The Appalachian Trail

When I was a child, learning to play the piano, for many years my favorite composer was Aaron Copland. One of the first “serious” pieces of music I learned as a beginner was called “Sunday Afternoon Music“, and I played it endlessly. I loved that it was simultaneously simple and complex, that it broke the rules of traditional music but still sounded like one cohesive piece, and I loved the narrative feel of it. I remember it took some concentration for me to learn – there are some unexpected twists, especially for a young musician – but once I had it, both playing it and listening to it was so calming.

When delving further into Copland’s life and work, I, of course, came across his most famous work, “Appalachian Spring“. It feels like such a piece of Americana, like Woody Guthrie or Little House on the Prarie. It’s classic American, in that it feels like the exploration of something new, paying enough due to a root in traditional classical music, but still distinctly non-European in its sound. Discovering Appalachian Spring as an 11-year-old was the first time I had heard of the Appalachian Trail and the idea of someday listening to it while in the midst of Appalachia thrilled me. I always liked the idea of artists creating great works in their natural habitats – Louisa May Alcott writing in Orchard House with a half-eaten apple on her desk and rain pattering on the roof, Thoreau nestled against a tree beside Walden Pond, scribbling away in a notebook. Of course, I would later find out that Copland had no idea what his work would be called when he composed it (he just knew he was composing a ballet for Martha Graham), so the Appalachian Trail was hardly his muse. But still, there was (and is) something so inspiring about the idea of great works being born in simple homes.

Last weekend, I finally took a long-overdue break from hectic city life to disconnect for a few days. On Saturday, we took the Metro-North train up to the Appalachian Trail stop and got off to find that the trail crossed right over the platform.

After years of running through life in New York City, what a relief the view of those trees, water, and boardwalk were. It felt like I could catch my breath for the first time. (Honestly, being out of the city probably did mean I could breathe a bit better.)

We hiked for about 3 hours, to the Dover Oak and back. According to Google, this was an “easy” hike, but it was just right for me in terms of climbing up and down hills and trudging through muddy puddles, without losing the pleasantness and relaxation.

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When planning the trip, I thought “easy” meant we would be walking on a boardwalk the whole time, but most of the hike consisted of trudging along damp paths like these, following white markers like the ones on the trees ahead.

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The Dover Oak

After the hike, we purposely missed our train and hung around for an extra two hours to enjoy our surroundings. When we were walking, we did pause a few times to look at the landscape, but it wasn’t until we sat down to wait for the next train that we realized that this – just sitting – was both the hardest and loveliest part of the whole trip. We sat back, planned our dinner, watched the birds and insects flicker by us, tried unsuccessfully to look for fish, and tried unsuccessfully to put down our phones. I engaged in some amateur nature photography as a compromise with myself.

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Our seats. One points North, and the other points South.

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As we rode the train back, I thought about Aaron Copland and Appalachian Spring. I decided a few years ago that working towards an eventual happiness was not good enough for me – that I needed to do something professionally that would bring me happiness every day. Now, I think I need to go further than that. I need to better incorporate simplicity and peace into my daily life. I need to disconnect at night and not reconnect first thing in the morning, and I need to step away from all of it more often. As I’m writing this and reflecting on it all, I am reminded of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts“, which Copland famously used in his composition:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
      ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
      ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
      To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
      Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
-Elder Joseph

‘Tis a gift indeed.

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The NYC Street Fair

I love that New York goes so out of its way to bring elements of rural life into its whirling metropolis. Whenever you look, especially in summer, there is a lush park, bustling farmer’s market, or vibrant street fair to be found, nestled right into those mad-dash streets. My favorite days in this city have been the ones when I stroll down the avenues, walking 50-80 blocks at a time, and just explore the things around me. I had one such excursion up Lexington Avenue this past weekend.

My journey actually started on the West Side, at Gotham West Market’s Blue Bottle Coffee, where I was meeting a friend for a drink. There, we discovered some free post-cards with a post-box and a sign with an offer to mail them for you. One of of my goals for this year is to send more snail-mail, so I really liked the idea. We each mailed a postcard, and I kept a couple more that I feel might have inspired the rest of my day.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

I hadn’t explored Lexington Avenue in midtown too much at that point, so I decided to walk it. Right at the start of my journey, I discovered a new little Indian clothing store in Murray Hill called “Vintage India“. Most of the items were goods I would never bother buying in the US, since I can find more variety and cheaper prices in India, but the shop was colorful and fragrant and I was drawn in. (Plus it reminded me of a shop that we used to visit in college called Mexicali Blues, so there was a nostalgia factor.) I discovered a bin of $10 paayal (silver tinkling anklets) and was immediately sold.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again... nostalgia is clearly highly effective on me.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again… nostalgia is clearly a highly effective sales tactic on me.

From there, I kept walking up Lex, right into a street fair. I have been to several street fairs around the city, but I particularly liked this one because there was more than just food. The stalls all around me were selling jewelry, clothing, plants, and carpets – with a bit of imagination I could picture myself in a foreign marketplace, picking up things that I would have described as a child as “treasures”. I gave myself a cash budget for the day, and set off on my street fair adventure.

