New Year, New Lenses

It’s been about a year since I bought Marcus. It’s been a faithful travel companion, and has withstand my clumsy hands. In this time, I’ve only been using the kit lens since I figured it’d allow me to learn the ropes. Well, recently, I decided it was time for me to outfit Marcus with a new pair of lenses. It was an impromptu decision, but I had done some preliminary research in the past, so I hit up the B&H Store in New York, and took advantage of their generous holiday sale.

I purchased the 50mm f/1.8 lens and I’m really satisfied with my decision. I loved the kit lens, but the f/1.8 lens is sharper and creates a more editorial look. Since it’s a 50mm, it means that my field of vision is significantly smaller, and I will have to be more judicious in what I allow in and out of my frame. I think these lenses are fabulous for portraits — it captures the perfect amount of softness and sharpness. After using the kit lens for so long, these prime lenses feel like such a treat!

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Singer in front of Ai WeiWei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” installation // Washington Square Park, New York, NY

 

Since I have some quiet time at home, I’ve been doing some self-reflections. I think 2017 was a little bit of a chaotic year for me; there was a lot going on, and I got way too burnt out by the end. I kind of did a hard shut-down as the semester and the year wound down to a close, and I feel much more refreshed going into 2018.

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past year, then you’ll probably know that I started a 365-day photo project, that started off quite strong but I kind of gave up midway through the year. Looking back, it was too much all at once, and if I am to come up with some New Years Resolutions, then I’d better start small.

 

I’ve got four major “projects” that I want to work on in this upcoming year. They are: (1) capsule everything, (2) budgeting, (3) reading more books and watching more films, and (3) experiment more with my photography.

I think that the first two go hand-in-hand. Fine tuning my capsule system will allow me to be wiser with my spending, and in turn, help me get into the habit of budgeting. I’ve been trying to get into the capsule wardrobe system for some time now, and though I’ve done a great job parring down over the years, I don’t think I’ve quite curated a capsule wardrobe that I’m proud of. I think I will start with parring down my makeup collection first, and then stepping into other things like books, before finally revisiting my clothing for a capsule wardrobe finale! I’ll most likely keep the details to that for a separate post, so this one won’t get too long.

In terms of budgeting, I think I need to work on not just budgeting my spending but also my time. I find myself always doing menial tasks (checking my e-mail, scrolling through Facebook) because “5 minutes” just isn’t enough to do something meaningful when in reality – it totally is! These are larger goals, and will probably take me longer to accomplish than others on this list.

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1 Washington Mews // New York, NY

I was particularly inspired by a friend who committed to watching a single film every week over the past year. Watching more films has been something I’ve been meaning to do now, and haven’t, ever quite gotten around to it. Honestly, since I spend so much time watching Netflix and YouTube anyway, I could turn this time into accomplishing things that I’ve been meaning to do. (Same goes for reading – all those memes could’ve totally been a new book.) I think my goal is to watch a film a week, and read a book a month.

And my last goal is to just have more fun with my photography. I want to challenge myself to look at photography a different way. I’ve noticed that my attitude towards photography has always been secondary. That is, I’m always bringing Marcus along to photograph something an experience of mine. This is detrimental, I think, in two ways – firstly, it interferes with me truly being present during the experience and thus also prevents me from really spending quality time with the person I’m with. Secondly, it’s also a disservice to my photography, since I’m viewing the perfect opportunity to be more passive, when I can be creating my perfect shot. So I guess these are a lot of words to say that I’m going to treat photography as an ends-in-itself, rather than just a thing that is convenient for me to do at that time.

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Passenger (or conductor?), on board the Holiday Nostalgia Train // New York, NY

And of course – one thing that I have to work on is posting more often! I think I started 2017 off quite well, but lost track of it by the end. This year, I hope I am on the up and up instead – I love blogging, and posting about my experiences, and hearing from you all.

So, in the spirit of my new resolutions let me know in the comments below on what is your:

  1. Thoughts on capsule wardrobes/etc.
  2. Budgeting tips and tricks
  3. Favorite book
  4. Favorite movie/film
  5. Photo that you’ve taken in 2017 that you’re most proud of

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the absolute best in 2018. Cheers to a new year! 🥂

Fin.

Writer’s note: 
1. I cannot decide if a pair of camera lens should be “lens” or “lenses”… Any grammar experts out there who can illuminate the proper term?

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Photos from My Phone (V.)

It’s been months since my last update – the semester came and went, and is nearly over. And though I’ve done some light traveling in the past month, I must admit that I am starting to get rusty with both my blog-writing and photography skills!

