How to discretely eat cookies without Europeans noticing and other lessons learnt in Rome
Every time I find myself setting foot on European soil I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the world has to offer that could ever compete against a good European city. If you grow up in a great city like Istanbul, Paris, Berlin, or London you can’t help but be a little bit more aware of history, culture and art because whether you like it or not, it’s all around you. You would have to walk around blindfolded with earplugs in to avoid gaining any cultural insights.
Rome is no different. We stepped out of the airport and were immediately enveloped by that seductive melange of cigarette smoke, perfume and a general air of reverie. People were a little taller, a little better looking, and a lot better groomed than in the chaotic city of Delhi we had just left behind.
How do I describe a typical Italian household to a complete outsider? Chaotic and charming. I arrived at my host, Isabella’s apartment with considerable effort, dragging my suitcases down a cobblestone street which had definitely seen better days. I was given a room of matchbox dimensions near the entrance of house. It was of course the only room with heating and they had of course given it to me to use. I was introduced to her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and her older brother-all skinny ad nauseum for people who eat gnocchi with parmesan and butter for dinner. Dinner is a family affair, no one starts eating till every family member is squeezed into the tiny table somehow wedged into the kitchen talking loudly, shaving parmesan and complimenting the beaming mother on her excellent cooking.
Most of what I was saying was lost in translation, but between my poor Italian and their far superior English we managed to get by. The way they served food reminded me of the way my grandmother in India insisted I eat until absolutely stuffed. Dessert came in various sections consisting of a ripe pear, various chocolates, and ricotta dusted in sugar. It was to put it lightly, one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.
The first day of our Model United Nations conference was major culture shock to all of us. Here we were, recently dispatched from a school that was having a convention on the evils of parties, and now we found ourselves at a school with an in built bar, where ninety percent of all students smoked on campus with their teachers. Oh the students at this Italian public school, what kind of genetics did their parents have? Self-esteems were dropped and infatuations began. All those stereotypes about Italians being unfairly good-looking? All unfortunately, completely true. The first day was hectic. Unlike the academically rigorous conferences I’d been to in Asia this one was mainly composed of coffee breaks as opposed to real debate. Delegates were kissing in the back rows, and others were hand rolling cigarettes out of their resolution papers, while girls talked feverishly about last night’s party.
The conference dragged on and seemed to take up time we could have spent exploring the city. Plagued by constant hunger my friend informed me that he has brought along sustenance for the long day. “Chips Ahoy Cookies?” I whispered shocked. At most schools, cookies are seen as acceptable and cigarettes are taboo. In Italy, the opposite is true. We sat laughing suspiciously as we subtly lifted individual cookies from his bag and shoved them into our mouths lest the sophisticated Europeans see our uncouth American cookies.
What became painfully obvious during the duration of the trip were those who understood what it meant to travel in Italy, and those who did not. By the end there were two camps. Those who wanted to wander the bylanes in search of quaint restaurants and stores and those who wanted to stay on the main road and eat at Burger King. The nicest night we had was most definitely the one in which the first party ditched the second in search of the ever elusive “Evening in Roma”. And what an evening it was. We took two bus’s and a tram to get to the center of town, right near the Vitorio Emmanuel and found our way to a small family run Italian restaurant with checkered red and white table cloths and a menu to die for. Roman style artichokes, pasta carbonara, prosciutto mozzarella and bolognaise were all consumed readily. Upon exiting the restaurant we wandered around the city bathed in the yellow of the streetlights finding ourselves alone in grand palazzos and hidden gardens, running screaming down flights of stairs and singing loudly to our favourite songs. On a quiet cobblestone street we wrote our names in a gelato store, giddy from excessive nociolla and tiramisu gelato, nauseous from too much limone and fragola sorbet. We found our way to the Piazza de Spagna, stopping to ask for directions but not really caring which abandoned alleyway we stumbled into, because each was more charming than the next. Waltzing our way through the Piazza de Spagna as the sky washed over in an unfathomable rich dark blue, we ran to the top of the stairs at the Piazza de Spagna, making comparisons to Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday’. Sitting at the top of the stairs near the Obelisk, you can see the entire city, simmering in its glory under blinking yellow lights.
There is a particular moment in Rome that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I don’t know whether I should even attempt to describe it here, because as I told my friends on that very night “how can we ever make people understand what it feels like to be here at this very moment”. We tried taking pictures but gave up. I’m going to try and describe it and may give up as well. Standing in an abandoned palace above the city streets, the palace made of crème colored marble, the lights warm and friendly. You could hear your voice echoing, you could hear the running water in the fountain. There was a solitary feeling to being alone with just two others in a grand monument but also an inescapable feeling of being a part of something larger, Rome, Italy, the human race. Below, the entire city sprawled out before you like an endless breakfast buffet. How can I describe what it felt like to be alive and breathing at the very moment of insanity where my friend grinned and suggested “let’s run down the stairs”. The three of us took off running down the huge slabs of marble stairs from our palace of dreams hurtling down to the city and its whizzing cars, faster and faster and faster. How can I convey what it felt like to for a split second to feel not like a 16 year old defined only by her GPA and SAT score but rather a human being who would spend a lifetime being filled like a cup with experiences just like these. I reached the bottom of the stairs laughing and hurling over with exhaustion, and saw my two friends waiting for me. With grins on their faces they looked at me and said, “We feel infinite”.
