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Fall in Harvard: Still the best time of year*

The fall equinox came and went last week and I, sweating in 100-degree Austin, passed it right by. Even after an entire year of thinking about seasonality, this September the change of seasons just wasn’t on my mind.

Where did the time go?

I know where my time went, actually. I lost it somewhere between Gogol, Dostoevsky, Emerson, and Rodó. Gradschool time is a weird kind of time, broken into fragments that have nothing to do with the ordinary 9-5. Class at 5:30pm? Meetings at 7:30am? Rock-climbing breaks in the middle of the day? But it’s also true that gradschool time blends together incomprehensibly. Did I just read for 5 hours straight? Is it true that I haven’t taken a break in three days? What happened to the weekend?

It’s a nice feature of gradschool, these long periods of free time in which to do what pleases you most.

This week, NPR is a featuring a new series about the history of time. The series’ premise: “The baseline crisis we must understand and confront is not one of economics, climate change, resource depletion or alternate-reality Republicans. Below them all is a crisis in time.”

The subject of our enslavement to the clock has come up several times on this blog: see for example A Time Without Time. I used the word enslavement: I obviously have concerns about timeliness. (Probably, if I’m being honest, because I’m always late.) It’s interesting to think about the fact that before the invention of clocks, most people knew it was midday, evening, dawn – and nothing more. What freedom they must have felt then!

No one in ancient Greece ever felt guilty for failing to write a blog post for two entire weeks, for example.

Still, the word “crisis” is a bit much. There was an article in the nytimes this week about Republicans and the apocalypse. Its greatest weakness was its emphasis on Republicans. Religious or not, we are all pretending to live in apocalyptic times, until time itself has become apocalyptic. It’s the other piece of the time crisis: the idea that time is running out.

Freedom from time, in my book, means the opportunity to read all night long. It also means the chance to live without fear of impending doom.

Still, I’m glad someone reminded me of the equinox.

Happy Fall! and for those who celebrate, Shanah Tovah.

Weather:
66 degrees in Somerville and 67 in Austin. (but there’s a high of 101 today).

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Clearly I’m out of bed. But still sleepy.

Anna: 6 out of 10. Early morning-gym run feels good, but the stress of the day does not.

*Photo credit to Kohlin’s lovely flickr account, full of great photos of my (and anna’s!) home town.

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Somehow the month of April raced by, leaving me little time to do anything that wasn’t pre-scheduled in my Google calendar, and with it went my ability to blog. The month marked several transitions. First, I celebrated the two year anniversary of my move to the city. Then, my stellar co-blogger and now former co-worker, Hannah, departed for her grand adventure. (I’ll miss seeing her every day!) And finally, the day after we waved goodbye to Hannah, my company, Idea Platforms, moved from the suburban wilderness that is Concord, MA to the bustling tech haven of Kendall Square in Cambridge.

The move is a very welcome change—I have more flexibility, more time, and far fewer sprints to the T. But it’s still a major adjustment. Two years ago, when I started commuting to Concord from the city, I had my doubts about the town. I groaned about the dearth of young people, and the turgid, blue blood stuffiness I assumed I’d encounter. Instead, I grew to love the community, especially after I joined The Coffee Group—a rather random assembly of exceptional individuals who quickly became part of my daily routine.

When I first began commuting daily, I got off the train in Concord and rushed past a small French café called La Provence. Each morning while briefly glancing in through the oversize windows, I spotted a very dapper old gentleman waving to me. I waved back. A simple gesture of welcome from a man who looked to be from a different place, another era.

He was. His name was Maurice and even at 89, he still had a spark in his eye, hence the daily wave. Maurice held court at La Provence. His throne was a brightly-colored leather chair that occupied the corner where the orange wall met the window’s glass, and around his perch, a rotating group would gather each morning. Eventually, the temptation became too great and I started buying my morning coffee there. He’d wave as I left. I would wave back. And then one day, when there was a small cluster of four gathered around the table, I was invited to join.

The men and women of The Coffee Group range in age from forty-ish to eighty-ish, travel the world, and have all ended up in the idyllic locale of Concord. They are journalists, physicists, naturalists, and rodeo riders. They come from Greece, Spain, and across the United States. And although some are three times my age, they are more vibrant and more inquisitive than many twenty-somethings.

For the past year and a half, I’ve started my day with these men and women, and a large cup of coffee. When Maurice passed away last spring, we kept his chair open for several days to celebrate his life. I learned that he was an artist, and that over the course of his career he had focused on blue chips, then blue stones, then blue fins as a stockbroker, jeweler, and restaurateur. And then one day, no doubt when there were nearly twenty of us crowding in the corner, someone sat down in Maurice’s chair so we would have room for everyone.

This is what is hardest to leave behind. In a small town where I doubted I’d find friends, I made more than twenty. Concord isn’t my hometown, but Adele’s song “Hometown Glory” sums up my feelings beautifully:

Weather: Sunny and warm.

Moods:

Anna – 8 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Actually went to the gym before work, and happily nostalgic.

Hannah – 8 out of 10. Almost packed! Also, it’s sunny. [Edit: I mistakenly typed “6” before. That is a lie. Hannah is very happy this afternoon.]

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Happy Purim!

When I was a kid, I used to have a picture book called “The Adventures of K’ton Ton.” K’ton means little in Hebrew, and K’ton Ton is a variation on Tom Thumb, only with a Jewish twist. My favorite K’ton Ton story was when he fell into the hamantaschen dough on Purim. My mother says this is impossible because he was “just like a real boy, only tiny,” but as I recall, he was baked into a cookie and popped out just as his mother was giving the cookie away to the neighbors.

Giving away baskets of hamantaschen is just one of the traditions that make Purim the most fun holiday on the Jewish calendar. Purim celebrates the story of Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from the king’s adviser, a man known as Haman the Evil. When we were kids we would go to a party at the synagogue where we were handed groggers (really obnoxious noisemakers) and given the important task of drowning out Haman’s name anytime it was said aloud.

Purim is also a costume party: people dress up as characters from the story of Esther or, really, anything else you can think of. In 2008 I celebrated Purim in Tel Aviv, where it is thought of as an “Israeli Mardi Gras.” That was when I learned another interesting Purim tradition: according to longstanding practice, adults are obligated to “drink until you can’t tell the difference between good and evil.”

Sometimes I wonder whether that’s because of the end of the Purim story, in which the Jews exact revenge by slaughtering entire villages associated with Haman. But mostly I think it’s just an excuse for a good time.

Purim started at sundown last night. I had no wild parties planned this year, but my dad and I did make hamantaschen, the traditional Purim snack. The word “hamantaschen” means Haman’s Hat – Ashkenazi (European) Jews say that the triangular cookies are in the shape of a hat. But I learned today that according to Sephardic (Middle Eastern) tradition, the cookies are said to be shaped like Haman’s ears.

My plan yesterday was to type up a hamentaschen recipe and share it here for Food Friday (okay, Food Sunday). But unfortunately, despite trying two different recipes, we were unable to find one we really liked. Of the two recipes we tried, one was a sugar cookie base made with oil instead of butter, and the other was more like a pie dough, with the butter crumbled in. But the pie-crust recipe, from a cookbook of traditional yiddish recipes, was weirdly textured and required some emergency modification. And the cookie-dough recipe, from the New York Times, didn’t hold its shape and had a strange oily aftertaste. Still fun to eat, but a little disappointing. K’tan Tan would never have approved.

Do you have a hamantaschen recipe that you would recommend?

Weather: sunny and thirty five degrees.

Mood:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. More on the good mood to come later this week!

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I keep trying to figure out March. It’s not a powerful month for me. It teases you with its sunlight and then destroys your good spirits with a freak snowstorm that makes you wish you hadn’t optimistically stored your winter hat.

When I think of March, it’s more or less a blank slate. I can’t identify any hotspots on my emotional calendar. Not a warm patch. Nothing.

I had to rack my brain before I realized what I used to associate March with: spring break.

Unlike other, enviable schools, Cornell only had one week off for spring break. Most years, I visited my friend at Yale and went to her classes. Not the rabblerousing spring break one might expect. On the other hand, this yearly tradition led to the discovery that I could understand basic Portuguese. And, in fact, these interludes with a wonderful friend were exactly what I needed after the stress of my own semester.

Then came senior year. Senior year was it—the last hurrah. Time to go big or go home. I chose to go to Idaho.

Well, let me be more specific. I chose to go to Sun Valley, Idaho to stay with one of my best friends (let’s call her Becks) from Cornell and her family. I had it all planned—while everyone in Cancun tanned and Snookified themselves (let’s pretend everyone knew who Snooki was in 2007), I would learn to ski and spend the evenings relaxing with a glass of wine, deep in discussion with Becks and her family.

