Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Y'all And More Y'all

When you are on a flight to Tennessee, you don’t expect silence to pervade every pore of the plane. JFK might have been overflowing with noisy Spring Break revellers, but none of them boarded our flight. In just a quick scan, I picked up on a severe case of ‘Hillbilly’ syndrome (my own creation) seated at several window and aisle seats- a drawn out ‘y’all’ constitutes the aforementioned syndrome- this particular verbal tick was on overdrive alongside a plethora of ‘yes m’aaaaaaayymmzz’.  As we were heading to the country’s ‘country music’ capital, I was anticipating some real Hickville folk, some real Southern fried food and some real lazy strides.

With a week worth of Nashville ahead of me, I had the liberty to idle my time away with breezy explorations, rather than packing everything in, in 2-3 days like most of my trips in the U.S. It started off after a long Southern slumber in a big plush bed, and I was ironing out the creases around my eyes, slipped into spring clothes and was ready for a Nashvillian tour.

My friend Kate, whom I met in London last year during her exchange was my well equipped tour guide, lucky for me she was not equipped with an annoyingly irritating tour guide voice. 
Bell Meade was our first stop. It is a neighbourhood of central Nashville, in which some of the finest looking houses are strung together with the beautifully manicured lawns- they make for great scene-stealer's. I had no idea as to the lush green Tennessee has to offer, believe me, from above the city looks like it is cushioned between overgrown broccoli!

Of course we checked out downtown Nashville, with the honky tonk stores, selling their over priced merchandise to naive tourists i.e. me. Honky tonk is among the local vocabulary used here. It derives itself from a style of country music based within the cacophonic tourist bar scene. The stores are lined up side by side, like a long commercial corridor with typical ‘nick knack’ and cowboy shops. 
Double Treat For Us

While shopping in itself can be entertaining, the added singers and twins (see above) make for a most entertaining step away from the daily grind on a Tuesday morning. 

Unlike New York, the car culture prevails the Nashvillian roads. You cannot rely on public transport to get you from A to B, so a car is essential.

With our essential car, we hit Hillsborough village. This 'village' is a block length street, with true home-style shops with items modeled after a vintage feel- gives you a feel good feeling as well. My top two stores were: Pangaea and Social Graces.

The former and latter are eclectic gatherings of the funky clothes/jewelry/stationary/body products that Nashville has to offer, and only Nashville I believe.  I don't think I would call them the latest trends, but they are certainly unique enough to fuel a young clientele into this interesting 'folk' art.
Chock-full Boutique

Pangaea, is a retro store with stacks of mainly clothes and jewelry. It can be a bit overwhelming sifting through the million oddities, but everything seems made to measure for someone in particular. There is a degree of 'kitschy' in the store, what with its overflow of whimsical looking scarves; earrings and rings, but if you are looking to tap into the Boho look, I say go go.

Adjacent to this gem, is 'Social Graces' gracefully occupying a modest space on the street. This store sells what could easily be boring stationary and necessities. Candles;Letterpress greeting cards;candles;Wedding cards;Gift Wrapping etc. Even as you step into the store, the smells shoot right through you, compelling your purse to open up and give in!

 I wasn't due to buy anything, but I really paid close attention to the embroidered details, and luscious smells to the point where it put visions in my head of old fashioned gentility. And with old fashioned music lulling in the background, well, I was taken out of the modern context of 2011 and gently placed in 1939.

On a few occasions we hit the local bar scene, where up and coming bands showcase their unheard/unsung talent and have the opportunity to grow from their modest beginnings. I was amazed at the professional sounds and intriguing styles that make for a thrilling experience. 
Surrounded By Talent
With variations of hard and soft sounding melodies, the harmonies piped into my body’s rhythms tuning my unfamiliar ear to the excellence of the local talent. The highlight of bar hopping landed in the Cold Cave venue. The Kills gave a sexy and sensual performance featuring the unique Allison Mosshart- she and guitarist Jamie Hince wowed us all with their effortlessly energetic powerhouse ‘duet’. 

They worked off one another so beautifully, creating a performance that I couldn’t explain at the time, but can now process as natural ability with added substance. I am pretty convinced that the endless late night shows they commit to are made feasible with a kick or two- regardless, they were off the radar; I was so entranced by the hypnotic lighting as well as their movement on stage, I left the venue abuzz with ‘Kills’ fever running dangerously high. Later in the week, Kate I went to 'The Stations Inn' where Bluegrass hill music is heard- attracting a more mature audience. This type of music falls into the 'Old-time music' category of the North American folk genre. A combination of folk and fiddle sounds will produce the traditional music of yesteryear.

