Friday, June 28, 2013

The water closet is vehement.

It's past midnight here but I really must write because Laura and I just got home from one of our most memorable nights in Mexico City and probably ever.

We just dined with Jose "Pepe" Casis, our colleague from Centro Mario Molina, and Graciela Reyes Retana, his wife whom I happen to have met two years ago when I accompanied my dad to Mexico on a World Bank trip.


The couple was recently married, and both of these brilliant people are moving to Ithaca, NY shortly to commence their PhD program in Natural Resources at Cornell University, courtesy the Fulbright scholarships they both won in the same field at the same time.


As if this isn't incredible enough, these two are the most enjoyable people to be around imaginable. After a gloomy week of sickness and lack of productivity, I was falling out of my chair tonight because I literally could not stop laughing at Graciela's stories and Pepe's imitations. We all knew a lot about one another soon into the meal, and had developed inside jokes aplenty by the end of the night.

We feel like we've known them forever and I'm only sad that we spent this amazing time with them so late in our trip -- and envious that the three Cornell students now have an exclusive secret handshake and plans to meet up without me in Ithaca! As though I needed another, this will be a great reason to visit Laura at school next fall. 


Thank you, Graciela and Pepe, for a beautiful evening. You have us grinning still.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Markets and Miscellaneous Meandering

Today could not have been a more tiring or beautiful gym-tan-laundry day.

Laura and I rolled out of bed late after a night of birthday festivities and got to work on some matters of housekeeping: laundry, groceries, and fruit-iodizing (produce has to be soaked in water with iodine here in Mexico to compensate for the less-than-ideal water quality). With our things in the dryer, Laura and I headed down to the gym, where we inched our way through the most tiring workout we've done since being here (the effects of last night were clearly tangible).

We met at around 3pm with Louise; our amazingly kind, accomplished, and well-traveled French colleague; at Balderas Metro Station, having kept her waiting for over half an hour. Her patience was not in vain though, as while awaiting for us she found the grand open air library Biblioteca de México where we wandered on the way to Mercado Artesenal de la Ciudadela, a large market where Mexican handicrafts are sold.

We all searched for gifts for our families as rain started to pour, soaking the outfits Laura and I had chosen for today in optimistic anticipation of sunshine, and leaving my summer sandals slimy and slippery for the rest of the day.

All I ended up buying from the display of curios was a fresh bag of scrumptious sunflower seeds covered in a mystery confection that I could smell from feet away and could not resist.


Adequately drenched, we trudged our way through the street (which was basically one big puddle) toward Zócalo, the city center which we explored with Adriana last Saturday, stopping en route to dry off and enjoy some flavorful tacos at a nearby mall and refreshing coffee at Cielito Querido.


Once the rain had died down, we ventured up Calle Madero once more, then doing some more poking around the square, enjoying new views of different parts of the plaza through Louise's eyes.


We basically ambled around for the duration of the afternoon, talking about work and education and travel and love, and before we knew it, it was 8pm and our stomachs were grumpy! Laura and I elected to hail a cab rather than attempting to walk home, but not before Louise showed us one more special spot -- the Museo Franz Mayer, a museum displaying mainly "boring" furniture, but with a stunning and romantic exterior courtyard. We walked there a few minutes enjoying the onset of nighttime before flagging down a taxi.


Feeling like rags after an exhausting day, Laura and I slumped into Chedravi to buy the ingredients for tonight's dinner, a delightful butter chicken masterpiece which Laura cooked up as I washed the day away. We have now gorged ourselves on this brilliance, complete with rice and raita and a tiramisu dessert, and are utterly prepared for bed before another exciting day of exploring tomorrow.

Friday, June 21, 2013

No hay quinto malo.

Our “postre of the day” initiative got a bit out of hand today, as it is Laura’s birthday, and we have been doing nothing but celebrating since last night. After work yesterday, Laura checked out a nearby museum while I hit the gym, and then we both headed over to Isa’s place with Adriana for a night of rump-shaking and tiramisu-making. Isabel and Laura remained hard at work preparing Spanish cuisine while Adriana and I salsa-ed and meringue-ed to my favorite Latin American playlist (purveyed by the beautiful Colombiana Diana Morales). It was truly a lovely evening exchanging laughs, stories, and dance steps with some of the sweetest people I know.

