Sunday, May 31, 2009

The City That Never Sleeps

It's 4:07am local time, and I'm in Manhattan. Tonight's post will be rather short, but I'll just say that I love the energy of this city. Earlier this evening, I was walking up 14th street near Union Square, and as I was on my cell phone with a good friend, all of the crowds and sirens and insane taxi drivers gave me a good feeling, a feeling of forward motion. I was moving with the city. It wasn't a herd mentality; rather, it was a feeling of being connected while being a total stranger with the person next to me. It was about having shared individuality, if that makes sense, sharing the feeling of going somewhere.

I realized that I didn't bring shampoo, which I should probably have no matter what, so I got some nice Herbal Essences at Duane Reade. I've stopped using conditioner altogether because I think my hair looks better without it. On a related note, I kinda forgot to get a haircut before leaving. Maybe I'll find a barber in St. Petersburg? On a related note, I forgot to bring an alarm clock or watch of any kind, but I don't like watches anyhow. I'll be resourceful and use my computer as my alarm clock. I may still need to buy an ethernet cable, though.

I was fortunate enough to see some relatives who live nearby, and I got the brief chance to chat with them and partake of some delicious homemade spaghetti. Afterward, I went to a rooftop party in Brooklyn with my NYU hosts. It was a beautifully indie/hipster evening, but not in an annoying way. I truly didn't know any of these people yesterday, but it was a great time. With every experience I have, I tend to feel that I am growing as a person and further developing my idea of myself and how I feel about life. It's an interesting process to be aware of.

After all that, I wanted something American--something I won't be able to get for the next ten weeks. As luck would have it, we came off the Q train at Union Square right across the street from a McDonalds. As it turns out, the McDouble is predictably underwhelming, and I won't be interested in McDonalds food for a while.

Also, the rats in the NYC subway are unexpectedly cute. Still, I wouldn't go near one.

Here are a few things:
My Skype name: rednaxela88
My AIM screen name: rednaxela1120
My Twitter (warning: I don't like Twitter): rednaxela4
If you're wondering, "rednaxela" is Alexander backwards. That's really all it means.
While I'm in Israel, I may not be able to update much, so be aware.

I also encourage you to check out my page. It chronicles the music I've been listening to, and it updates constantly. On the plane I listened to The Album Leaf (I tend to always listen to them on planes) and afterward to The Arcade Fire. Good stuff.

Tomorrow at 2:30pm EST, I will leave the United States.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

This is it!

It's my last night in Los Angeles before I leave, and I have had the good fortune and pleasure of seeing some great friends tonight (and in the past two weeks while I've been here), as well as accumulating things I will need, spending some time with family, and generally having a good time.

This is to be my travel blog, for I've got adventures in the works! My personal blog will happen soon; a link will be posted here.

Every time I return to Los Angeles I realize how much I love this city. People say that LA is somehow culturally bland, or even cultureless, but as soon as you get out and explore, the sights and sounds of the city of freeways are truly extraordinary, and really quite wonderful. An open mind is essential. In the past, I have often said that there is wonder to be found in basically all moments of life, and I have found that to be quite true while driving around LA during the past couple of weeks. The picture on the left is Mac Arthur Park, a park near downtown that seems to receive little attention but really looked beautiful at sunset. I decided to go for a drive a few days ago, and I ended up there. A mariachi band was playing and some kind of festival was going on--needless to say, I girded my resolve to really learn Spanish and do it sooner rather than later.

LA, I think, is about blend--in a very interesting way. You can taste so-called California cuisine, which is essentially just fresh amalgamations of multicultural tastiness, but that all comes together in a fantastically accessible way here. Take Mashti Malone's ice cream, for example, a unique Persian homemade ice cream café in Hollywood, unique to the region and really delicious. Or if you're looking for adventure, grab a burrito from your favorite local place and make the short (yet very fun) trip up the newly renovated Angeles Crest Highway to the top of Mount Wilson and eat it up there at 5800' in the fresh clean air. Another uniquely LA thing is the curiosity of the grunions, a peculiar little fish endemic to Southern and Baja California that wiggles up on to the beach to spawn in exact and highly predictable accordance with the lunar phases. Even if you don't actually find them (I was unsuccessful earlier this week), the experience of traipsing about Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey looking for them with a good friend is really why people go to the grunion runs anyway. There's something rather literary about that, isn't there? The journey is the destination.

