There was this book I had when I was four. Just like all my books at the time, I had inherited it from my elder sister. It was this beautiful cloth-covered hardbound volume called ‘365 stories‘ with ostensibly a story for every day of the year. (Apparently the authors pretended the extra leap year day didn’t count or that it could be be swept under the rug like so many cookie crumbs). There is a marked difference between my sister and I. She is marvellous at maintaining her things. Me? Not so much. At the time, I thought this was only because I was four and she was fourteen. But as it turns out, the only thing I got better at taking care of, was books. Practically everything else I had, including my haircuts, look like they have survived the ravages of war. But my sister, she had used socks and stockings that looked brand-new seven years later. (Granted, she had little use for stockings in tropical Indian climes, but you get the picture). Her books, toys, clothes had this amazingly unused air about them, as if she tenderly placed them in crystal cases and refused to even breathe on them. Fact is, she did use them, and often. She played with all her toys and most certainly wore all her clothes. But she treated with a tremendous amount of respect for someone so young.
I, on the other hand, drew a moustache on her wooden dog, glued a tail to her teddy bear and coloured outside the lines on all her preciously maintained fairy tale books. I’m not proud of it, but in my defense, I was four! I didn’t know better. Giving me access to all my sister’s stuff was probably not the best move my mom could have made. (She thought the second one would be just like the first. We all live and learn.) Keeping the books away from me didn’t help. All those beautifully preserved words had woven their spell. At one time I had been read to, but allegedly I had started grabbing books and doing it for myself very early on. Once positioned on this path, I could not be dislodged, much like a limpet on a favourite rock. I loved books. I eventually learned that you don’t colour on all books, and have several of my childhood books saved in fair condition to this day. But every book I had before this had already lost its shot at such posterity. Which, as I think about it, might be why my younger sister never took to books and reading quite like us older ones. (Would you want to look at the words on the pages when the gingerbread house next to them, tastefully decked out in virulent green and electric blue vied for your attention? I didn’t think so.)
Had you been around downtown San Francisco in the latter half of last week, you would have seen a mighty fine sight; 22,000 plus people had descended upon the city. 21,999 people dressed in black (one was dressed in blue). The AIA convention was in town and there were architects pouring out of the woodwork. Building administrators huddled nervously in dark corners when they saw the dark hordes descend, wondering how much of their buildings would be critically poked and pried and verbally taken apart and if it would ever get put back together again. But then building administrators are such a nervous lot as a rule. I think it must have something to do with having people yell at you about recalcitrant plumbing all day long.
The convention was at the Moscone Center and if you don’t know where that is, let me tell you that its a great place to have a convention. It is a stone’s throw from lots of (fun) places and best of all, since this is San Francisco, you can walk to all of them. And talking of throwing stones, there’s a good chance that within a 5 mile radius of throwing that stone, you would have bopped the head of an architect staring up a building. Or you could have hit a tourist. The swine flu means Mexico has closed ports and even more cruise lines have forcibly added San Francisco to their itinerary, which has created a huge influx of tourists in the city. Gavin Newsom must be sitting at City Hall mighty happy about the shot in the arm the city’s economy got this week-end. Anyway to add it all up, there were architects plus tourists plus local architects plus locals all over the place. A good dose of rain jumped into the sum, rounding everything off nicely. I spent a couple of educational yet fun days throwing around ideas and discussing issues with a few old friends and new acquaintances alike.
If you wonder, why indeed do architects wear black, don’t ask me. I don’t know, though I do know that I have favoured it in my clothing since I was a child, way before I even thought of becoming an architect. Cannot understand it …..even though I love colour, I chose to wear a lot of black. I am consiously trying to change that now. But it puts up a tremendous fight and I’m not succeeding too well.
The trial of the licensing exams is upon me! It is why I sport dark circles under my eyes (courtesy trying to study into the night on workdays) that would be the envy of the most discerning raccoon. It also why I spend long periods at slogging away at books while I pretend to be oblivious to the sun shining outdoors. Without a doubt, this was easier to do in the winter months. The summer will be testing me on will power as well as subject material. As the exam dates draw nearer, I bury myself in books and cramming, accompanied by occasional rants at and about nothing and everything. Nights are reserved for incoherent babbling. My husband (who incidentally is very calm and collected through his licensing ordeal) bears all this with a good degree of forbearance. He takes over most daily requirements for living completely, thereby leaving me to my alternative lifestyle until the exam is done and I’m normal again. Among other things, he also takes over the cooking.
Look anywhere these days and you’ll see individuals, entities and whole countries cutting back. The current economic crisis has proving to be critical enough that no one escape unscathed. I work in the downtown area in San Francisco, and remember marvelling at the fact that even on work day nights, the mall next door used to be teeming with life, shoppers and lollygaggers galore. In recent times, the mall has the hush of a museum, the various shops looking like so many exhibits as we all walk by in a self-imposed mode of look-but-don’t-touch. This is easily emphasized by the fact that there aren’t that many stores as there once were, patches of dark are added to the retail tapestry all over as stores kick the bucket, sometimes stealing suddenly and quietly away into the night. Architecture and construction has been summarily decimated by the economy. As part of the belt tightening at my workplace, discretionary spending has been severely reduced. Lunch & Learns have taken up the ‘bring-your-own’ slogan definitively. There are no team lunches. Our team has come up with a good idea to work with this, in keeping with the bring-your-own theme. We have become our own caterers.
Once a month, the team meets to discuss ideas and current issues pertaining to the profession and what we do. This is different from working team meetings because the talk is not just restricted to the project at hand. It is an essential part of team building which we all appreciate at a time when communication is key. Plus there is nothing like bonding over food. This element was essentially renewed when my team-mate P.K suggested that she cook for this month’s meeting. P.K is a Malaysian native, who has lived in several places all over the world. She has a great sense of humour and is wonderful to work with. At the end of a long Wednesday, the smell of her chicken curry was intensely appetizing. She made a delicious silver noodle salad to accompany it, and served it alongside what Malaysians call roti-platha (and what Indians would call paratha, one of our forms of bread). I learned just how similar Malaysian food can be to Indian food and how delicious. Swooning over this curry as I did, P.K and I had an engaging conversation after the meeting about how she made it. She graciously presented me with a packet of my very own Malaysian meat spice mix the next day that I tried out as soon as I could, that very weekend. For a long time lover of curries, I am ecstatic to find a new one I love. I love how this country continues to engage in a diversity very different from the one I knew back home.