Pink Sunday Mornings

Pink SoGE

This day started out well. Early morning run. Included running through spiderwebs that materialized on the path overnight.

85% awake conversation with parents. Follow-up nap (how awesome are post-running naps?!), breakfast and tea while watching How I Met Your Mother. Leaving early for the department. Feeling particularly tall as I wear my new tweed and leather jacket. Weather’s brilliant, just a bit nippy, but everything’s alright under the blue, sunny sky.

Let’s ignore how I’m at the department very early in the morning on a Sunday. Have a list of things-to-do, which I will predictably ignore for ‘just one more day, I swear’.

And this is how the department looks as I turn towards it. Not the most flattering picture, or an identifying one, since there is nothing at all in this picture to actually show which department it is. I love this tree. I waited a year for these flowers. It’s the main focus of the picture besides the very empty road. There’s that one lone bike and those two cars. Emptiest I’ve ever seen the place!

I will cute across the road, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have to worry about rogue cyclists colliding into me. I’ll walk right besides the tree, under it, look up and jump a little to smell the flowers, and then turn fully to the main entrance. I can see the tree reflected in the glass doors. It’s bright and stays burnt into my eyes for a bit. This is my favorite entry to the department in recent memory.

Coffee Geographies

study mornings, Locust Walk

study mornings, Locust Walk

This post is inspired by this excellent paper by Natnicha Bhumiratana, Koushik Adhikari and Edgar Chamberx IV. I highly recommend that anyone interested in food, perception and emotional links to food should read this (and related papers). The paper is mainly about developing an emotional lexicon for analyzing the emotions associated with coffee drinking.

While emotional lexicons for food in general do exist, the authors point out that certain foods and consumer products are associated with deeper and more distinct emotions than others. So while they focus on the pleasures associated with drinking coffee, one can apply the same methodology for comfort foods, ice-cream or chocolate. Time permitting, I would love to replicate this study with other foods.

Which brings us back to today’s post.

I’m not a serious coffee drinker. I am more of a tea and juice person. I have an unhealthy obsession with sweet hot drinks. A recurring memory from my time at Penn is going down to the Wawa with my close friend and housemate and getting coffee. Of course, with her, coffee-getting was getting coffee. My coffee was primarily an excuse to drink sweet coffee flavored milk. It was a ritual. 2 cm of sugar, followed by 3 inches of milk, and topping it off with hazelnut coffee. I still remember my friend’s look of disapproval.

This photo has nothing to do with that memory. This path is part of UPenn’s ‘Locust Walk’. I’d walk along this to reach a Saxby’s for morning study sessions with another friend. Our morning study sessions would typically start around 6 am. During winter times, it could be just a few minutes shy of sunrise. I’d alternate between jogging and walking and try and reach there before my friend, mainly so I could thaw out before sitting down. We’d commandeer two tables (one is just barely big enough to accommodate two laptops), plug in everything and then order. She’d order coffee and a bagel. I went for hot chocolate or flavored steamers. I do believe I’ve only ordered coffee 5-6 times in my two years there.

But quite simply, my choice of beverage on those mornings were associated more with ‘must warm up, thaw out fingers and begin work’ and a sugar jolt to calm the nerves. I could in fact have drunk anything warm except hot water and my productivity levels would have stayed the same. I didn’t like to go to libraries with my laptop. I had my over-heated, loud HP then. I still have it, but now I have a different primary machine. That laptop could function as a space-heater. Saxby’s morning crowd, plus their music selection was just loud enough to drown out my laptop’s fan. Ambiance and background noise are very important.

I associate flavored steamers with those early morning study sessions. I miss my friend. I miss being able to walk to a cafe that early and just work for 3-4 hours. I haven’t found my person here for that. I have my chai latte person. I have my chai latte place. They don’t make a spectacular cup of chai, and you get unstirred chai powder at the bottom of your cup. But it’s the environment that matters. And it’s the company.

Coffee now, is associated strongly with ‘Home’. I have coffee when I’m with my parents at home. We drink it at 11 am every morning, with a snack. It’s when we all sit together and either talk, or watch ‘The Saint’ (1960 spy thriller show with Roger Moore). It’s a very milky tea, made old-school style, on a stove with turkish coffee my cousin has sent from Dubai. We ran out of the different types I had brought over from Philly. It’s piping hot coffee, in rather small cups (free cups that came with a Tetley tea promotion). They are the perfect size to enjoy tea or coffee. Just big enough to get the appropriate amount, small enough to encircle with your hands, and last long enough to enliven conversation.