For a change of pace, Kate and I escaped to 'Radnor Lake'- a lake trail that allows for a beautifully relaxing hike in a green and clean domain of close proximity to the downtown area- you wouldn't think it was so close. 

It isn't desperately difficult to hike, it is mainly flat with a few ascending areas, but it won't wipe you out. Although, it is very long and windy, so you need to have a good sense of navigation and know at what point you will go back! 

If you want to ground yourself, I suggest you take to natural preserves such as this. I find nature to be such a grounding element, because in this space I was a spec amidst this all encompassing natural setting, it had a very calming effect. Also, the trail is good for wildlife spotting, not that we saw anything beyond a squirrel, but it is said that deer lurk around among other animals....

On this green note, in celebration of ‘Earth Day’ on Saturday 23rd April, Nashville combined its ‘country music city’ status with a forward thinking: ‘green collar city’ image. We went to Centennial Park, where a hoard of stalls were spread out over the massive plot of land. Among the typical face painting, candy floss and hair braiding, were stalls catering for those in search of eco friendly alternatives to earth killing items. Select cars, scooters etc were on show to promote a greener alternative as well as recycled hand soaps, scarves and clothes targeting green fashionistas. Being a Saturday, all families had planted themselves on the grass with picnics and copious amounts of water, for it was a sweltering day of sun and heat. And of course, the event wouldn't have been complete without the sounds of the south: good old country music. 

We traipsed the grounds of yet another park: Sevier park, with Kate's dog: Gunner. Where we were met with a smaller volume of Saturday folk, and simply absorbed the bliss of natural beauty in smaller form.
Kate and Gunner
At this point, we had covered sufficient amount of Nashville's turf, and I really got a sense of quintessential Nashville, and I just think its such a cool place, yes m'ayyyym.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Ahead

Bloomed Buds
We've now sprung one hour ahead, the days have elongated by an hour, and I've only 2.5 months left in New York. I've seen most of the city and its residential counterparts, but I am still short of some fundamental 'NY' experiences- jogging in Central Park. It's almost a '100 things to do before you die' commitment; this iconic past time/routine is an embedded part of the NY living, and is a great joy with unclouded weather. I now frequent my local park and lace around the high/low lying paths, confronting other joggers sewed into latex; nannies and babies; hot dog carts and canines.

Unless you know your way around the park, a seamless jog can lead you to the unknown sections of the park, which can be fun, but can deviate from the focus of the activity. The most appropriate place to jog is around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. Its physical schema takes shape of a jogger's typical track: a 1.58 mile track that encircles the 106-acre body of water, framed in a rectangular shape, with a few grooves and curves protruding the parameters.

To get to this part of the park, take the C/B trains to W86 st. Alternatively, on the East side, take the 6 to E86 st.
Though a killer spot for 'Manhattan' shots, it is primarily a running track, so I felt really awkward taking photos with the runners tracing around me. Normally I come virtually 'hands free' and jog around 3 times in my own world, and it's fantastic. The best part is, that nobody cares how fast, or how far you run- each to their own. I'm not a runner or jogger by nature, but I find myself frequenting the track more and more of late, and loving the 4.5 mile challenge. Above all things, it is vital to escape the flickering glare of the box, and venture to the natural world.

The flat gravel path allows for a convenient jog, but make sure you adhere to the rules and track the path in a counterclockwise direction- the tourists and rule avoiding schmucks will annoy you indefinitely. If the track isn't bursting at the seams, it can be such a pleasant afternoon of puffing some 02 and gathering your thoughts with 360' of nature- and a few interruptions of mans creations in the horizon. I for one, get so immersed in the meditative atmosphere, that my pace increases unknowingly, and my ability and agility strengthen without even thinking about it. It beats the four walled gyms any day.

Perhaps the most anticipated stretch of the path is in the northern regions, as the Midtown skyline occupies every inch of the lateral background, and the foreground too, with its reflections on the water surface. It makes for the best photo opportunity in the city.

Even if clouds do happen to stain the sky, the experience is by no means hindered by this, because this track has unparalleled beauty, and what could easily be a mundane effort turns into effortless enjoyment. To top this off, on one of my jogs, the guy in front of me snorted up a ball of spit and catapulted it onto a leafy shrub, where the spit string dangled momentarily but dropped by the bodies of air blowing past it, and gathered on the ground as yet another spit stamp in the city.You do brush past some interesting folk- that's all New York and I love it.

