Thursday, September 29, 2011

Commute time

Man, I spend a lot of time on the subway.

It's about a half hour to work in the morning - that's not bad. By comparison, it took me half that time to get to campus in Nashville, only because I went at off hours. During rush hour, it would have been close to a half hour.

But in Nashville, yoga was just a few blocks from campus, and capoeira was about 20 minutes away.

Here, it takes me about 20 minutes to get from work to get to yoga. That's not too outrageous. Getting to capoeira from work, though, is close to an hour, and so is getting to my handstand class. (I have to take four trains from Midtown to Brooklyn to get to handstands. Four!)

So here is a story problem for you: If it takes Turducken 30 minutes to get from home to work, and at least 45 minutes to get from work to capoeira, how long does it take her to get from capoeira back home? Does it change your answer if you know that, geometrically, the three points are the vertices of a right triangle, making the trip home the hypotenuse as the eagle flies? Does it further change your answer if you realize that she is not an eagle, and, because of where the subway lines run, she actually has to go farther out of her way to get home?

The answer: Home-work-capoeira is 75 minutes or so. Capoeira-home covers more miles and takes 45 minutes. This is why I always travel with a book.

Theoretically, I could move close to work. But dropping that commute wouldn't make up for living in Midtown. Or I could stop going to capoeira and handstands, but despite the diversity of the city, there are no perfect substitutes (in the economic sense of the term) for either.

I don't particularly mind the commute, since I can read, except for the handstand one - all that train changing is seriously annoying. However, people seem to be impressed. "You go all the way to Astoria for capoeira?" Seriously, I don't think they'd be any more impressed if I actually went down to Rio every Saturday. (You know, that would only take five hours via Concorde...)

The thing is, my commute time adds up to about two hours on days I go to work and capoeira. The people who are impressed live outside the city and spend an hour each way just going home-work. You do the math.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Small things

I mentally map each city I live in to the places I have lived before. Here in New York, Manhattan’s Riverside Park is the equivalent of Nashville’s Shelby Park and Indianapolis’ Monon Trail: the close-to-home greenway. It’s more than a neighborhood playground, but not the city’s crown jewel, and to non-New Yorkers all that matters is that Riverside is Not Central Park and therefore irrelevant.

In my time in Nashville, I found that my neighbors treated Shelby Park like an outpost of a chain gym: a place good for exercise, if short on the finer amenities such as juice bars. Tired of walking on unshaded pavement, I sought out the spaces beyond the paved greenway and the baseball fields, looking for little gems that had disappeared from the maps and contributed little to the park’s efficiency. There was the short path that ran from the dog park past the roadside pagoda to the manmade grotto, a treasure in its own right, even if the water running from it was more often than not fetid. Another path of crumbling pavement was only ¼ mile in length and connected nothing to nothing else.

These were hard-fought discoveries, valuable because of their rarity, even if in truth they weren’t difficult to find. Not many were looking.

In Riverside Park, these prizes are everywhere, yet somehow no less thrilling for their ubiquity. Some of them are obvious – the hippopotami and dinosaurs on the playgrounds are known to every dog-walker and jogger. I love dinosaurs as much as the next six-year-old-at-heart, but my real weakness is for the abandoned and forbidden spots: the cordoned-off stairs leading down to a small patio with grass growing up between the flagstones, the glimpses of the Freedom Tunnel running under Riverside Avenue, or the cracks in Employee Only doors.

Best of all are the smallest of discoveries and the happy accidents. The way the light hits the ceiling of some of the tunnels between levels of the park, reflecting off the peeling paint or through the metal grate. The subtle differences in each iron fence and stone wall. And then, on a narrow dirt path running parallel to one of the park’s promenades, there is a brass arrow embedded in the ground like a physical map of pirate booty. Yet it points no place in particular, making it the treasure rather than the map, for anyone paying attention.

This density of discovery is what I love about New York. There are more interesting things in any modest east-west residential block in Manhattan than in a square mile in most cities, and that’s without looking at the, as the cliché has it, “colorful people.”

To say these are “discoveries” is not to suggest they were heretofore unknown; at best, I get to play Columbus, discovering a land the inhabitants knew was there all along. Certainly there are history buffs, explorers, and even keen-eyed children who know all of these places better than I; many of them have websites to document their finds. Looking at these sites overwhelms me, like trying to decide what to eat a dessert buffet, or flipping through a ludicrously expensive catalog. It’s not just that my eyes are bigger than my stomach; I see their photos and think, that’s not how I would have taken it. I’m no ace photographer, but no one else’s eyes see the world quite the same as your own do. When people encounter something for the first time, without having been taught how to see it before, they’ll bring to it a diversity of interpretations that is impossible at major tourist attractions. (Try taking a novel photo of the Statue of Liberty!)