When I drink coffee at home here, it’s usually instant coffee, or from a self-serve sachet. It’s to get the pick-me-up before I head over to college lunch or a pre-lunch-department-study-session. It means nothing.

I’m less likely to order coffee when ‘having a coffee with friends’. I’d add too much sugar and milk. I’d rather have a chai latte. Or a hot chocolate. The only time I’d be willing to have a coffee in a cafe, is if I was by myself and had to do some light, stress-free reading or some necessary busy-work and could savor flavor and aroma. The last time this happened was in December 2013. It was a Starbucks here. I spent a good half an hour with the coffee, just staring out at Cornmarket and thinking. It was quite lovely. That was my time.

What do you associate with your favorite hot beverage?



Food Views

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The ‘Photographs’ section of my DPhil. folder is getting out of control. It’s made up mostly of pictures of food I’ve had with participants, at home, sent by my friends and participants and photos of menus. When I was trawling through the folder, in a particularly non-productive day at the department, I came across this photo. It was an unusually scheduled day. My cousin had turned up on very short notice. I absolutely love his visits, mainly because it means we can go up the mountain to a place that once had my favorite restaurant.

The restaurant was frequently referred to as ‘dhaaba’ and for many years, we actually had no idea what it was called. Then the monstrosity of the Monal was created and our favorite place (with it’s shabby chairs, curly-cornered single-sided menus, and the most amazing food in the universe) was pushed off to the side. But we held on. Going to the old place and proudly snubbing the fancy, posh-ness of the Monal. Then one unfortunate day, we turned up, to discover that the management had sold the place to new owners. It was fancy. It was exactly like Monal. In small ways, better and more efficient. But it wasn’t the same. Trips became less frequent.

We loved the place because it was less stressful to be. We could roll up in whatever we had on, with no compulsions for dressing nicely and sitting straighter than usual. We’d have freshly barbequed chicken, prepared slowly so nothing would be pink or bleeding. Crisp, hot, deep-fried bread and cups of hot, amazing tea. And then we’d just sit, spread out and stare out at the view of the city. Effortless. It was easy to burn 2-3 hours on one trip. When you’d come down from the mountain, you’d be energized, but calmer, put-together and the muscles on your face felt relaxed and open to the possibility of displaying more emotion.

This is the view from our last trip there. We had rushed up as soon as my cousin was ready. It had just rained. The epic, pouring rain of Islamabad that I love so much. We were the first customers. Strongly dissuaded from sitting on one of the outer levels (seen here). Made to sit inside. That stupid glass cage with the fancy tables and things. My cousin and I compensated by spending twenty minutes trooping outside and taking photos. Most of the terraces were waterlogged in the corners. My pumps were soaked through and my toes were cold. But the photos were great. There was a cat on one of the pillars. He just sat there and glared at me. Food happened. It was alright. Discussions of the previous place and it’s food were had. Family matters were discussed. More staring-out-windows happened. We took our leave when people started pouring in.

I love the drive up. But I won’t ever be able to come here without remembering the old place. It was comfortable. We knew everyone. We had food there when we came on geology field trips. Photos with class mates exist. It was the goal when we’d go hiking. Cold drinks when you reach the top. It was a goal worth reaching for, when your calf muscles are screaming, your joints hate you and you are sweating an unholy amount. Good times.

Anxious Waiting

Counting the minutes

Counting the minutes

And now, for an indoor path.

This is where one can find my supervisor. We don’t meet as often as my other friends, but she’s lovely and has that quality of focusing completely, and entirely on YOU when you’re there.

I took this picture the last time I met with her. First time I’ve met with her in the late evening, which explains the lighting. While I am in the department quite a bit, I’m almost never on this particular floor. The only times I’ve been here are for meeting her, once for the worst, terrible, motivation-destroying viva in the universe, and once late at night, just to see what the department looks like at night. (Hint: very quiet, dark, and a little creepy)

I have tried very hard to turn up just 2-3 minutes before the meeting, but somehow, I’m always there at least 10 minutes before. I end up loitering like a suspicious person. There’re only so many times you can pace up and down, reading the things pasted to people’s doors and name-plates. And then there’s the awkward smile one has to give when someone who actually belongs there walks past. I know everything about every poster on the soft board you can JUST see on the right. I can hear the muffled drone of the conversation through the door. The wall is cold against my back, and my hands and forearms are full of my jacket, bag, phone and iPod. I can’t get any reception, so can’t catch up on messages. WiFi and I have a complicated relationship. And even then, I avoid it. I want to hold on to the seriousness mindframe.

