One last post from Brazil

ramblinginthecity:

So much talent! I’ve feasted on these sketches…do check out her other posts if you love them too!

Originally posted on Sketch Away: Travels with my sketchbook:

One last post from Brazil. This one’s a little bit of a hodge-podge. Remembered bits and pieces, single-image memories, one long, sketch-filled day in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio and well, more bits and pieces…

Coming to Rio after a week in quiet Paraty is like taking the 6 train to Canal Street and getting spat out of the subway into the madness that is Chinatown. Rio was chaotic, frenzied and disorienting. I loved it.

This is the Church of Our Lady of the Candelaria, Centro, Rio. Sketched barely an hour after we arrived in Rio. The wobbly-lined, slightly crazy looking church sketch reflects how it felt to be in the city center after a week in Paraty.
rio_centro_church23combineEven crazier (if that is possible) was the Confeiteria Colombo, a pastry and tea shop near Centro. Packed with people, with an intricately patterned tiled floor and over-the-top architectural detailing, a wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors and liveried waiters…

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Paying our respects to Sulis Minerva at Bath, England

The desire to go to Bath was wholly inspired by my one time fascination for Georgette Heyer’s Regency period romances, where the women often went to Bath to “take the waters” while their younger companions spent lots of time in the Pump  Room trying to meet eligible bachelors to get married to!_DSC8132

_DSC8139On the sunny day we drove in to Bath, however, my brain was processing information that our Evan Evans tour company guide Reese was furnishing us regarding the remarkable planning history of the city. The origins of the city of Bath go back to Roman times, though mesolithic activity in the area has also been documented. The Romans were fascinated by the natural spring that Bath is famous for and built an elaborate temple complex dedicated to the Goddess Sulis Minerva. For Nupur and me, visiting the site of this ancient temple was particularly relevant. Many of my friends would know that we co-owned an entrepreneurial venture called Minerva research and Media Services for about 6 years, eventually closing it down in 2011 to move on to other things. The ancient spa is now a beautiful museum that took us right back to the time of the gladiators and Roman priests. It was great fun imagining the fun that Romans probably had as they frolicked nude in those enormous subterranean bathing chambers that they built! An orgy as a prayer? Wouldn’t put it past those guys!

The open tank that takes in the spillover from the spring

The open tank that takes in the spillover from the spring

Nupur, enjoying the lovely sunshine at the Roman baths

Nupur, enjoying the lovely sunshine at the Roman baths

Some remains from the Roman temple to Sulis Minerva

Some remains from the Roman temple to Sulis Minerva

The model showing the Roman temple complex

The model showing the Roman temple complex

Bath went on to become a prominent English city in the medieval times but degenerated badly through the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1725, however, English architect John Wood drew up an ambitious restoration plan for his home town, aiming to take it back to its former glory. Owing to opposition, he built extensively outside the city walls using the distinctive and beautiful warm golden stone quarried from Combe Down and Bathampton Down mines not far from Bath. Wood also introduced speculative building in the city, leasing the land from landowners and plotting and subdividing it as per his vision. As an architect and urban planer, I found it interesting to see how one man’s vision transformed the city making it the centre piece of Georgian England and helping the city get the UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987 not just for its Roman Bath but also for this unified, planned layout that Wood created. John Wood’s work was carried on by his son.

The golden hues of Bath

The golden hues of Bath

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And the quaint little ice cream shops!

And the quaint little ice cream shops!

Bath continues to be exclusive, a sort of playground for the rich and an image of a red Ferrari parked in an impossibly small parking space is stuck in my head! Walking in Bath, we felt like we need a lot more time to take in its beauty. The city is littered with beautiful buildings, impossibly uniform facades and, in the summer, delightful ice cream shops! A friend mentioned its worthwhile checking into a spa at Bath and “taking the waters”. Hmm, not a bad idea if we could get half the fun out of it that the Romans seemed to have done!

What do London Underground stops taste like?

ramblinginthecity:

So many ways to experience a city, but this is the whackiest I’ve seen so far! #London

Originally posted on AC:

(By Ben Riley-Smith/DailyTelegraph) Man who can ‘taste’ words creates flavour map of the Tube after visiting every stop during 49-year project.