Back home, I waited until midnight to present Laura with what I thought was a Kinder Sorpresa, her favorite type of chocolate which is readily available in Mexico and not elsewhere. But to my horror, I had purchased several of these little chocolate eggs with surprise toys inside, but by the wrong brand. My first attempt at a birthday present was a disgrace.

In the morning, I sprung out of bed in typical clumsy Ratna style and threw together a birthday breakfast of musical cake and decaffeinated espresso for my best friend before we set out for work, I still reeling from my chocolate mistake.

I led Laura, Isa, and Ari in our daily morning meditation, and then Dani taught Friday morning yoga -- what a way to start the day! And what an incredibly unique office community to be part of.

The day has been a rush of birthday wishes for Laura and editing emissions calculations for me. We just returned from a late lunch at Japanika, a nearby Japanese restaurant, which was so wonderfully enjoyable: we got to hear the life stories and philosophies of a few of our colleagues. One notable pair was the enviable Ricardo and Daniela, who told us about a trip they took to India and Thailand for a total of 8 months four years ago, traveling around India for 2 weeks before spending 2 months at an ashram (SO legit) and then touring around Thailand before they ran out of money and started working for 6 months as diving instructors, and leading tours to swim with sharks, jump from cliffs, and snorkel. If Laura and I thought our gap years were intense, these two are on a whole different level.

What followed was a conversation with several members of the table about loving one's work and figuring out ways to do what one wants in life, without fear of anything. If this is truly the philosophy of our colleagues at CMM, as it seems to be, then I can't think of a better group of people by whom to be surrounded.

Lunch ended with a lovely Spanish serenade for Laura, with Ari singing her own tune and our loving table erupting into laughs. Friday is the day when everyone in the office gathers round for dessert brought in by one person, but Laura and I are too stuffed to even consider going to the kitchen for our fifth dessert of the day right now.


We are so happy to be here, and even more excited for the office party tonight in La Roma, a swanky part of town...it’s time to continue the celebrations!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Things making me happy right now

1. Postre of the Day

Laura and I are determined to have tried every typical Mexican pastry from our local bakery by the end of our three-week trip. For this reason, we purchase one dessert a day to split and comment on -- but always with a pain au chocolat on reserve, just in case. Below, find our samples for today.


2. Meditation Mornings

It has been awesome to learn that a number of members of the office practice meditation and yoga -- one of our colleagues, Daniela, even teaches a yoga class! Ariadna and I have decided to do a 15-minute meditation sesh in the conference room when we come in each morning: today was our first day, and it was swell.


3. My Suitcase Surprise

Having clothes to wear again is just the cherry on top! I was more than prepared to be content with my one pair of office slacks and access to all of Laura's tops, but the arrival of my luggage has been like a birthday present: there are things that I don't remember packing and things that I would have been upset to remember I didn't have anymore, and it's all here. ¡Que alegría!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sitting, Waiting, Blogging

Laura and I sit listening to the sounds of the street at a Starbucks in “Polancito,” the posh office district near our apartment in Polanco. We’re waiting for our lovely colleague Isabel to join us before we all take a cab to work. My luggage finally came in last night, so I’m a happy camper in my favorite white lace shirt and turquoise Toms, and excited for my half day at the office today.


Our office’s culture is awesome. Centro Mario Molina has this air of progress, with people on the third and fourth floors working on literally ever issue related to sustainability imaginable -- from marine biology to nuclear energy to education for children.


We go in around 8 most days, and as people trickle into the office, they walk around and greet each of their colleagues with a kiss on the cheek and a “buenos dias,” quite a refreshing and affectionate deviation from the nods behind laptops I would expect to get at any other internship. The office space itself is very uplifting: plants and color fill the office of advanced technology and books on a range of awesome topics. It’s especially cool for me to walk around the office glancing at book titles, because every topic seems like something I would be interested in learning about, especially since so many have to do with sustainable cities. 


Every so often, a title like The Fountainhead will pop up, and I’ll grin at how much it goes with the air of the office (not in a capitalist way but in a continuous intellectual advancement way).