Sometime I Wake Up Sassy
- Friend: Urgh so I was reading an article, and apparently humans can breed with monkeys. Did you know that?
- Me: Actually I did, have you seen the people at our school?
Tom Ford…what are you doing? Tom Ford…stahhp
Am I the only one who saw Tom Ford’s ready to wear collection for 2013 and couldn’t wait to see Cathy Horyn or Suzy Menkes rip it apart in their next critique. I love Tom Ford, I idolize him all out of proportion. He’s well spoken, charming, intelligent, and a complete visionary.
But this vision seems to have gone astray. I know he and his husband Jeff Buckley have just adopted a child, and I know that he’s probably been distracted lately. But that is NO EXCUSE for the atrocities he let wander down the runway this season.
Perhaps he was trying to break out of his usual sharp, dramatically chic pieces, but this collection is all over the place. A hot mess, and not in a dSquared2 or Vivienne Westwood kind of way.
When did it become okay to dress like a Russian gold-digger. Why did no one send me a memo.
Again, the 80’s called and they want their fabric back. Yes even the fuzzy hot pink fabric. Also the pale pink shiny fabric. And yes the hot pink latex material as well.
Let’s Talk About Stereotypes!
In what is beginning to look like something your school counsellor lectured you about once, let me just say that…
- I’m so sorry I haven’t posted in forever, I promise I’ll come back to posting more regularly. Junior year is killing me.
- This is going to be more rant than school counsellor
So I have this one teacher at school who everyone loves. He’s charming, and well spoken and has a sharp sense of humour. But I can’t shake the feeling that the minute I enter his class he immediately tries to put me (and everyone else) into a box.
No not physical brown boxes (hello psychopath), but metaphorical stereotype boxes. He bases all of his assumptions on people’s nationalities, their interests, their classes, their friends and their clothes.
Yes I’m Indian, but that does not mean that me and every Indian in the class come from the exact same background and have the exact same overbearing parents who spoon feed us butter-chicken and naan for dinner while they try to arrange our marriages inbetween ensuring we all go off to Ivy League’s to become doctors.
Which got me thinking about people in general. People, especially teenagers, LOVE boxes. Think about it, if you can’t box someone into a certain category then they become unpredictable and unexpected. And no one likes the unknown. I understand. Sometimes it get’s tiring, and you almost want to give in to your stereotype. Because it’s tiring to stay authentic.
But surprise! That’s what human beings are. Multi-faceted, flawed and complicated. Yes I’ve met people who play into their stereotypes but there’s always something different about them. If you don’t write them off as irrelevant and understood, they will rise to the occasion and surprise you.
Labels, are for designers, not for people.
Third Class Citizens: The War On Women
I’ve often said that it’s impossible to live in India and not automatically be a feminist. But time and time again, I’ve come across people who are the living embodiment of misogyny, whether they mean physical harm or not. Recently, the city I live in, Delhi, one of the rape capitals of the world has been shook up by the recent gang rape of a 23 year old girl on a moving bus, leaving the girl incredibly injured and resulting in her death. Thousands of people gathered in Rajthrapathi Bhavan outside the prime minister’s residence to protest and hold vigil for the girl. For the first time, the news of this type of atrocity has reached the global news, and all eyes are on India to see what it will do. For whatever reason, this was the rape case that pushed Delhi over the edge that got people angry. Maybe because of the senseless violence that went along with it.