I’ve sat down a few times to write an update, but each time I do so, I don’t seem to be into the subject I was writing about. I had some photos from Kansas City, MO that I was going to make into a post, but I just didn’t know what to write and how to approach the subject. I will probably write a photo-dump post soon to reflect on my (hopefully) growth as a photographer in the past year.

For the first few months of moving back to school, I had left my charger for my camera at home. I procrastinated on buying a replacement charger (which literally only costs $7 on Amazon), and instead used my phone’s camera a bunch. With the new camera software updates from Android, I’ve been able to experiment with some new camera modes (i.e. the selective focus mode – which is akin to iPhone’s Portrait mode).

I didn’t think much of these photos until I saw Camila Cabello’s Havana music video in vertical mode, directed by Sam Lecca. (I actually love this video so much more than the original music video, which I thought was kind of boring and forgettable.) I was really inspired by the unconventional use of a vertical filming and it made me realize the potential we each hold in our compact cell phones!

So I selected some of my favorite photos and I played around in VSCO with some new filter packs that I purchased (Vibrant Classics and the Aesthetic series). I’ve been able to snap some pretty cool pictures with my phone, since it’s always on hand and I never miss a beat! While Marcus (my Pentax KS-2) delivers superior quality, I find that, in general, people tend to be more receptive to the camera on a phone than the lens of a heavy-duty camera. Some of my favorite portraits have been from my phone. (Plus, a phone is generally more inconspicuous than a camera, so it makes taking sneaky candids way easier.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this set of photos – and don’t forget to let me know what you think!

Fin.

Writer’s notes: 
1. Curious about the specs of the photos? Or want to see them in greater detail — click on the photos to enlarge and learn more technical information about them.
2. Triva: the cats in the last set of phots are actually two different cats!
3. I’ve been playing around with the theme of the blog — let me know if you have any thoughts about the dark background. I think it helps to make the photos pop, but I’m worried that it will compromise readability. LMK what you think!

Food Diaries: New York City

Those who know me know that I am not a woman of food. I don’t have a particular fondness for it, and usually don’t care too much about what I eat. Of course, this is in stark contrast with the rising “foodie” culture among social media. Many of my friends are self-professed “foodies” and are often chatting about the latest hot eateries. (I’m from NYC – home to Smorgasburg and other hipster foods.)

However, starting from my trip down to Miami a few months ago, I’ve come to appreciate food from a more cultural perspective. Also, now that I have to cook my own meals, it definitely makes me appreciate and think about food more.

I don’t have a sophisticated palate, so I’m not very good at articulating what I taste. Especially when dining out, I pay much more attention to the holistic experience – the ambiance, the setting, and the company – than the food itself. (Because, again, unsophisticated palate so my food reviews are quite blasé: food either tastes good or not good.)

Looking back on the photos I’ve taken this year, there is a sizable collection of food photographs, mostly from my time between New York City and Cleveland. Thus, I’ve split these photos depending on location and type.

(I’d like to give a shout out to my best friend Sharon [@SharonCai]. I love the way she composes her posts and photographs, and it inspires me to think of different ways to divide up my post. Plus, she was the one who suggested the food diaries set!)

For the first installment, I’ll be showing some of my food adventures in my hometown — New York City. Since I never intended this to be a documentary, I’ve never properly written down what I ordered and from where. But for the places I do remember, I’ll be sure to include those vital details. 🙂

 

Asian / Asian Fusion

Lately I’ve been seeing this Youtube commercial for a food service in NYC. The man in the ad talks about all the different types of food you can find in NYC – dumplings, tamales, pizza, etc. – various ethnic cuisines all packed into one neat little city. I couldn’t agree more.

With all that NYC has to offer, though, I always find myself going back to Asian cuisine – especially Japanese ramen shops. They’re cheap eats that are quick and low key. And perhaps because I grew up in a Chinese family, I’m biased towards the umami you can only really get from Asian food.

Now, I must confess, with all the options in the city, authenticity can still be difficult to find. This is one of my major critiques on a lot of Asian restaurants – especially the new, mainstream ones. I’ve visited a few eateries that have been hyped on social media, such as Very Fresh Noodles, located in the beautiful Chelsea Market. I visited with my best friend, after a lot of hype on social media and because we both love noodles, but we left a little bit underwhelmed.

We had visited Xi’an Famous Foods on W 45th the day before (not pictured), and was similarly underwhelmed. The food at both places weren’t bad – but the soup was sometimes too sour (as in Xi’an Famous Foods) or the noodles too soft (as in Very Fresh Noodles).