The office also has a cool tradition of desserts every Friday -- one which was very welcome to us last week, when it was Isabel’s turn and she made two trays of tiramisu for all of our colleagues. ¡Que delicioso!


CMM is full of some of the brightest minds in the city, it seems like, with many of our colleagues having just gotten Fulbright scholarships, and going abroad to study at Cornell and Harvard -- two of our favorite schools! It’s awesome to be surrounded by such strong minds and warm hearts, and we’re truly having a great internship experience thus far.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mariachi, Margaritas, Mesoamerican Mountains

I had mentioned half-jokingly that our night yesterday was going to be a rowdy one, but neither of us was prepared for the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the city shortly after midnight! A bewildered Laura and I ran down to the concierge and were arbitrarily assuaged by the security guard of our apartment complex. After our eventful night, Laura "coaxed" me back to our room, where we were thankful for some much-needed sleep.

We awoke today to freshly squeezed orange juice, and decided to take a girl power day trip to Teotihuacán, a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city, with our flat-mates Adriana and Erika.


First, the four of us climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, with audacious Laura scampering ahead as the rest crawled cautiously up the narrow and steep staircase to the top of the pyramid. Once we had arrived, we took a relaxing tan-and-photos break before descending (which was difficult!) and walking over to the Pyramid of the Moon.  Adriana, Laura, and I climbed this one, which we were allowed to ascend only halfway before returning. The weather was ideal for our adventure, and had our cheeks flushed and skin glowing. 

Back at the bottom, I took a break to buy some "indigenous swag" (as Priya and I like to call it) and a pair of turquoise earrings that are the definition of my favorite color (I'm treating myself since my luggage is still floating around somewhere in San Antonio). As it started to rain, we piled back in the car, happy and exhausted, to return to the city. Adriana thought today would be a perfect day to sample a typical Mexican late lunch, so we headed to Villa María, a lively and lovely restaurant with tongue-in-cheek aphorisms painted on the walls, mariachi men serenading patrons, and enormous margaritas that are famous city-wide.

We ordered a sampler of typical Mexican dishes and chatted over the din of "La Vecina," which Adriana requested that the mariachi band play for our table. She urged me not to get carried away and join them, thinking that I know every mariachi song because of my guest performance with Harvard's mariachi band. It was difficult to resist, but luckily I was so tired from the day's hike that I could barely walk back to the car after our lunch. 

We've come home absolutely wiped out by the awesome activities of our day, and are planning to call it a night soon...perhaps after a brief Panda Express run. 

¡Viva la Mexico!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cajeta-Pouring and City-Exploring

Laura and I had lovely and LONG day today, starting last night with a sleepover with some of her best friends here in Mexico City, Brenda, Lorena, and Marianne. We enjoyed lots of yummy Mexican sweets and a movie which Laura and I slept through, and delicious pancakes with cajeta (like dulce de leche) this morning.


We returned to our apartment with plans to take the Turibus, Mexico City's double decker tour bus, around the city with Adriana.


After stops at Auditorio Nacional, Museo de Arte Moderno, and Monumento de la Independencia, we took a coffee break at Centro Comercial Reforma 222 for a cafecito con cajeta at Cielito Querido, Mexico's proud response to the popularity of Starbucks.


Recharged with caffeine, we caught the bus again to Zócalo, the heart of the historic center of the city. We knew we were approaching by the beautiful sunset-colored dome of the Museo de Bellas Artes.


We disembarked here and strolled around the square and down Madero Street before Adriana and I decided to climb the bell tower of the Catedral Metropolitana for a new view of the square.


We hopped back on the bus around 8:00 and headed back home, bidding the Ángel de la Independencia goodbye on our way to Polanco. I write this post as Laura giggles over the curious culinary creation she's preparing in the kitchen.


I'm doing my best to keep my spirits up after spending more than I would have liked on some questionable clothing from a nearby supermarket to replace my luggage which is most likely lost. :( Looks like dinner is ready! I'm looking forward to enjoying a rowdy Saturday night with my best girl. :)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Made it to Mexico!

