the coast ahead. St. John is the nearest town. 1hour, 30 min to go.
There are ice crystals on the windows. Some are just frozen drops of water, but others look like feathery, lacy snowflakes.
We're flying over the state of Maine. There is a stunning river estury below. It feels strange to be flying South, now. We are finally in New York's time zone.
The large lady just spilled 7up all over both of us!
We're banking left slightly to fly alond the coast. My pants are all sticky from the coldrink.
More cloud below. New York might be overcast.
Less than 45 minutes to go. My eyes are so heavy, I wonder whether I'll be awake for landing!
The air hostesses just handed out two really nice swiss chocolates per person.
The pilot just anounced Boston, with Cape Cod visible to the left. I can see a crescent moon in the sky above, then some cloud, and then these little islands along the shore below.
More cloud again.
On the flight to Zurich, and again on this one, the captain has announced that economy class passengers may keep there headphones. So I have two new sets of headphones! I guess that's one alternative to the little packs of toothpaste and airline socks.
The clouds are more scattered here, so we might just see New York as we fly over.
I can see two massive bridges connecting the islands below.
Not far to Long Island!
24 minutes to go. The ice on the windows is melting, but the view is a bit hazy. There is a big island to our left.
This is the first bit of turbulance we have experienced this whole flight.
The seatbelt lights just came on.
Long island is just coming into view. The haze is beginning to clear.
Long island looks light it has had big bites taken out of the one side. There is a very long, straight beach on the South end.
There are some fields below in very odd shapes. The water on the island is also really oily, and a completely different colour to the ocean.
We're banking left, so I have an amazing view! I can see a baseball pitch below. And I can see either the New Jersey or the Pennsylvania coastline in the distance. I'm not sure which it is.
10 minutes to go. There are lots of ships in the water below. We're banking steeply right, so I can't see much. Landing gear out, flaps down. I caught a glimpse of liberty island! but only for a second.
Touch Down
We're there!

4 September, 10:07
So that was the trip. Of course there is more news from the first few days, but I'll add that later.
Good reading!