THUMBThe London Underground map has inspired a range of spin-offs over the years, with everything from musical icons to popular restaurants plotted along its interweaving lines.

But now a 54-year-old systems analyst from Blackpool has created the most bizarre version to date – a map that shows what each station tastes like.

James Wannerton tastes words when he reads or hears them thanks to a neurological condition called synaesthesia that links senses which are normally experienced separately.

He first noticed each Underground station created a distinct taste aged four when travelling to school with his mother from the family home near Willesden, north London.

Since then Mr Wannerton has continued to keep notes and make special trips to London after leaving the city to complete his “taste map” of…

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‘Meeting’ the Magna Carta at Salisbury #democracy #rights #justice

We swung by Salisbury on our way from Stonehenge to Bath. Walking towards the cathedral, built in the 13th century, I immediately recalled Ken Follet’s ‘Pillars of the Earth’, one of the most enjoyable books I have read about the construction of the first Gothic cathedral in England, set in a fictitious place called Kingsbridge. The author admits himself in an interview that the fictional cathedral he recreates in his book resembled Salisbury closely.

Gothic construction was a new technology in those times and the ability to create tall soaring structure that appeared light instead of the squat, heavy stone buildings they were used to certainly changed the experience of visiting the church drastically. Though I’m sure the Gothic cathedrals in Amiens and Lyon are more impressive, I really liked Salisbury, with its faux cloister and Catholic-turned-Church of England interiors.

But what was really fun about visiting the cathedral was ‘meeting’ the Magna Carta or The Great Charter, which is a document signed way back in 1215. Though the barons who protested the tyranny of King John did so to protect their own property and rights, two tenets from the document became the founding principles for democracy and common law in England, and consequently the world over.Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)

Consider these two tenets, keeping in mind the context of feudalism at the time they were written:

39. No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

40. To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.

For the first time, the king was no longer above the law. For the first time, the common man was entitled to justice. For the first time, the King (or Queen, as I remember Alice in Wonderland) could not scream “Off with his head!” and expect someone to carry that order out. It really hit me as I stared at the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta, that many before us have fought hard for the rights we take for granted today!

And yet, so many continue to be unaware of their rights and in many countries, oppressive dictators continue to deny people basic rights and freedoms. That history not only is cyclical but also that different geographies experience their own cycles of oppression and freedom, making the world a hard place to understand.

I focused on the Magna Carta’s simplicity and directness and willed myself to absorb the meaning of those words. Not just in terms of being a citizen of my country but also in how I judge myself and those around me.

The tall Gothic spire of Salisbury

The tall Gothic spire of Salisbury. Tall, slender, pointed arches are distinctive of the period. The arches transferred the weight of the structure to the ground without the need for massive base structures. A lighter looking structure was possible and the eyes traveled upwards in a gesture of praise and submission to God above!

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Reflection of the stained glass windows in the baptismal font

Reflection of the stained glass windows in the waters of the baptismal font

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Be careful what you advertise #BJP #Haryana #Assemblypolls #land #realestate

Poll season is about the strangest of radio ads. While driving to work this morning, I was surprised to hear a BJP ad for the Haryana Assembly elections that directly addressed the issue of State-sponsored land grab by developers. In the ad, a Haryanvi farmer talks about how the government has used the ruse of wrongly declaring fertile lands to be infertile to hand land over to developers, thus disenfranchising farmers and leaving them out of the development process. Another ad in the same campaign talks about the challenges farmers face to access water for irrigation. Clearly, BJP is aggressively wooing the rural voter in Haryana. Which is all well and good.

800px-Green_farms_of_Jats_in_HaryanaWhat intrigues me is the implication that the BJP, if elected, will NOT develop agricultural land if it is fertile! Is that even possible for a State that seems to have put most of its eggs into the urbanization basket over the past few years? Leveraging its border with Delhi seems to be an important objective for the State from its recent planning documents.

