Tag Archives: Travel Essay

The City and Suburbs: A Newfound Lesson in Happiness

My Suburban Sunset(www.southernaquaticsinc.com)
My Suburban Sunset

By Siddhi:

I referenced this in a post several months back when I wrote about Redberry, a local frozen yogurt store in my hometown that revitalized my dying belief in a suburban upbringing. For the longest time, the mundane, daily rides through farmland that over the course of a decade was displaced by endless neighborhoods of upper-middle class McMansions (at an astonishing and disillusioning pace) became an irrepressible itch in my veins. All I wanted to do was escape from my suburban confinement, an existence I perceived for the longest time as an unfortunate, strangling microcosm of a “grander” life. So when I decided to go to college in New York City, the golden gates of limitless adrenaline, fun, and all that the suburbs were not thrust themselves open and beckoned me with all the allure I could feel in my 17 year-old universe.

For the most part, what I expected of city life was right on. In stark contrast with my hometown experience, which was compromised primarily of quickly-tiring coffee shop visits and really long Barnes and Noble stints, there was never a shortage of things to do in one of the greatest metropolises on the planet. As a film student, the access I had to the independent art scene- which included precious museums sprinkled along the High Line, world cinema gems at little theaters like the IFC and Film Forum, and New York’s notorious street art culture- simply blew my mind and expectations on every imaginable level. The Great Apple was undoubtedly the most incredible gift for an explorer’s soul, one that never  did and never will stop giving. To walk the streets of New York is indeed to see life, every corner a living exhibit of an eternally metamorphosing culture and identity. From the streets of Greenwich Village that once made love to the beats and hippies to the wonders of Coney Island, Harlem, and Queens, what I saw in merely two years of city life transcended what I had seen in 17 years of suburban life.

But not what I had felt. The New York that fueled my mind and body was not the New York that fueled my heart.

I have always used boredom and unhappiness synonymously. When I’d sit on my couch in the suburbs with nothing to do, I allowed boredom to imply sadness, hollowness, and coldness when, in reality, none of those feelings were derived from my lack of things to do. But in the city, where there is no excuse to be bored, those feelings were more prominent then they’d ever been before. At first, I accepted the discrepancy as a product of loneliness in numbers, an oft-experienced city life sentiment. But with confusion, time and reflection as to why my heart wasn’t in sync with my mind in the “concrete jungle where dreams are made”, I slowly began to discover that the fatal flaw in my quest to city happiness was that it was anchored in dishonesty. I was trying so hard to shed the comfort I felt in my upbringing, the joy nurtured by my roots (despite their aforementioned shortcomings), that I was trying to replace a youth that made me who I am with a place and dream that, despite its seemingly idyllic facade, was too foreign to what really made me happy.

I will always have a billion more things to do in New York City than I will in the suburbs. But I will always have a billion more reasons to be happy in the suburbs and call it home. That’s because boredom doesn’t equate to unhappiness. Because adrenaline and flashing lights aren’t the only outlets to feed a soul that craves life. Community, on the other hand, truly is a fulfilling force.

It’s a realization that has been fermenting for the past two years, but only completely came into fruition recently, in the wake of the Newtown shooting tragedy that still haunts me deeply. The way that small town was able to mobilize in the face of tragedy, drawing love and comfort from a kind of nurturing community that is so inherent to a suburban upbringing, made my heart swell with pride from states away. Newtown’s solidarity in response to the senseless slaughter at Sandy Hook was a massive blow to my understanding of happiness. The elementary school teachers who wave to me years later at the grocery store, the coffee shop barista who knows my order by heart, the familiar faces who wave and smile even if we haven’t talked for years, the friends who gather at the same favorite spot for the same small-town adventures to reminisce about good old times…that’s community, that’s history, and that’s real happiness. At least for me. It’s a community that may have been forged by our boredom and internalization, but nevertheless one that warms the heart.

I saw New York City mobilize in the face of Hurricane Sandy as it has in other moments of unimaginable tragedy. It’s a city of fierce passion and commitment to its people, no doubt about it. But the aftermath of Newtown is what gave me the final piece to my unfinished puzzle of happiness. It showed me that real joy isn’t a result of what we do as much as who and what we are surrounded by. I can never speak ill of the suburban life again. Because the song of happiness has a harmony and melody, and wherever the latter takes us in our quest to fulfill our dreams, the former is what first lifts us into the air and gives us the grounding we need to soar.