Since I meet her so infrequently, when I do have to meet her, the entire day is planned around and focused on this one hour. And the interesting thing for me about that, is that when I’m picturing the meeting, I’m thinking only of this corridor, the obsessive looking at the watch, the very calculated knock I give about 3 inches at the bottom of the glass pane at roughly 40 seconds past the given time, and her, popping her head out and telling me she’ll be with me in a minute. I’m concerned I come off as a neurotic person. Thankfully, the jacket covers my twitchy and sweaty hands.

In any case, this corridor (only the side facing the way the photograph is taken) is now forever marked as the ‘corridor of waiting’. I don’t think it will ever be anything else. All the material posted is read with the same intensity as ‘things to read as you wait’ and the stance I have is the partly apologetic, slightly-stooped posture of one who’d like to melt into the wall, thank you very much.


Visualizing the Future

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This weekend, I was in London with a friend of mine. We had planned to execute a number of very important tasks. Naturally, in order to accomplish those tasks, we first had to get distracted by food at Portobello Market and then the most amazing luxury gelato in the universe. I don’t think I can ever have mango gelato anywhere else now. It was so perfect, it was perfect.

In our walk from Portobello market to Oxford street, we walked through lovely neighborhoods, located JUST off the main roads. One could hear the insanity of London, in a wonderful muted way. A reminder that the rest of London lies beyond that row of houses, but here, it’s peaceful, elegant and perfect. I found myself revealing my secret ambitions to my friend, and how happy I’d be if I could live in a neighborhood like this. An urban area, in the heart of a city, but somehow shielded from the harried speed and chaos of the city. So one can choose when to interact with the rest of the urban-humanity.

I didn’t photograph the path that really inspired the ‘I want to live here one day’ feeling. It felt too close to heart and I was afraid I’d lose the feeling if I took the photo. Not the photo-taking itself, but taking myself out of the warm moment to do something like photography. It seemed like a very deliberate and surgical act that I didn’t want to attempt for that road. I don’t think I’ll ever go back there. Intentionally. Those few minutes were too good.

This picture was taken right after we had exited that particular street. We were crossing the road and I ran to the center of the convergence to take it. We were going in the opposite direction and I didn’t walk down this one. I didn’t need to. This street is not a lot like ‘The One’; the houses are bigger, the street is wider, the cars are further apart, but it has the same self-assured quiet about it. Nobody drove past, or walked past. The muted noise of the city was still there. The essentials were there.

And now that makes me wonder what ‘the essentials’ were for me. I think it’s mostly about the presence. The place I live must have  a presence. Not in the building or flat itself, but in it’s place in the greater fabric of the city. I wonder if I’ll ever have it. But for now, I have the memory and feeling of that road. This road is a sufficient proxy. It’ll do for now.

Nostalgia Through Pain

I remember a girl, sitting next to a hotel swimming pool, in Sri Lanka. She has a new notebook, a new pen, and a very scuffed Sony Walkman. She’s writing a story, long-hand, of a girl who has adventures. She doesn’t yet know about the concept of Mary Sue. She wants to feel important and write a story. She wants to be part of the raucously happy group of teenage-tourists who share the pool with her. But she’s on a deck chair. Fully clothed. She can’t swim. As much as these people fascinate her, they are always going to be ‘people to see’.

About 15 years later, she’s suffering through some phenomenally painful abdominal cramps she can’t explain. She’s on the floor in her room. Curtains are drawn. The carpet is itchy. She’s never liked carpets. They feel like living things, planning nefarious plans underneath one’s feet. The comforting solidity of the bed against her back and the corner of the desk in her shoulder is calming against the pain. It’s a new pain. Not the old enemy of the migraine. Or the deep, satisfying muscle-groans of post-running calves.

It’s unsettling, uprooting and brings the thoughts of loneliness back with a vengeance. The set of thoughts one has at the lowest points of life. ‘you’re alone’ , ‘People are happy and won’t miss you until they want something’ , ‘you will never mean anything’. Text message. Back-and-forth. No more replies. Can’t move any more. Consider calling the hospital. Rationalise against it. Drift. Shift. Compare the carpet’s unfaithfulness to the cool, solid, comfort of the mosaic floor of the room at home. Blinding pain. Sweat through clothes. Pull blanket to floor.

This is a new geography for me. It’s my suffering corner. Separate from my migraine corner, my paper airplanes corner and my insomnia corner. Once I have all these niches, I will have to move. And then have to find these new places in the new room. It’s a little uplifting. These necessary place-markers of a new accommodation.