Laura and I are having a blast at our first day of work today, after a tiring whirlwind of re-routed flights, lost luggage, and unauthentic tacos that made our arrival in Mexico yesterday quite eventful. After we finally landed in D.F. last night, we were greeted by the beautiful smiling face of Brenda Obando, one of Laura’s best friends about whom I’ve heard so much and whom it was so awesome to finally meet. 

Her family met us at the airport and escorted us to our apartment in Polanco, a gorgeous new residential complex nestled amidst several swanky malls and a welcoming supermarket. After meeting Adriana, the owner of our apartment, Superama was the first place we went, filling our new fridge with yogurt and mango juice and lots of guacamole.

Then, Adriana gave us a tour of the stunning facilities of our building -- gym, pool, hot tub, bike path -- before we took hot showers and settled in for the night.

We woke this morning at the crack of 6:30, did shots of espresso, and hopped in a cab to meet Isabel, our colleague with whom we’ll be commuting during our time in Mexico. She guided us to Centro Mario Molina, the non-profit think tank where Laura and I will be working on projects related to urban sustainability (my favorite thing in the world) for the next few weeks. 

Isabel introduced us to Ari and Ricardo, who are to be Laura’s and my respective supervisors at CMM, where Laura the engineer is working on the development of a Sustainability Index to be used for housing projects across the country while I am helping to review a Life Cycle Assessment of various commercial buildings in the city. Ricardo then introduced me to Angel, with whom I’ll be working closely on the project, and I dove right into the 151-page Spanish document I’ll be giving all my attention this month. The report is unique in that it looks at the emissions related to the entire "lifespan" of a building, from extraction and transport of materials to its actual construction and use, to demolition.

Well, almost all my attention. Too much intake of caffeine and not enough intake of food soon led to two distracted and hungry interns, who appealed to Ari to show us around the cafes in our beautiful office complex. Oh, by the way, this is the view from our office kitchen.


We strolled around this part of town for awhile before settling for a cafe just beneath our office, where Laura and I ordered some tortas to go before returning to work. I then set out to call the airport and implore them for my suitcase, which hopefully will be arriving soon (wearing yoga pants and sneakers to my first day of work was a tad bit embarrassing -- good thing it's a Friday).

Laura and I are looking forward to celebrating Ari's recent Fulbright scholarship over a second lunch outing, finishing up our day at work, and then going over to Brenda's place for the evening before a weekend packed with Mexico City sightseeing!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Talkin' bout my sis

Priya has the craziest, nerdiest, awesomest plans for this summer, and I just needed a venue to gush about it, so naturally I chose my blog. Check out what this rising sophomore is doing before school starts!

June 17th to June 28th: Rowing Camp

This introductory class is designed for youth ages 13-16 who are interested in getting a start with the sport of rowing. The two week class will introduce basic boat-handling and technical skills, and teach new rowers the basics of the sport.

July 7th to July 10th: Young Democrats of America High School Leadership Academy

This unique four-day summer camp will focus on developing the next generation of Democratic Party leaders. Students will participate in leadership workshops and policy panels and will be introduced to the nation’s top Democratic elected officials and Party leaders. YDA will provide an inside view of elections, the media, campaign finance, grassroots organizing, interest groups, the legislative process and careers in politics.

July 11th to 19th: Castra Latina

This is an intense two-week program to prepare students from across Virginia for competing in the annual National Junior Classical League Convention.

July 20th to 28th: National Junior Classical League Convention

The NJCL convention is held yearly on a college campus and open to Latin students who have completed at least the 7th grade. It is a time to exchange ideas, hear noted speakers, participate in workshops, compete in academic, graphic arts, and creative arts contests and to meet JCL students from the United States and Canada. The 2013 NJCL convention will be held at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

July 29th to August 3rd: The Penn Band High School Summer Band Camp

We expose high school instrumentalists to music and mirth on our historic college campus. We perform a diverse repertoire of challenging and gratifying band music. Our program includes guest lectures on topics in student leadership, group-building, and conducting.  Most importantly, we provide a fun and rewarding experience that the students will always remember. The staff of this camp is comprised of the students and staff of the University of Pennsylvania Band.