No, these are discoveries only in that I found them on my own rather than reading about them in a guidebook first. It’s hard to see Grand Central Station except through the lens of a hundred movies. Perhaps the child who grows up passing through the station sees it with fresh eyes – at the cost of being too young to remember that wonder later on. These places that live in our collective imaginations feel familiar, and thus disappointing, but they allow us to agree on rough outlines of the world we inhabit. Everything else, we find on our own, and these personal maps are what make spaces meaningful to us.

Thus while my Riverside Park shares some names and coordinates of each other person’s Riverside Park, giving us a common universe, we are on very different journeys through it.

I get to pretend I’m the only one here, that this is an undiscovered country. I get to pretend that this city, the living creation of millions of people, is a natural phenomenon. It’s not used, “pre-owned,” or, Strunk and White forbid, “pre-loved.” I can pretend I have a right to it even though the wheels on my luggage have barely stopped spinning.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Om and om

The second place I gave a shot was Om Factory - I was enticed by their $100 for a month of yoga deal. The location is also not inconvenient, as it's in the vicinity of Times Square, and thus easy to get to after work.

The space itself is very nice; they have three studios, one dedicated to aerial. The teachers are all highly competent, and I actually quite like the Forrest Yoga class. Long-term, though, it's not the studio for me.

First, they have a lot of fusion classes. Aerial yoga. Acroyoga. Fight Club (which is actually a mash-up, strictly speaking, and not fusion - you do some yoga, then you do some kickboxing, with no integration.*) These could be interesting, but they all seem to run at strictly a beginner level. I went to an open level aerial class and quickly realized my (limited) experience back in Nashville meant I should be in the intermediate class - which as of September they're no longer offering. The acro class doesn't build sequentially, which makes sense as there are few regular students. As a result, in all these fusion classes we spend as much time listening to instruction as doing. I don't want every class to be a workshop; I want to flow!

Second, most of the their vinyasa classes are only an hour. I found two that were an hour fifteen. One was Mike's Monday night class. While I was only able to make it once, I highly recommend it. The other class I tried, I felt as if we weren't getting enough adjustments.

Fact is, between the fusion classes and the one-hour classes, I'm simply not getting enough exercise at Om. It's not burning calories. And, more importantly, the lack of flow means I'm not mentally getting out of yoga what I need. Right now, I need all the sanity I can get.

So the next place I'm going to try comes highly recommended. They are offering special deals for either a month or three, and I need to decide if I want to commit to three months at a place I've never been before.

* This was a good class, but I quickly realized that going to it was confusing me the same way studying Portuguese is confusing my Spanish. One martial art at a time ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Speaking the language

Part of learning capoeira is learning Portuguese. One picks up some from classes, particularly the songs, but I've also had some quasi-formal instruction. That is, we had some lessons from a Spanish professor who is a friend of the Nashville group, and I've done some Pimsleur. The formal instruction is useful, of course. But it's hard for me to make myself study as consistently as a formal, graded course would. So most of what I know I've learned through informal interaction in the capoeira classroom and talking to other capoeristas.

Learning Portuguese through capoeira is not a bad way to do it; language immersion is an effective method, of course, and there are a lot of context clues. In that respect it's like learning Sanskrit from yoga (asana is "pose"; ardha is "half"), although instead of just getting nouns and adjectives you also get commands. And even when you're speaking with native speakers, they realize your command of the language is weak.

The songs are helpful because they give me a bigger vocabulary, and I can pick up new phrases. For example, I recently learned the words to "Marinheiro sou." (Marinheiro means "sailor," which I can remember thanks to the Spanish lyrics in "Louie Louie.") One line is "Quem te ensinou a nadar?" I'm not likely to need to ask anyone, "Who taught you how to swim?" specifically, but "Who taught you?" seems practical, and now I know the verb ensinar. After all, if I aprendo, someone must ensina me.

On the down side, a lot of the nouns you learn aren't particularly practical for modern life or tourism. I don't know how to ask where the train station is ("Onde fica … o choo-choo?") is or how to tell a waiter I'm a vegetarian. I can, however, point out the following to you at a zoo: Owls, ostriches, swallows, bulls, lizards, eagles, doves, shrimp, hawks, cheetahs, scorpions, and monkeys. Definitely words all native speakers would know, but it would be a lot more helpful if I could say "dog" or "cat."

I would like to make faster progress; I've thought about taking an extension class. One great thing about New York is, of course, that with so many universities you can find some place to study almost any language at an affordable price. Still, I don't have the time for it right now. So I just muddle along, picking up what I can.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I can haz furniture

I just paid out some serious cash to the folks at Ikea. It's going to be a couple of weeks, but theoretically, this purchase will finally give the stuff in my remaining boxes a home. Woot.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No, I haven't fallen off a cliff. Or been eaten by a pack of roving zombie zebras. Or been trapped underground by a little-known sect of fanatically religious dwarves.

No, I'm just your standard first-year professor trying to get all her work done. It's only the third week of class, and yet I found myself writing my first exam today. And I'm behind on grading for another class.

I might be a bit scarce in these parts in upcoming weeks. However, my plan is to ruin this weekend by having as little fun as possible, thereby giving myself a little breathing room. We'll see how that works.