See a friend’s incredible achievement. Compare with own negligible mark on the world. You’re a terrible human being for that. Envision what could be. Wonder if you could be that person. Wonder if you could know that person. Think about what the people you care about are doing. Think if you’d ever be a person they cared for. Plan future walks along paths that are well-loved. And those that are brimming with the potential of ‘haven’t been there yet’.

There’s something quite lovely about walking down a path with someone. It’s even more beautiful when you’re walking down yourself, and you know it’s okay to be by yourself. On the days you can depend on yourself of course. I’m a terrible companion to myself. Big bulky. Massive narcissist. If I were to die and my personalities were to split, I wouldn’t miss me.

The Beginning

The Beginning

The Beginning

I’ve been taking the bus quite a bit since I’ve been back. I’m not overly fond of the bus route, but more on that later. Whenever my knees permit, I walk. And over time, I’ve divided my path into a few distinct zones, depending on which direction I’m going in, time of day and how crabby I feel.

This picture shows my favorite bit of ‘The Beginning’. It’s past my department, with the experimental psychology building to the right and the medicine and pathology people to the left. Linacre college is almost directly in front, to the right of the inviting entrance of the bike path. There are many things happening in this photo.

One thing that stands out for me particularly, is that it’s still light out. Usually, I take this route a few hours after sundown, so it’s lit up by the streetlamps and the passing cars and bikes. And that’s when I can cue the ‘Introspective Phase’. Basically a rehashing of everything that went wrong in the day, how I made a complete fool of myself, obsessing over how my friends don’t love me anymore, how I’m a terrible friend and if I died overnight, nobody would notice until a few college lunches later. Or if it’s vacation time and lunches aren’t on, when my housemates notice the smell. Good times.

Back to the path. The main thing I really like about this path is how many paths you can see. Let’s write them down in a list and think about them very carefully.

1. The drive-way to the medicine buildings: Just-so-sloped so you can notice that the slope’s there, can feel the fact that you’re wearing ankle-shoes and it’s just wide enough that by the time you really pay attention to it, it’s over.

2. The pedestrian path on the left, right next to the fence: Wide enough to only REALLY allow one person at a time. Impossible when you are carrying a bag that sticks out of the side. Or when it’s rainy and one has an umbrella and the other has to side-step to avoid getting poked in the eyes. Also, importantly, for a few weeks last term, my friend and I observed the decomposition progress of an apple that had been stuck on the spikes of the fence. Fascinating, but almost heart-breakingly sad.

3. The gravely bike path to the right of the pedestrian one: Just wide enough for one bike. When I’m biking to the department and I’ve chosen the 9-10 a.m. slot, I am off the bike at this point. Still lack the dexterity to maneuver the bike well. And my knee is going ‘Nope. Stop now, human-person, I’m done’. I love walking on this path when I’m wearing my running shoes. I can feel the gravel and it’s lovely. Can only be managed VERY late or VERY early in the morning so there are no angry bike-people behind me.

4. The strip of road between the footpath and the double striped line: One day. When I’m brave enough, and am good friends with my bike, I will use this bit.

5. The road. This is South Parks Road: That curves BEAUTIFULLY and becomes St. Cross Road. This is the bit of road on which Linacre college is situated. And it faces the entrance of the University Parks and has a ‘landing’ on the side of the parks with the traffic signal for the pedestrians and cyclists. The beeping of the signal is one of the dominant sounds of the area. Besides the traffic of course.

6. The path in front of Psychology: This is a good path. Used it mainly while visiting the psychology building (not very fond of the building. It looks like it’s suspicious of everything and glares at the buildings around it). It’s wide and accommodating, and a bit further along, you get lovely plants and flowers through a fence.

But quite simply, this path comes with mixed feelings. I have had serious, heart-to-hearts on this one, soul-crushing revelations about myself and the beginnings of ‘things to do today’ thoughts. It’s uplifting when I’m walking TO the department, and morose and introspective when walking home. My favorite feelings on this one have been the cold wind in my face and the rustling of leaves just around leaf-fall of autumn. The delighted crunching and stomping through the leaf drifts when there aren’t many people around. That’s when your face smiles because it can’t help it and for a few moments, everything is  alright in the world. The entrance to the path, just past the cycle barrier is when my walk home really starts. That bit of path is shaded, hooded and a little secretive. Exactly how it appears in this photo. It seems to say ‘Come along now, I’m here for you’.


It’s comforting in a very sad way.