Of course, Haryana has had a Congress government and these policies could, in theory, change if a new government were to come to power. But, as a colleague cynically quipped, if the BJP were to rule then the land taken from the farmer might go to a Reliance instead of DLF, with nothing really changing for the farmer!

We see a general disillusionment with agriculture across India and a decline of the farm sector, but in Haryana, farming is culturally ingrained. Land and farming are a very strong part of the identity of the Haryanvi people. I’m no expert, but perhaps the State has the opportunity to re-focus on the agri sector, for which it needs to think about compact, transit-oriented, well-planned cities instead of the sprawling, poorly conceived urban stretches we see when we drive around the State.

Learning kathak from the maestros: Struggle & satisfaction

I’ve only been learning kathak for some three years, a very small amount of time when I compare it to those who have been immersed in the dance form throughout their lives. As my guru Jayashree Acharya tells us, this is a journey of constant, lifelong learning. Once you embark on it, it has to be with an attitude of submission and determination.

There are also times in your learning when you are asked to make a leap of faith, as we were this past weekend when Deepak Maharajji, eminent kathak exponent and son of the illustrious Birju Maharajji, spent some time with us in workshop mode. I’ve watched him perform at various points in time and have always been struck by his energetic style, an interpretation of his guru’s taleem (broadly, teachings, but far more..). He is a very masculine dancer, but watching him up close helped me appreciate other aspects of his dance, notably abhinaya (experession) and his effortless relationship with sur and taal (melody and rhythm).

Deepak Maharajji during the lecture demonstration that he concluded the workshop with

Deepak Maharajji during the lecture demonstration that he concluded the workshop with

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_DSC8622Before getting onto the floor myself, I watched Deepakji teach young children (among them my little one Aadyaa), who were completely engrossed in what he was saying and demonstrating to them. It was wonderful to see them pick up little nuances, one imitated the flick of his wrist, another copied the guru’s stance for the sam! When I was in the workshop, however, I found myself struggling quite a bit. One part of my brain was trying to understand the sequence and details, another was recognizing patterns to imitate. I remember thinking about how much more instinctive younger students were while they learnt and I willed myself to dance by instinct, let myself go and, at the guru’s instance, simply enjoy the experience! For the entire hour we learnt from him, I was ecstatically happy.

Teaching the young children. Notice how he is the centre and they are all around him, absorbed completely in the act of learning

Teaching the young children. Notice how he is the centre and they are all around him, absorbed completely in the act of learning

The energy in his movements was something the children caught onto, I noticed

The energy in his movements was something the children caught onto, I noticed

Performing the pieces they learnt

Performing the pieces they learnt

Jayashreeji and Barunji help the children interpret and revise the pieces

Jayashreeji and Barunji help the children interpret and revise the pieces

Our lot, enjoying the struggle!

Our lot, enjoying the struggle!

_DSC8531Perhaps I can recall only snatches of what we were taught. Those students who had learnt for longer and those who had better grasp of kathak, would be able to reproduce more of course. What I did take away was an enhanced involvement with kathak as an art form, a deeper sense of understanding, a certain attitude and the importance of linking movements with a narrative, a story. And a feeling of being blessed with a higher, almost sacred knowledge.

I saw the face of my guru Jayashreeji’s light up many times through the day, delighting in the moments of joy created by, not just the dance, but the interactions of artistic minds. I’m nowhere in that league, but I was privileged to observe and participate in such an atmosphere of unbridled creativity. For that chance, I have to thank my guru and my destiny….I can only hope this experience seeps into the way I dance! Let us see…

London as a #primate city: Some interesting opinions

Isn’t it funny that when you’re experiencing something, it seems like you see a whole lot of the same around you? When you’re pregnant, you tend to notice other pregnant women. When someone you know has a road accident, suddenly everyone seems to have had one!

Having thoroughly enjoyed the sights and sounds of London, I seem to find my virtual world filled with information about the city. I found it very interesting that, while cities like Bangkok and Jakarta are constantly criticized for their absolute primacy (primate cities are those that dominate a country, capturing most of its population and economic activity: Mark Jefferson, 1939) in the the context of their national economies, London is rarely seen in that negative way. Of course, it is a more international cosmopolitan city, one that a Londoner acquaintance pompously touted as “the most wonderful in the world”!