The harmony of my suburban upbringing, I will never forget.

Falling Tears

By Siddhi: 

The following is an observation I made of a woman while sitting on a bench at Union Square in New York City this spring: 

A single tear falls from her eyelid and slides gently down her rosy cheek before making a delicate plunge through space into the blue of her cross-legged lap. She is a woman in her mid 20s- fair skinned with light brown hair and sporting a white denim jacket over her ankle-length navy dress –sitting on a lonely bench in a cold and crowded Union Square. In one hand is a cup of coffee and in the other a slice of iced lemon pound cake being maneuvered out of the light brown trademark Starbucks bag as it crunches in the icy wind. Her iPhone is snuggled uncomfortably between her shoulder and her emerald green earring and she shifts minutely every few moments to keep it place so she can sip her hot drink. But whatever is happening between her ear and the phone seems irrelevant to her at this moment in time, her responses to whoever is on the other end of the line consisting of strained “hmms” and forced giggles. She gazes out into space, her eyes lost some place far, far away like the eyes of the woman in American photojournalist Dorothea Lange’s iconic image “Migrant Mother.” There is mysterious sorrow in these eyes.  Every few moments, she blinks repeatedly, her lashes fluttering at rapid pace like a butterfly with broken wings struggling to rise into the air. Her eyes well up with tears of grief that paint pain and raw sorrow on a once pale face turned red by the biting cold. Teardrops force themselves out of her clutch of self-control, unable to be trapped by her two hands that are occupied with a Starbucks cup and the telephone. The beads of tears fall helplessly. At first, only a few. And then, more and more. She has let go of something that has been fighting inside her for too long. Yet, she clenches her teeth to prevent the escape of a sniffle, and forces another enthusiastic giggle into her telephone. Her pain is independent of the phone conversation; her tears are invisible to the mystery caller on the other end of the line. Tears, giggles, tears, giggles. Her lap now looks like it danced in the rain.

Watching La Traviata at La Scala – What an Experience!

La Scala in Milan

By Lakshmi:

La Scala Opera House, touted as the World’s Favorite Opera House is featured in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die.  And since it was my first trip to Milan that more importantly coincided with my birthday, my treat was going to be to get really good tickets to see an opera!

I called the day I landed and checked on ticket availability and prices, but since I was unsure of my work schedule, I did not commit immediately.

And then came the call from my boss.  He wanted to know what my plans were for the next few nights, since we might have to attend a company celebration.  My heart sank.  I desperately wanted one night to get out and watch an opera and now that was looking bleak.  He proceeded to tell me that the celebration was being held at La Scala and we had tickets to go see La Traviata.   Could I do it?  I jumped for joy and that lasted all of five minutes before I realized I did not pack a gown.

So, on the appointed day, as my colleagues marched into La Scala in their tuxedos and beautiful gowns, I came in a business suit.   Everyone looked so beautiful, almost ethereal.  While I had seen plenty of opera including The 3 tenors on TV, being part of the real thing was something else.

The theater was simply breathtaking and the production spectacular.  From the opening act where the courtesan Violetta Valéry greets her guests to her romance with Alfredo to their misunderstanding and ultimately Violetta’s death in her lover’s arms, I was transfixed.  I was following what was happening on the little monitor, but the understanding came from being in the moment.  As someone who is fairly naive about opera, I was surprised with the hold the music had over me.  I had seen plenty of broadway shows, but the production here was something else.  And I was with a group of Italians, avid opera lovers who were smiling and tearing up the entire time. I simply melded into their experience.

When the performance concluded, there was fervent chatter in Italian all around me, including veterans who were comparing and contrasting the various performances of La Traviata they had experienced.  It was then it hit me that opera is a deeply spiritual experience for many, a journey that enriches them each time.

I would not say the show made me an opera convert.  What it did do is leave me with a deep appreciation for another genre of music and art and a tremendous sense of gratitude that I was able to do what I really wanted to do in Milan.

To learn more about La Scala and get a schedule of performances, click here: