Namaste, with Architecture

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The studio, looking out at Boston’s Copley Square. (Credit: Vega Vitality Boston)

After months of settling in to my new life in Massachusetts, I found a wonderful yoga studio on Boylston Street overlooking Copley Square. The studio is on the top floor, level with the rooftop of the Trinity Episcopal Church, with large, clear windows offering a view of the church and the reflective 200 Clarendon Tower (also, more commonly, known as the John Hancock Tower). This juxtaposition of a sleek, modern skyscraper against the Richardsonian Romanesque peaks of the church, is a soothing image to look out to while you hold your tree pose for 30 seconds.

I’m a firm believer in the practice of calming your mind by looking out at something beautiful. It’s been discussed that staring out at the horizon can actually lower stress and anxiety, and by being outside and being active, we can live a happier and healthier life. Like many young professionals, my weekday schedule can be hectic—between meetings, sitting at my desk, writing for hours on end, and commuting home (I alternate between the train and driving the 2+ hours one way each day into Boston), having the time to be outside to clear my head becomes an occasional activity.

In a perfect world, I would have time to hike every day, but that isn’t so much of a realistic goal. When I lived in New York, I would trade in my subway commute with a walk, using the city streets as my own hiking trail. I would pass some of my favorite landmarks, enjoying the architecture and design of the city, all while getting the exercise I needed.

I should add an aside here—exercise, for me at least, is first a method of easing my anxiety. Dealing with the basic stresses of each day, my mind has a tendency to wander, and most of the time towards the negative. By creating time for myself to move, get my heart pumping, and stepping away from my phone, I’ve found a guaranteed method to lower my stress and turn my focus towards the positive—holding poses, pushing myself to do that one extra mile, pausing at the end of a hike to enjoy the view—it all helps calm me. The physical benefits of exercise are just a bonus.

So when I relocated to Boston earlier this year, my new challenge was to find a way to balance my work life, my commute, my social life, and still find time to move. My walks seemed more distant as I started following a set train schedule, and the longer I lingered in the city, the longer it would take for me to get home. I was spending too much time cramped up on a train, and I could feel myself slipping.

That is what led me to this yoga studio—I realized that while walking in Boston may not provide me the same relaxation as walking in New York did (I know, weirdest sentence ever, but walking in cities really does calm me), there were other ways to achieve it. I realized that the best thing for me was to follow a strict schedule, something that could help me set aside a specific amount of time each day to exercise.

ClassPass was my answer—through this service, paying the equivalent of a monthly gym membership, I am able to attend classes of all types and at a variety of studios before getting on my train to go home. I register ahead of time, and can do anything from yoga, to boxing, to cycling, and come out on the other side feeling stronger and at peace with my day. Instead of sitting on the train stressing over minor anxieties and letting them grow, now I would focus on the high I felt from my class, and what other activities I need to get done before the end of the week.

This week was when I finally made the connection I needed. In New York, I had the element of a view, something to look at while I cleared my mind. Walking the streets of the city always gave me that, but many of the studios I visit now are windowless, so I can only focus on the activity at hand. That’s why this moment at my yoga studio was so poignant, because as I looked out, I saw the beautiful image of modern mixed with stone, of the old against the new, of architecture, and it felt like home.

I’ve realized in my travels, that these are the moments that make your journey feel real, that when you feel that emotion of comfort mixed with awe, it can really enhance the experience. I keep a notebook on me at all times and record these moments—climbing to the top of a mountain in New Hampshire, sitting on the steps along the Trevi Fountain—making notes to remember those little moments of peace in the chaos of the city.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

Return to Florence

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When you return to your home you realize you can be a little cheesy–tourist photos are allowed.