LA is full of weird, beautiful, fun, and interesting. It's full of peculiar. It's full of whatever you want. I could go on and on; there's a kind of fantastic romantic excitement in the city itself and all it offers to the opportunistic. No matter where I go or where I end up, Los Angeles will always be my home, and that's more than just as a geographic place.

So then, where exactly am I going?

I will be out of the country for ten weeks this summer, and with each passing minute comes greater excitement and apprehension. From June 1 to June 12, I'll be in Israel (I've never been anywhere near there before) on a Birthright trip. Birthright, you ask? It's a free trip (yes, quite truly, it's free) to Israel. Basically, there are lots of very benevolent and wealthy Jews in the world who believe it is literally the birthright of all Jewish people to visit Israel--so they created Birthright, an organization that provides ten-day tours of Israel for young people. For free. I didn't believe it myself until I asked Tufts Hillel about it and decided to apply. The way it works is that Birthright provides the money to various trip organizers, and I am going on the trip with students from Tufts (and also Harvard and MIT and one other Boston area college). We're going with an organizer called Shorashim, a fairly secular organizer whose theme is Israel With Israelis--a very cool idea that means we'll have a sizeable group of Israeli youths about our ages with us the entire time. They'll actually be on leave from the IDF during the trip. I'm sure it will be a really wonderful experience. Everyone I've talked to has told me that going on Birthright is supposed to be a life-changing experience in an overwhelmingly positive way, and well, I'm justifiably stoked for it!

I encourage all readers of this blog to also follow the Official Blog of Shorashim Bus 55!

Tomorrow morning, I'll be getting on AA flight 34 nonstop from LAX to JFK New York City, where I'll spend the night near Union Square with an old friend whom I haven't seen in roughly 14 years (thank you Avery!). I'm looking forward to it, but it's really only a stop along the way, for on Sunday morning I'll head back to JFK to meet with my Birthright group before flying El Al Israel Airlines to Tel Aviv. Here is my itinerary for the Birthright trip! As you can see, it'll be action-packed and totally awesome. There is a typo for the date the trip ends, though, and I'm really not sure yet what the correct date is.

While on the Birthright program, I may not be able to use my computer, though it will be with me, because they are officially discouraged due to the exciting schedule we will be keeping. Updates to this blog may be sparse during that time.

However, I'll be taking photos! Here's why it pays to have a neighbor and friend who is a professional photographer: I have secured the use of a really fantastic camera for the summer, and I couldn't be happier with it. Plus, it works with my other lens! It pays to be a Canon man. I'll be going to some seriously beautiful and photogenic places, and with my eye for moments and passion for photography I will be able to capture a lot of wonder with truly professional equipment. I'm thrilled! Thank you, Rich!

After the ten-day Birthright extravaganza, I'm going to stay in a hostel in Tel Aviv for one night (possibly two, depending on the day the Birthright program ends) and then head over to...


That's right, I'll be in St. Petersburg, Russia, for eight weeks. (And on the way, I'll stop in Zurich for an hour! Woo, Switzerland!!) I've been studying Russian at Tufts for two years, and now I am finally going! This is the 8-week Bard-Smolny Summer Language Intensive, a program of Bard College and Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет. I'll be living with a host family (no, I don't even know who they are yet!) in St. Petersburg, commuting to intensive Russian class every morning, partipating in Russian Table conversations at lunch, rehearsing for the Russian theatre or choir project in the afternoons, and exploring the city with events and cultural excursions.

It's going to be. Amazing.

Awesome photos of St. Petersburg.

More on Russia later--it is now 3:34am and I haven't quite finished packing. Hah. I'm not worried though; I've been staying up very late recently (and taking care of myself too! and working out!) so I don't mind sleeping on the plane tomorrow anyhow. But I'm grinning, because I've barely scratched the surface of what's in store for me.

Finally, I must thank everyone in my life who has made it possible for me to embark on such incredible experiences. I know that exploring the world, getting out, and adventuring are at the core of my soul. It's what I've always dreamed of doing, and now I've got the chance. Thank you to my parents, my family, my advisors of all sorts, my friends and acquaintances, and everyone who has been close to me. The world is all the more wonderful when it is shared with love.