One of my trusty places is Shanghai Cafe in Chinatown. This restaurant holds a special place in my heart because I’ve been coming here with my grandmother since I was a kid. Through the years, the prices have gone up just a bit, but the interior and the flavors still remain consistent. It is now one of my favorite places to bring friends when we’re in the area and looking for a quick but delicious eat. I could eat orders after orders of the haifen xiaolongbao — the soup dumplings with crab meat!

Every once and a while I’ll venture out of my usual orders and restaurants to try something new. The seafood hotpot at Five Senses in Korea Town is one such example. It was such a treat to watch our server cut and prepare all the seafood in front of us, including expertly peeling shrimp with only a pair of scissors! Yummy! My only quip is that because it is a hotpot boil, some of the seafood may over cook – but honestly the soup is so delicious I don’t really mind that much.

 

Italian

If there are any two foods that are synonymous with New York City, they are: pizzas and bagels. Perhaps it is because of the fresh and crisp NYC tap water, or because of the hundreds of years of history of skilled immigrants, but New York City dough truly is different than any other.

Growing up, I never felt like New York-style pizza was that special… but after spending some time in the midwest where the definition of pizza can be wide ranging (ahem, Chicago, that’s a casserole not a pizza! But I digress…), I’ve really come to appreciate how special a good ol’ New York slice is.

On chance, I got to visit Lombardi’s Pizza, famously America’s first pizzeria, and was absolutely delighted. John’s Pizzeria in Times Square is another one of my pizza go-to’s. L&B Spumoni Gardens (not pictured) is an another classic held near and dear to my heart.

Good Italian restaurants in NYC don’t just stop at pizzas. Sharon and I stumbled upon this neat restaurant, Bottino, in Chelsea when we were gallery hopping. (We had actually planned on going to the Rocket Pig, which was right behind Bottino.) Sometimes, the best way to explore NYC restaurants is just to get in one!

 

American & Seafood

Continuing the theme of accidental discoveries, another friend and I decided to try out The Smith (which has quite the cult following) when we were hungry for some brunch one day. I loved the ambiance, though I could’ve spared the grapefruit juice.

Alas, with New York being a port city, you cannot not get some seafood! Though it can be on the pricier side, I think seafood is always worth the splurge. After all, when else are you going to have truffle scallops? Aside from Upstate, there are a plethora of other seafood restaurants, such as Greenpoint Fish & Lobster co. (not pictured). Moreover, I hear Louisiana crawfish boils are becoming the next big thing! I can’t wait to check out some places when I head home in August.

 

Dessert & Drinks

There’s a joke among New Yorkers that there is a Starbucks on every other block, except it’s not really a joke. There really is a Starbucks waiting for you at the next corner. But in a city as diverse as New York, I find it hard to convince myself to splurge on a cup of joe from a chain when there are so many mom-and-pop options available.

Two of my favorite that I’ve explored is Radiance Tea House and Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain. I visited Radiance Tea House after a tour of the Japan Society, a mere few blocks away. I was immediately shocked (in a good way) at the decor in the restaurant — it reminded me of the tea houses my family and I would go to during our time in China. The staff was friendly and very helpful, and there was a large selection of loose leaf tea. Two gentlemen sat two tables down from us and had a nice mid-afternoon chit chat over some fragrant tea.

The other, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain evokes a nostalgia of another kind. It is an old-school shop located in an equally as old-school pharmacy. It’s incredibly family friendly, even though empty glass jars of toxic chemicals line the walls. Their hot chocolate was the perfect fit on a cold, damp late-winter day.

For a gal who doesn’t like sweets, I frequent a lot of dessert parlors. Part of the reason, I think, is because dessert and drinks are an easy grab-and-go thing you can do with a friend. A conversation over some ice cream on a hot day is the epitome of a college summer to me.

There are a lot of new and interesting dessert places opening in NYC. A few years ago, frozen yogurt ruled the scene, but now it seems that ice cream is making a strong comeback. Since many of these places are opened by millennials, these shops are all very social media-conscious. They often have brightly colored decor beckoning to be instagrammed.

If I’m honest, I think a lot of these dessert places are incredibly gimmicky. There are very few I’d say I’ll revisit as I don’t find the desserts to be particularly impressive. I’m a simple gal; if you’re selling ice cream, then make sure your ice cream is damn good (and homemade!). I don’t care much for the toppings.

I am particularly impressed by Soft Swerve, which I first visited with my mum. She’s got a sweet tooth, but I don’t, yet we both really liked the ube ice cream. It was sweet punctuated by a touch of savory, and the purple yam flavor really came through. (I’m also biased, as I have a soft spot for purple yam.)