I have this necklace that at some point became more than just an accessory. It’s part of who I am, like a tattoo, but a little less permanent (the whole ‘you must keep this symbol on your body forever’ thing kind of creeps me out). It’s a simple chain with three charms attached, each with its own meaning. The first is a golden hen with a tiny pearl egg under it, like it’s nesting—that one is a gift from my mother. It’s my little reminder of the family that raised me. The second charm is a Tibetan dorje, which in Buddhism is a symbol of sudden enlightenment, of finding happiness within yourself. I wish I could say that the charm itself is a symbol for my own inner happiness, but I actually bought it in a store on MacDougall Street on my first day living in NYC—it was my official new home, and in my mix of excitement and fear for my big move, I wanted to buy something to commemorate the moment. So I bought the charm, and it has become a symbol of courage for me throughout my 20’s.

My final charm is my favorite—it’s a small silver heart with a blue cloisonné decoration inside, traditional to the craft done by Florentine artists. I bought this charm back in 2011 when I visited Florence again after four years of being away.

There are certain places in a person’s life that you can consider a true home. For some, it’s where you grew up, and no matter where your life takes you, that place will always be home to you. For me, it’s a little more complicated than that—home is where I evolved, where I spent time growing and learning to become the person I am today. And the list keeps growing.

Florence, Italy fell into the literal term of my home in the fall of 2008. It was my semester abroad in college, and I wanted to join a program where I could study art by looking right at it, and Florence, well, it was the perfect place. I immersed myself in the sculpture of Michelangelo, studied fresco techniques in a studio near the Arno River, and ate every type of pasta I could find. It was, to express my love for Florence, my Bella Citta, my amore. But even with four months of living in a city, you run out of time to explore, so a few of my ‘must sees’ fell by the wayside. One in particular was Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library, a manuscript repository and reading room in the cloisters of Florence’s San Lorenzo church.

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Family dinners were a regular item on the menu in 2008 Florence.

That was what brought me back to Florence in 2011—first, I wanted to carve out time to see the library, and second, I wanted to spend time with my home again, doing nothing but walking the streets, listening to the chatter of local Italians and sip coffee from an outdoor café while the world flew by.

The first thing I noticed when I returned to Florence was that there are more students there than I expected. I guess I forgot how popular this destination was for students and tourists, and I was disappointed to find that as I crossed the Ponte Vecchio I could hear young girls complaining about their art final in clear English. I wanted to decipher Italian conversation, I wanted to try my hand at speaking the language, an instead, I was dropped into a tourist destination overrun with Americans.

But I was being overdramatic. The memory of Florence in 2008 was still engrained in my head. I returned to recapture the days when I was 20 years old, reading about Botticelli in the morning, grabbing paninis with a friend for lunch, and walking down a new street in the afternoon with no real destination in mind. I wanted the fuzzy, wine-induced nights at the bars, I wanted the dance clubs, the late night snacks with my friends. What I forgot was that while Florence had left an imprint in my heart, the city itself would change and evolve, just as I had.

You cannot recapture a part of your life that has passed. This was the first time I really encountered this lesson—I saw Florence as one thing, but that part of my life ended when I boarded my plane back home. In the four years I was away, I had graduated college, landed my first job and was creating a new home. I was different, and I saw Florence in a new lense.

On our second morning in Florence, after spending the night dancing at one of my favorite clubs, I woke with the sun and slipped out while my friends still slept—I left them a note saying that I would return in time for our wine tour out in Tuscany, scheduled for the mid-afternoon. I was on a mission, I wanted to find that café, get my coffee, and just sit with my city. That’s the thing about these ‘homes’ we create throughout our lives, as we grow and change, we can always come back to that familiar place. We feel safe there—for me, Florence was my first time living in an apartment, cooking for myself and being away from my family. It taught me how to be confident, how to navigate city streets and find comfort in a new place. I missed Florence, and even though some things had changed, the spirit was still there. I just had to take some time to find it.

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The steps of the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo.

I took that morning to relax, I wrote in my journal while sipping coffee, and at 10 a.m. I was the first person to enter the Laurentian Library, right as they opened the doors. For a short period, it was just me and Michelangelo’s work. I had the time to walk down the center aisle of the reading room, the click of my shoes echoing on the walls. I saw every curve, every panel of the staircase for what it was, and I felt complete. I had found that feeling I was looking for, the feeling of home, of returning to a place I loved, and it gave me the renewed energy I needed to bring back to my life in the states. It’s funny, how those moments alone with something you love are the most rewarding.