Saturdays june 29th to August 31st: Growth and Inspiration Through Volunteering and Education

Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education (GIVE), is a community organization founded and run by high school students. GIVE was inspired by the need for civic engagement and the desire to improve our local community. We seek to invest in the next generation, by striving to provide opportunities to those who seek them in the fields of education, empowerment, and leadership. We especially emphasize the importance of learning and promote an enthusiastic attitude towards it. The mission of GIVE (Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education) is to promote the leadership of youth through projects that will improve the quality of life in their communities.

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I can't imagine surviving so varied and hectic a summer, and am so proud of my little sis for being so involved in athletics, activism, academics, arts, and altruism!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Workbody

They seem like a pain in the throes of the semester, but it's quite enjoyable to read over them later on -- final papers. I mentioned as I sent up my flare in the middle of second semester woods that I'd be producing work in some areas that mean a lot to me personally and as a scholar, and it's been a rewarding experience to receive feedback on the assignments after the fact and make some edits to them this summer. And so here they are, attached for your optional perusal:

Link to a paper on the influence of Vipassana on mindfulness meditation for Indian Philosophy


Link to a paper on the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River for Environmental Policy


Link to a paper on the female voice in Ovid's Heroides 7 for Latin Elegy


I wish I had a video of our presentation on integration by parts for Calculus, but suffice it to say that Javier and I executed a smooth and fun lesson in our matching teacher outfits.


End-of-semester assignments are my favorite, and I can't wait to publish some more research-based work next semester -- or maybe even over the summer!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Another Boston Highlight: Matthew and Jonathan

I would be remiss not to write about a magical experience that I had three times this year, one that I hope will become a permanent feature of my college experience. Javier invited me one day to have dinner with his Harvard host family, a lovely couple named Matthew and Jonathan who live in a beautiful historic house in the South End in Boston. I gratefully agreed, and we both left that first night feeling bowled over and rejuvenated.

Dinners with "the dads" go like this: Matthew picks us up around 7 outside Sever Hall, we fill him in on all shows we're in and the exams we're studying for and the romances we're fumbling with, and he responds wittily, making literary references aplenty. About midway through the drive, he gives Jonathan a call to let him know we're on our way (this is probably when Jonathan starts cooking). We arrive on their Victorian-style street and gape at the architecture and then climb the stairs to their home in awe. We are greeted by Jonathan and Maggie (their poodle) and offered wine, which we look at incredulously at as we take in our surroundings.

Their house is a work of art. Colors are everywhere and artwork covers the walls. There is something to look at in every corner, and the place is decorated with so much love. I've remarked before that I feel at Matthew's and Jonathan's house as though I'm acting in a fast-paced, clever one-act play. This modern artistic setting certainly encourages me.

After wine and cheese, we are invited to the table for dinner, more conversation, and dessert, all of which are invariably extraordinary.

On my first visit with Javier, we met Gloria, Matthew's mother who is around 80 and lives alone in New York, stopping by Boston for a visit that week. We got to hear how she picked her major and had a penchant for being illustrated as a mermaid in her youth.

I still remember the moment when we got into the cab after dinner and just looked at one another in astonishment, jaws dropped, unable to comprehend what a magical evening it had been. As our taxi pulled to the side of the Charles River opposite Harvard, we admired the array of houses on the river all afresh, took in the feeling and the color of that moment and hoped that we could live a future as vivacious and fun as that of our hosts when we grow up.

On my second visit, I got to meet Hannah Firestone, Javier's close friend from dance, who was taking a class in typesetting at Harvard and wants to be a midwife.

And on our third and final visit of the year to our host family, we invited Reylon along! It was very special to share with him the enchantment of this experience we had raved about to him, and the night was incredible as expected.

We were lucky enough on that last visit to get to hear the story of how Matthew and Jonathan met and were married, a heartening one for fairytale fans, romantic cynics, and confused youth alike.

On the way home, we three discussed how we wished we could have retired to the living room after our meal and talked for hours more.


Their sharp yet easygoing manner makes us feel as though we have known Matthew and Jonathan for years, and can tell them anything.


We leave their beautiful home and company begrudgingly at the end of each evening, eagerly awaiting our next meeting. I do the same now, and look forward to continuing to share my art and heart with my Boston dads over the next three years of college and beyond.