For the days when you simply want to zen and zone out in solo form, go ahead and appreciate this treasure, and feel lucky that you are in New York.

By Sana Sadique

Monday, April 4, 2011


I have to cast my mind back to early March now. The accumulative work load didn't permit me to attend to the blog as often as I would have liked to, and with the home girls visiting for a week things have been pushed back. Mid terms/papers are at the rear of my mind, so here is my latest travel tale. 

I was heading west once again, but to Chicago, or Chi-town as it's colloquially referred as. There is something so magical  at a of height of 10,000 feet where America becomes minuscule gold and silver interlocking chains, all the while blinking bulbs of hard and soft lights paved our air route to America's 2nd city.  I had been told that Chicago resembles New York in a 'city' way- that they mirror each other in a metropolitan sense, and I wanted to head over so as to get a feel for these competing cities.

'My Kind of Town'

Much like the subway in New York, the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) system in Chicago is accessible and convenient for a first timer- the blue line takes you directly to the center. But had my NY subway skills not been so well honed, navigating the Chicago system would have been second to none. Most of the subway routes are overground, except for the red line. Not that you see the most interesting of things, but in the pitch blackness, I rippled with laughter at a sizzling 'Hooters' sign winking its 'O's at me! The subway cars run in between the highway roads, on a slim line, stopping every couple of minutes. Gaining proximity to the center, the subway began to thread the Chicago grounds more intimately, lacing around residential neighborhoods of hip and fresh taste. I was heading to Diversey to see my cousin Christina, whose cozy apartment finds itself among the trendy types. Although not smack in the center, the apartment grasps the city and cozy life in equal measure- perfect. The best part of the subway lines are that you see the city up close and personal. 'The Loop' is the downtown district, where the subway nudges past office towers, gyms and shops, giving its riders a visual route to their destination. 

Christina and I in 'The Loop'
The weather was not on par with my liking- especially for the early/mid days of March, but as the saying goes: beware the Ides of March. I'm not sure Shakespeare intended for this warning to concern itself with the climes, but for all intents and purposes, I will lay it on thick. The brutality of winter had given me, what I thought to be a final kick into the ass end of the season- hmmm..right now it is pelting down with frigid frost dangling on the bus window.

Below is a gallery of photos I took, attesting to the Chi-town glory. 

Classic Brownstone

'The Bean'
Because my cousin was at work, I was free to my own devices and started to tread the city, everything in a 5 block radius of Michigan avenue. Michigan Avenue sports the same reputation as 5 Avenue, it is a fashion hot bed for the keen fashion bean. But the spitting snow reduced my capacity for further exploration, I stayed within the safe confines of downtown- I never got to experience the Navy Pier and beyond.
The Infamous Hot Dog
A lot of the prolific spots are major gathering spots for tourists and locals alike: Sears Tower, Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier; Millennium Park, 'The Loop' and the mouth watering array of restaurants.

It's not just a Chicago thing, but an over arching America thing. Food is simply unreal here. Be it a cart on the street, or a fancy schmancy high rolling Meat Packing district food haven, my unbridled food consumption has hit an ultimate high here in the U.S of A.

Everyone kept harping on about the 'Pizzza' and the 'Hottttt Dogggggzzzz' and how I haven't experienced Chi-town without munching on the former and latter. Now, my love for NY pizza is unmatched with any other 'pizza', but the deep dish voluminous splendor is a close second to the number 1. One piece is an actual meal. It's a thick strata of cheese, pepperoni, goo and goo. A tummy filling, tummy enhancing, tummy aching bit of goodness. The hot dog on the other hand, is of modest portions and fillings, namely the fillings: green veggies and only a slither of sauce. Both go in my good food books, but below is the beast of all breakfasts. One morning my cousins Christina and Phillip and I went for a smacker of meal.

Going All Out Baby
America at its most humble. NOT. What is worrying on my part, is that I wiped the plates clean. America has exercised my nibbling capacity, and stretched it to full on monster munching. Needless to say, the combo of Eggs Benedict and French Toast/Pancake piles gave me the mother of all food babies to the point of implosion- I was due to travel back to NY later that day, uuuhhhhh.

Most of the trip was spent rekindling with my cousins (plus Marc who came a day later) over food and more food and tarot card readings. The weather had put a crimp in my sight seeing, but Chicago left me with a very good impression, it's no New York but a smaller, gentler version with more breathing space.