Naturally, I’m glad that it’s getting so much media attention, and that people are outraged. But this is not some freak case to be held in isolation, to get worked up about and then forget. This is the result of a culture of misogyny, deeply embedded into the attitudes of Indian men and women alike. When it’s a question of changing people’s mind-sets, it is necessary to start with everything and anything. A policy of complete resistance to everything that is wrong with the belief that women are inferior to men. If a boy grows up constantly pampered by his parents, treated better than his sister, seeing his mother as complacent and docile towards a masochistic father, then he grows up with a low regard for women. When he goes to the cinema to see a movie, he sees his familiar world. A Bollywood hero sees a girl he likes and follows her around town for a while (some would call this stalking). He sings to her on the street, dances impeccably with a band of backup dancers who appear out of nowhere and gets as close as possible to her without actually touching her (harassment anyone?). The girl will start off annoyed. She doesn’t want the attention, nor is she interested in the boy. But by the end of the song she caves, and lets him serenade her. So you see, if a girl says she’s not interested, she doesn’t really mean it. When a woman says no, she means yes.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and they began to say that “It’s not just about women, it’s about poverty. Hopefully this case will help all the people who the government is neglecting”. Except for no, sorry about that, you’re wrong bye thanks for the input, try again next time. For the amount of problems that females in India face, there is a very small amount in response. This rape case is evidence of the war on India’s women and we must acknowledge it as such. To skirt around the issue and say it’s about “everyone who has been downtrodden” is like sweeping it under the rug, refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
And yes, there are things that we as Indians should start being more open about, there are some elephants in the room. Like for example sex. It happens. It’s a thing. Procreation, coitus, intercourse, reproduction. Delhi is a city where young couples have to bribe police officers to allow them to hold hands in public. Hand holding as we all know from health class, is how babies are made. Yet, harassing women on the streets and worse is perfectly acceptable with a large number of Delhi’s police. In a similar light, take Bollywood movies. During the dance sequence, referred to as “item numbers” you have a nearly naked woman gyrating while a whole group of men move themselves as close to her hips as possible without being knocked out. On the other hand kissing was only recently allowed in Bollywood movies and is still the subject of much debate. The lesson to be learnt here, is that healthy expression of love such as holding hands, kissing, consensual sex etc. is not okay. Because that involves two people acting as equals, and that, as we all know, is how global warming happens. When a display involves a man as a predator and a woman as an object, it’s perfectly fine.
But when all is said and done, it’s refreshing to see such an outpour of emotions over a rape case that unfortunately is quite commonplace in India. It’s also nice to see that a large part of the protesters are women who are angry, and are demanding change. Well…ummm, of course, that’s obvious. No it isn’t. India’s first cultural revolution was started by men and executed by men. The reason sati was abolished, the reason widow remarriage was allowed, the reason there’s an age restriction for women to marry at is because a group of enlightened men stood up and opposed it. Where are the women? Where is India’s wave of feminism? Where was the Indian suffragette movement? Where are the angry women who are tired of being third class citizens (yes the cows are the second class citizens) in a country where all are supposedly equal?
Another exam week is over. I sit and look back on this semester of school with a good dose of hindsight and perspective and it suddenly looks less bleak than it felt. For one fateful week we all work ourselves into a frenzy of bad diets, bad sleeping schedules and cramming facts and figures into our brains in hopes of maintaining or raising our GPA’s. The older I get, the faster the years seem to go by, and the IB does nothing to help. Sleepless night melts into the next, and you find yourself lurching from one mental breakdown to the next.
This is supposedly the most important year of your life, academically. If you do badly on one test you will live the rest of your life in a box while your classmates will have their pick of the Ivy League…or so we’re told. This is what is supposed to drive us, to motivate us, to foster a love of learning. What it really does is perpetuate a cycle of students who do what they do for external recognition. I wish I could say that the most accomplished students in my class work hard or take on challenging extracurriculars because they’re striving for excellence and are truly passionate about it. Rather it’s that they’ve had it pounded into their heads repeatedly that “YOU MUST GET INTO A GOOD COLLEGE” or maybe it’s because they aren’t allowed to go to Saturday’s party if they don’t get an A in Spanish.
Having recently watched the impeccable movie ‘The Dead Poet’s Society’ I’m beginning to wonder how much of my own actions are influenced by what I think I should be doing as opposed to what I want to do. But perhaps one of the most profoundly undervalued quotes from the movie is when the principle tells the liberal teacher, “You take a big risk by encouraging them to be artists John. When they realize they’re not Rembrandt’s, Shakespeare’s or Mozart’s, they’ll hate you for it.”
Idealistic notions of youth aside, what if we’re not Rembrandt’s, Shakespeare’s or Mozart’s? What if we’re never going to change the world or live an authentic life on our own terms? What if somewhere along the line, somewhere as early as high school, we give in to the inevitability of conformity?
When someone asks you to stop, do you ever wonder if its ‘in the name of love’ or if it’s because you’re tresspassing into ‘Hammer Time’, or if its because you need to consequently ‘drop and roll’?
- Friend's Mom: Look honey we can fit 18 cupcakes into the container to share with your friends!
- Friend: Mom I don't have that many friends...
Incredibly Late Post: Fashion’s Night Out
It’s embarassing to say how long these photos have been sitting in my computor’s hard drive for (since September), but I was clearing through some old files the other day when I realized, Fashions Night Out! That happened!
After much deliberation, the outfit I decided on was a grey skirt from Helmut Lang, black sheer and velvet striped top from Alexander Wang, earrings from Daniijo and black suede heels.
We started off the night at Diesel (pictured above) where they had the most amazing blue mocktails and cupcakes, and then moved our way along to the newly opened Louboutin where the shoes were revolving on little pedestals.
My friend Johnny (there’s crazy flash in this picture, I promise he isn’t really albino) fell in love with a velvet jacket at Paul Smith so he decided to try on every one they had and then resolved to tailor his own. #india
FNO was in general fabulous. I look forward to it throughout the year as a time when people come together to celebrate great style and creativity (and wear glittery eyebrows like its nbd).