Monday, June 27, 2011

A trip into the past

I'm loving this blogging thing.
But sometimes, I get the feeling I'm writing for like two people - myself and the unfortunate person who accidentally stumbles across this site during some random Internet search.

I find it's important to document moments in my life so I have something to look back on when the memories fade.

So here goes:

I went back to my Brooklyn high school last Monday, the first time in more than 10 years. I'd been corresponding with my 10th grade English teacher Mr. Milkman and decided it would be a treat to see him again.
So during my recent vacation to New York, I stopped in to say hello.
In the time I'd been gone, a fancy science wing had been added and the library relocated.

But most everything else was the same.
The building smelled the same.
The teachers looked the same.

The memories came rushing back:

- writing for my high school newspaper, Argus.

- teachers who fed my hunger for learning, like physics teacher Mr. Langan. I disliked science but with him, physics made sense ... and I actually enjoyed it.

- the gym class that gave me my first taste and eventual love of weight-lifting (I once challenged a boy to a sit-ups competition. I won with 832 in one sitting. Couldn't laugh for days but the victory was sweet.)

I got goosebumps as I walked the halls.

Then there was Mr. Milkman - my favorite teacher - who welcomed me last week with a bear hug.
Books sprang to life in his class. I think it's imperative that we let the people who have touched our lives know they've done so. It was nice to tell him.
Ok, so it was more than 10 years later. But hey, better late than never, right?

As we chatted, I heard someone say my name. I turned around and there was another English teacher Ms. Pumelia.
Another hug.
I never had her in class but I hung out often in her office with a friend of mine, Cathy. (One of the marks of a great teacher is when they take interest in all kids in the building - their students or not.)
"One second," she said and scurried out of the room.
She returned with a framed picture of me, Cathy and her - taken on the last day of senior year.

It had been displayed in her office all these years.

I spoke with a few other teachers and then left them to finish grading English Regents exams.

<---- But not before a picture with Mr. Milkman and Ms. Pumelia.

More hugs and then it was time to go.

So, here's a question for you: ever think about the folks in your life who have made it extraordinary? Or maybe someone who said something that changed the way you see everything? Have you told them?

I know it sounds a little hokey but try it.

It's sure to make their day. Might make yours, too.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chinese-West Indian food? Wha??

File this one under "Only in New York City."

I was in the Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn on Monday on my way to visit some friends when I stumbled upon this sign.

It made me smile.

Sounds like an odd combination, right? But in a place like New York, it makes total sense.
(FYI: West Indian as in Carribean.)
New York City is one of the few places where you can get this kind of diversity.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A day at the museums

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I gained a new appreciation for New York City and decided I would do at least one touristy thing each time I visited.
That's how I ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Thursday.

The nerd in me was thrilled when I saw this on its calendar of events: "Gallery Talk: On the Trail of the Aeneid in the Museum."
But this nerd was on vacation and took my time getting there. I arrived 15 minutes late. I wormed my way into the group and soon inched up to the front :)
I got a wonderful tour of artifacts that highlighted the content and context of Virgil's epic poem.

The Met is one of those places you've got to keep going back to because you just can't see everything, no matter how many times you've been. It has 18 large collections plus numerous seasonal exhibits.
In addition to the art of Augustan Rome, I stopped by a more modern exhibit, "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty."
He was a fashion designer (died in 2010) who pushed the envelope and the imagination.
Fascinating stuff but not exactly functional.

No trip to the Met is complete without a visit to the roof. There, you can walk around quirky art while enjoying a fabulous view of the city's skyline.

Notice the greenery? You're looking at the top of Central Park's trees. Cool, huh?

I downed a bottle of water and scurried back to the ground floor.
It was time to make my way to the Cloisters Museum and Gardens. It's a branch of the Met that houses art and architecture of medieval Europe.
I hopped on the M4 bus, took a ride to upper Manhattan and an hour later, I got to explore this:

The Cloisters' gardens are designed after courtyards found in medieval monastaries. Many of the plants and trees are period-accurate.

Most of the museum's art and structures date from about A.D. 1000 to 1500.

The Cloisters has many rare items, perhaps the most notable being the Unicorn Tapestries. The set of seven depict the hunt and capture of a unicorn. They were woven between 1495 and 1505 in Brussels. (Sorry the pics are a little dark. No flash photography was allowed.)

Turns out that these tapestries contain rather, er, naughty symbolism, particularly the one below. Tons of flowers and plants are woven into the wall hangings. Many were thought to have erotic qualities, spur fertility and help in the begetting of children. (Modern day translation: sex, sex and sex.)

A wild orchid, included in the last tapestry, was supposed to be an aphrodisiac.
The art historian at the museum called it "the viagra of the 15th century."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An ode to home

                                  (Aerial view of NYC from my Delta flight.
                                  We're coming in from the Brooklyn side.)

I'm not the homesick type but lately I've been missing my family very much.
I decided to do something about it.
A red-eye flight and a yellow cab ride later, I ended up at my parents' Brooklyn, NY, home last Wednesday.
Some thoughts on why I love my stomping grounds of New York City:

Home is...
-- An everything bagel with plain cream cheese
-- When your parents let you keep your keys even though you haven't lived there in eight years
-- Squeezing my nephews and niece

                              My 2-year-old niece. Isn't she a cutie? :)

-- Finding your bedroom as it was in high school and college
-- Watching your dad loop a tie for your not-so-little baby brother as he readied for a job interview
-- Seeing your alma mater get a shout out on the subway

-- Getting a professional pedicure and manicure for $18 including tax
-- Finding your favorite landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge, where you left it
-- Eating at authentic ethnic restaurants

               (Miriam in Park Slope has amazing food. Brunch was excellent.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

The gift of a spontaneous afternoon

Her text beeped in at 12:18 p.m. as I stared at a blank computer screen, trying to write a story about social promotion.
"You around today? Want to do a quick lunch?"
My friend Ansley was in town. That's all I needed to get the creative juices flowing.

Three and a half hours after getting the text message, Ansley and I were sitting on the patio at Cafe 4 on Market Square. As we chowed on grilled chicken club and pulled pork sandwiches, we caught up on life.

(You see, Ansley is no ordinary friend. She's the one who challenged me to start running in 2007. Our early morning runs became a time when we deepened our friendship. Her life is a picture of the beauty, pain and reward of endurance lived out well. Even under great stress, she has a genuine smile on her face. She's tackled wifeyhood, mommyhood and the stress of law school with such energy and passion. This woman is my kind of superhero.)

Coming into today, I knew I would leave work a bit early and have a few extra hours to play with. Typically, I would have something planned but I decided to leave it free and see what happened. I'm glad I did.

As Ansley and I finished eating, another friend named Donna walked by and we chatted for a few minutes.
We three decided to walk over to Rita's for Italian Ices.

(Ansley in the middle and Donna to the right.)

As I listened to these two women talk, it hit me: they were responsible for bringing two of my loves into my life.
Ansley introduced me to running. Donna, to Taekwondo (she's a second-degree black belt at my school.)
These two sports have become more than physical activity for me. They're different avenues in which I do life and community with people.

Today, I was reminded through Ansley and Donna about the blessing of not planning every moment. It's good to leave room for little miracles that spontaneously pop into your life.

What a perfect ending to a long week.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why are Nigerians always the bad guys?!?

Ok, so maybe "always" is a bit strong.


I watched District 9, a compelling sci-fi flick, over the weekend. I was enjoying the movie until they got to a scene about gangs running scams in a Johannesburg (South Africa) slum. Turns out they were Nigerians. I tucked this nugget of info away and proceeded to finish the movie. (It was pretty awesome and has a lot of parallels to today's world.)

For some reason, the scene with the Nigerians kept gnawing at me. The more I thought about it, the more indignant I became.
I thought about another one of my favorite films, the Bourne Identity. The deposed African dictator Jason Bourne is sent to kill is also Nigerian. How do I know this? He spoke Yoruba (my other language) in the film.

Granted, the fact that you've received emails from some supposed Nigerian prince or businessman who wants to share $5 million with you hasn't helped our case.
(That people still fall for those scams baffles me. Sometimes, you just can't fix stupid. But I digress.)

To make myself feel better, I did a quick Internet search for native-born Nigerians or folks of Nigerian descent who have not only brought a good name to the West African country and its people but have also contributed something good to the world.

Here's what I found (an incomplete list, of course):
-- Bobby Ologun (TV personality in Japan and mixed martial artist)
-- Chinua Achebe (writer. Did you read Things Fall Apart in school?)
-- Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy (Royal portrait artist)
-- Chiwetel Ejiofor (actor)
-- Hakeem Olajuwon (basketball player)
-- Sade Baderinwa (TV news anchor)
-- Seal (musician)
-- Wole Soyinka (poet, playwright, novelist)

Take that, Hollywood!