I still dream about Florence. Every time the summer air cools, I’m brought back to those months of exploration in my favorite city. It was a city that taught me how to be independent, how to survive on my own, and it was the city that taught me how to embrace change. That is what keeps bringing me back—even though I don’t live there, Florence will always have lessons for me. It’s my home—like New York, or Rhode Island, or Worcester—and it will always be a part of who I am.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

Open House: Queens

9th-Annual-OHNY-Weekend-2011-500Each October, the organization known as Open House New York welcomes visitors to hundreds of landmarks within the city’s five boroughs for one weekend. The event celebrates the past, present and future of New York’s architecture and design by opening the doors to these sites, providing educational tours about each spot’s role in the city landscape.

It was back in 2011 when I first discovered this organization. I wasn’t living in the city yet, but was visiting a friend for the long weekend when we stumbled upon one of the sites near Battery Park. I dragged my friend into the site for a full walking tour, and there met a few of the volunteers with the organization. They explained that OHNY is a cultural organization that aims to spread awareness and appreciation of New York’s architecture scene, and as volunteers, they help man individual sites to welcome guests and provide more information on the organization.

Now, as a strong advocate of the arts and culture scenes in my previous homes, I was pleasantly surprised at the dedication these volunteers had towards OHNY, and made a mental note to return each year to continue to support such a fun weekend. That was before I decided to move to the city.

2012 was my first year volunteering with OHNY. I was assigned to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Chelsea, where for four hours I helped welcome tours and direct traffic. 2013 was my second year volunteering, where I helped give tours of an architecture firm in TriBeca.

What I truly love about volunteering for OHNY year after year is sharing in the joy of New York’s history with others. With so much culture on every corner, it can be almost overwhelming to find where to start. I’ve lived here now for three years and have only seen a fragment of the city—and I explore it all the time! But with OHNY, volunteers are placed in one of the hundreds of participating sites, where they are given a chance to not only interact with weekend visitors, but also learn about a location they may have never traveled to before.

This year, I was assigned to LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal, a once thriving gateway to the glamour of flight in the late 1930s-early 40s. This terminal was the base for Pan American’s Clipper aircraft, as well as for ‘flying boats’ that could land on both land and water. You can still see the docks where these planes would land outside the windows of the terminal’s restaurant.

LaGuardia Airport's marine Air Terminal lobby.

LaGuardia Airport’s marine Air Terminal lobby.

Today, the Marine Air Terminal still boasts its original mural in the main lobby, an art deco-style tale of the history of flight, painted by James Brooks in 1940 (a fun fact, in the 1950s, the mural was painted over because of fear that it contained Communist propaganda, but was restored in the 1980s). The terminal is still active, mainly used for Delta’s shuttle flights to Chicago and Washington D.C., as well as for private planes (Joe Biden comes through this terminal when he visits the city, and has famously referred to it as feeling like going through some ‘third world country’). But despite criticism, the terminal is a sight to see, and the employees working there were friendly, helpful, and informative, providing me with all the information I needed to tell the terminal’s story properly.

The other perk of volunteering for OHNY is that you get to skip the lines when you’re not on duty. When you meet up with volunteers and visitors at your site, they always give out information on where they’ve already stopped by, and where they are headed next, so by the end of your shift you usually leave with a list of 50 sites to squeeze in within the hour. I only had Sunday afternoon to explore, so I narrowed it down to one site: The World’s Fair Grounds in Queens, a spot I have always wanted to see.

You can't say you're from Queens until you visit the Unisphere.

You can’t say you’re from Queens until you visit the Unisphere.

Bonus: Sunday was also game two of the NCLS championships, with the Cubs playing my Mets at Citi Field, so I had to stop by to give the Mets some luck. They won 4-1!

Wishing the Mets good luck before their win on Sunday!

Wishing the Mets good luck before their win on Sunday!