_DSC7690But its also true that about 7 million people live in London while the nation’s second city Birmingham has only about a million people. UK Think tank Centre for Cities finds that London has created 10 times more private sector jobs than any other city since 2010, and that nearly 1/3rd of young people (aged 22-30) who changed cities in the UK moved to London. Real estate prices in London are through the roof and affordable housing a serious crisis; plus, the poor are being pushed further out while the inner city is more and more gentrified. Many of my Londoner friends work in real estate, housing and architecture and I heard this from them as well as at the RGS IBG conference I attended.

Centre for Cities is claiming that London’s domination is because other cities are not performing well enough and it asks for more power to be devolved to smaller cities. On the other hand, a survey of non-Londoners shows that they believe that the capital gets a much better deal than the rest of the country. Not hard to believe when you see the cranes and construction equipment that dot the city skyline working on many big ticket buildings and redevelopment projects!

This sort of situation has other interesting consequences. I read somewhere that one in five Londoners are in favour of London becoming a city-state! An unlikely possibility, but the sentiment says a lot about how London’s identity is distinct.

Clearly, policymakers need to think hard about balancing growth among cities within a country to create wider access to job opportunities and for a more equitable distribution of resources and yet, there is something to be said for the sheer energy created by a concentrated wealth of resources and capabilities.

Here in India too, policy has been hugely tilted towards metropolitan areas and attempts to support smaller cities have not met with much success, for various reasons. Beyond the constant refrain of smart cities that we hear from the present government (it’s like a broken record, stuck!), I really hope there is some thinking in place for how to revitalize cities of various sizes and on how to empower State governments to put their urban agendas in place.

 

Postcard From… Berlin

ramblinginthecity:

Good to be a part of Emily’s lovely blog again!

Originally posted on Emily Luxton Travel Blog:

Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please get in touch – eluxton@hotmail.co.uk or @em_luxton – I would love to hear from you!

This week, I’m welcoming back Mukta Naik, whose Postcard From Istanbul is still one of my most popular ones to date! An architect and urban Postcard From Berlinplanner based in India, Mukta says “I work to rid cities of problems (ha! Wishful thinking!)”. She also spends a lot of time blogging at Rambling in the City, passionately pursuing classical dance, travelling and dreaming about travelling, and she has “two adorable children who motivate me and keep my on my toes”.

Welcome back Mukta! Where have you been lately?

We visited Berlin this summer, by ‘we’ I mean my husband Rahul, me and our two children- Udai is a…

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Notes from #RGSIBG14: Visual methods for research in the #socialsciences

A couple of weeks ago, I was attending the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society in London. It was a huge conference, with several parallel sessions and I could obviously attend only one at a time. Even so, I was exposed to multiple facets of geography and it was particularly interesting to see various research methods being used in the world of social science.

The use of visual methods for research is a particularly exciting field now and I noticed it was a recurrent theme in several sessions. Film and photography in particular are gaining ground as legitimate means to document how humans experience spaces and situations. Combined with interviews, focus groups and more traditional methods of qualitative research, they promise to take research a step ahead certainly.

I’d like to show you a glimpse of a piece of research presented by independent researcher Silvia Sitton, who is based in Modena, Italy. She set out to study the way Italians in London lived. Without visiting London herself, she did this through a system of self-reporting by participants using photographs of their home, living space and neighbourhood. Silvia supplemented the visual documentation with skype interviews to create profiles of Italian people in London city and understand their experiences. To me, as a researcher interested in migration and housing, her work appealed instantly. She had been able to capture how they felt about their adopted city, how they used space, their daily routines, their challenges and high points as well.

The website she built to house this information (screenshots below; to visit the site, click here here) is in Italian, but its stunningly simple and Silvia told me she would love to replicate this sort of research in other geographical contexts. The value of gathering data without the bias of the researcher is immense here, isn’t it?

Geographical location of respondents. These are clickable on the site, to reveal details

Geographical location of respondents. These are clickable on the site, to reveal details

Profiles of each respondent

Profiles of each respondent