On Day 1, after mastering the bunny slope under the tutelage of Becks’s father, a former ski ranger, I decided to try my luck on a larger slope. The ski lift deposited me at the top of the hill and I started making my way down the mountain. Unfortunately, while watching a pack of four-year-olds zoom past me, I hit a patch of ice, fell forward, and heard a pop. Fortunately, that pop was my binding releasing—not my knee self-destructing. But based on the searing pain that followed, I wasn’t sure. So I ungracefully righted myself once color returned to my face, skied down the slope on wobbly legs, and decided I could hang in there for another run. Bad move. Run number 2 also ended in a fall, which only exacerbated my previously sprained knee. That put an end to my dreams of downhill skiing. I spent the rest of spring break hobbling around Sun Valley, which, on the upside, led to many more conversations with Becks and her family, and far more cheese plates than one could imagine.

But I still find it odd that this memory sits in its own separate compartment, seemingly detached from March. Instead, it marks the transition from winter to spring, regardless of the month—hence the melting and refreezing of snow that shattered my plans…and almost my knee.

Weather: Sunny with blue skies. 41 degrees.

Moods:

Anna – 6.5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

Hannah – 4 out of 10. Too much to do.

 

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As Hannah indicated, I’ve been traveling the world, or at least part of it, for the past couple of weeks. Stops included Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Thessalonike, Meteora, Athens, and Nafplion. That’s a lot of travel for only 15 nights.

Highlights included all imperial palaces, castles, summer estates, and massive Greek temples, particularly those elaborately decorated with delicate inlays and master carvings. Sort of like my apartment. Or not.

Just like home.

Despite adventuring, I realize that I’ve returned without any killer stories. There were no crazy encounters. No out of body experiences. No swashbuckling tales. But there were some tasty morsels of food, excellent birds-eye views, and more than a few masterpieces along the way.

I haven’t taken a two-week vacation from work for nearly three years. Last summer I had a week-long escape to Maine, prior to which I had had a terrible fever (which led doctors to mistakenly believe I had cat scratch fever). My body was recovering when I left, I didn’t feel up to snuff, and taking antibiotics every morning and evening of the trip did not spur relaxation. It was not ideal.

When I was a kid, my dad and brother and I would take long, leisurely vacations to tropical islands—the more remote, the better. About five or six days in, my father would declare he was finally starting to relax. A highly knowledgeable seven-year-old, I’d counsel my father to relax more quickly. Who could possibly need all that time (practically a year!) to adjust to frozen drinks and blossoming flowers?

But when I arrived in Vienna (Trip Day 5), I realized it had taken that long to stop thinking about work. Day 5 was followed by a week of actual relaxation, and also full of museum-hopping. It wasn’t until the Friday before I flew back to the States that thoughts of current and future projects again pushed their way to the surface. Fifteen nights left me with seven blissful, carefree days. And now I’m thinking that two-week sojourns may have to be here to stay.

Weather: Mountains of snow. And even when it’s not snowing, the wind whips the snow around, making it look like we’re being further buried.

Moods:

Anna – 5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still getting back in the swing of things.

Hannah – 4 out of 10. She’s had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Luckily, it’s a Friday.

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Cultural Hotspot: Haiti

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Rather than writing about the event, I want to direct you to the blog of my (distant, but respected) acquaintance Shamim Kazemi, who was in Haiti a year ago today.

http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/hope_haiti

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Hello, blogosphere: how are you feeling today?

– “I’m feeling so guilty,” says someone from the eastern shore of Maryland

– “I’m working so hard to deal with the anger I’m feeling,” says someone in the UK.

– “I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job at anything,” says someone in Massachusetts.

– “I feel the real me within myself again,” says someone in Singapore.

– “I am allowing myself to feel and deal with what is in my heart and mind,” says someone in Kansas.

I recently received a link to the fascinating website wefeelfine.org. The site harvests “feelings” from an enormous number of blogs to create an emotional database, which it then makes manifest in a chaotic visual representation. The person who sent me the link described it as “a funky little web applet Java thingie which is remarkably profound when you realize that the little balls floating around are people’s souls laid bare yet at once coyly hidden behind the anonymity of online media forms.”

We Feel Fine is neat because you can filter by age, by city, by gender, and by weather! The top three feelings when it’s snowy? Able, lucky, and new.

The top three feelings when it’s sunny? Lazy, lucky, and ready.

Seems like for the most part, regardless of everything, people feel pretty good. Or at least that’s how they’re describing themselves on the internet. Which I find remarkable because I always thought of blogs as a dumping ground for self-pity. It makes me think that perhaps more people than we know are using the blogging world, instead, as an opportunity for positive self reflection and a chance to look toward a more hopeful future. As the authors of We Feel Fine say, “At its core, We Feel Fine is an artwork authored by everyone. … We hope it makes the world seem a little smaller, and we hope it helps people see beauty in the everyday ups and downs of life.”

Weather: Hazy and 30 degrees

Mood:

Hannah: 5 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Tired.

Anna: is in Vienna, hopefully eating chocolate cake.

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