The first stall I came to had what seemed like hundreds of long, bronze-chained lockets hanging down from its railing.

Something about this feels magical to me... like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

Something about this feels magical to me… like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

When I looked closer, I realized they were clocks. I chose one with pretty engraving and bought it for $8. I love the look of pendants on long chains, and this piece felt timeless (no pun intended).

A little treasure

A little treasure

As I kept walking, I saw a few stalls with colorful cotton clothing. I am on the look out for comfortable, good quality but affordable harem pants, so I was intrigued. As I looked through the racks at one stall, some beautiful figurines caught my eye. I could instantly tell that they were from South Asia. I spoke to the seller, Anil, who confirmed that he was Nepali.

Anil making a sale to another customer

Anil making a sale to another customer

He showed me the various pieces he had depicting Hindu and Buddhist deities and we talked about his childhood in Darjeeling. In the end, I bought this beautiful Buddhist wall-hanging for $20.

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

Next, I spotted a $3 jewelry stall – how could I resist looking? I found these earrings and this locket amongst all the choices:

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2/$5 and totally worth it!

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2 for $5 and totally worth it!

Finally, I decided I really wanted to look for something different that I would not normally buy. I had to walk for a bit longer, but I found a man who was selling beautiful plants.

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

I asked him what was required to take care of bonsai (I definitely do not have a green thumb) and how much they cost. I assumed it would be very complicated and expensive. However, the seller explained the care process to me – just submerging the roots in water 2-3 times a week and keeping in indirect sunlight – and sold me this Chinese elm for just $18.

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good “beginner’s bonsai”.

The seller was so kind that as I was packing up my purchase, he told me to wait and brought me this gorgeous orchid for free (he gave me instructions on taking care of it too, of course!):

First orchid I've ever owned... hopefully I can keep it alive!

First orchid I’ve ever owned… hopefully I can keep it alive!

Days like these make me so happy because I feel like I can have an adventure right in my own city. It makes me want to discover what else New York has to offer and to go and explore other places the same way.

What’s the best adventure you’ve had in your city? How do you like to explore new places?

The Week of Celebrities

The week started out fairly normally. I had heard that the movie “How to be Single” was going to be filming 30 seconds from my apartment so I knew there was the vague chance of a celebrity sighting. I’ve seen a couple famous people in New York before, so although I was excited, I wasn’t freaking out. The only person I really cared about seeing in the HTBS cast was Rebel Wilson, but I figured the chance of it happening was slim since she’s Pitch Perfect 2 came out just last week and she might get mobbed. The filming was supposed to happen Monday morning but I was wrapped up in work all day and didn’t end up stepping out until 6 pm. Lo and behold, I walked out of my apartment and there was Rebel Wilson happily smiling and taking endless selfies with a mob of middle-schoolers. Just as I paused to consider trying to take a picture with her, she was called away by the film people. It was just perfect lucky timing that I saw her. 

The next day, when I was traveling on business and sure the high point of my week had passed, I got a message from my dance company’s director, Minila, about a special opportunity. We had been invited to NBC to dance with Nick Cannon for Red Nose Day. My mind was blown. Ajna has been offered some cool opportunities in the past, but this to me was a sign that people are really starting to take notice of us.

I flew back into the city on Wednesday evening and switched immediately into dance mode. We were at 30 Rock until late in the night, but when Nick finally came over and danced with us, it was exhilarating.

On Friday, my friends and I had made plans to go see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway. I’d been wanting to see this play since Neil Patrick Harris had starred in it but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. There have been a string of talented Hedwigs but when I saw a billboard advertising that Darren Criss is the current star, I knew I had to make the time. I’ve thought of Darren as immensely talented and down-to-earth for a long time – from watching him in “A Very Potter Musical” to clips from “Glee” all the way to his features in Tyler Oakley videos on YouTube. One of the friends that I had planned with, Proma, knew Darren from working with him on AVPM, and thought that we might be able to get in to see him. I wasn’t sure it would happen because her plans were uncertain until the last minute, and we didn’t know what kind of security Darren would be surrounded with. I should have known, though, after the week I was having, that it would all work out.
Darren was somehow even more down-to-earth than I’d expected. He was instantly thrilled to see Proma and very giving. He chatted with us about the show and the many moods of Hedwig (he called her “She” like it was someone he knew rather than a character he plays), and took us to his dressing room for a pictures. His wardrobe man and manager were also very friendly.

This week has been utterly surreal. In one week I encountered three celebrities in 3 completely unrelated events and in 3 very different ways. The first was basically a chance event – the kind of thing you’re told to expect, living in New York. The second was borne of the work my dance company has done over the past two and a half years. And the third was a result of making friends with some really talented and interesting people. All of it makes me love the City more than ever. And I find that the reason I’m thrilled has very little to do with celebrity. It’s really more that I know now that the things I’ve always wanted – surrounding myself with people leading interesting lives, achieving my creative goals, and living and interesting life myself are all things that are accessible.