A neighborhood to visit if you’re interested in the exploring food trends (a.k.a hipster foods) is Washington Square Park, particularly Macdougal Street. WSP is the considered the center of NYU, and the area is mostly populated by college students and young 20- and 30-somethings looking for the latest food crazes. The shops here, especially dessert places, tend to be smaller with limited seating, but with WSP a block away, it’s usually not really a big deal.

Honestly, at the end of the day, what you eat is secondary to who you’re eating with. When you’re with people you love and care about, any plain dish will be enjoyable and delicious. If you ever find yourself in the glorious Big Apple, head on in to any restaurant that catches your eye. While Yelp reviews may be helpful, the gastronomic experience is unique to each person. After all, tasting is believing!

Fin.

P.S. if you have any restaurants or places in New York you think I should check out, let me know!

Writer’s Notes:
(1) Some of the photos here are taken with my Samsung S6 and then edited using VSCO, usually with either A5 or HB1/HB2 filters. If you click on the photos, you should be able to learn more details about them — i.e. the camera used, aperture, etc. 
(2) The nickname “Big Apple” actually has nothing to do with NYC’s apple production. Apparently, it has something to do with horse racing but I’m still kind of confused. Read more here.
(3) The last two photos were taken using B612, a Korean selfie app. I’m addicted.

 

Approach with Caution and a Camera

According to the Davidson Lateralization Theory of Emotions, our left brain hemisphere regulates “approach” tendencies while our right brain hemisphere regulates “withdraw” tendencies.

“Approach” includes emotions such as joy, motivation, and even anger – these are emotions that cause us to interact with the world. “Withdraw”, on the other hand, includes emotions such as sadness and the need for isolation. Depression has been shown to be associated with hypoactivation (i.e. under activation) of the left hemisphere, while mania has been shown to be associated with the hypoactivation of the right.

I am, by nature, a withdraw person. There are many plans and goals I’ve set for myself that I have not really achieved precisely because, at the crucial time, my right hemisphere decides to go into overdrive and I become withdraw-oriented. (At least, that’s my guess.) I tend to rationalize these unfulfilled plans – the weather was bad, I don’t feel very well, I should do laundry, etc.

Yesterday was one of the rare days I had forced myself to approach. Despite the groggy weather, I made the decision to visit the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at Temple-Tifereth Israel to take some photos for the Yearbook. The Temple was completed in 1924, designed by Bostonian architect Charles R. Greco, and served as a historic synagogue. In 2015, in a historic partnership with Case Western Reserve University, the Temple was renovated and reopened as a performing arts center.

The Temple was designed by Bostonian architect, Charles R. Greco. Greco was also an architect of many other Jewish synagogues and Roman Catholic churches.

As I was photographing the building, I was approached by a security guard who asked if I wanted to take photos inside of the Temple. It was a real treat to be able to even photograph the empty building from the inside – but I was able to go up to the top of the building, behind the beautiful stained glass windows.

The whole experience was surreal, and very spiritual, though I am not Jewish. The Temple has a magnificent history, was home to two exceptionally famous Rabbis, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To be able to visit the building, and its exceptional architecture, and to transverse passageways that very few people have graced, was an amazing experience.

I left feeling thankful, refreshed, and above all – proud. I was proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone, for pushing myself to overcome my withdraw urge, and to actually engage.

Not only was I able to procure some beautiful photographs, I also made some new friends and, most importantly, I learned something — pushing your limits can yield unexpected results. (Cheesy, I know.)

This experience reminds me of a lovely quote by Johannes Kepler to Galileo Galilei in a letter – “Have faith, and carry on.”

Indeed, have faith — and don’t forget to carry your camera!

Fin.

Writer’s notes:
(1) Davidson’s Approach/Withdrawal model has been one of the most noteworthy models of cerebral regulation of emotions. Read his landmark paper here.
(2) Read more about the Temple via its wiki page, here.
(3) For some photos, I have been experimenting with Google’s Nik Collection. It has been made free for download. Check it out, here.

Oh, the places I’ll go?

As a second-semester junior, I am expected to have the next part of my life charted out. Some of my peers have the rest of their lives planned: where they want to go to graduate school, and to study what, and in which area they envision themselves settling down.

I can’t say the same. Up until three months ago, I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to medical school. I have no immediate plans to take the MCAT, still have two remaining pre-med classes to take, and have no dream medical school.

I knew I wanted to take a gap year after graduating, but I didn’t know to do what or to go where.

Trying to map my future feels like trying to complete a 9×9 Sudoku puzzle with only 3 clues. The possibilities are endless, and anything can be an answer.

Most of the time, I am pretty good at taking life one step at a time. But some days, I am overwhelmed by the thoughts of the future – immediate and distant. These last three weeks have been especially difficult.

As the semester begins to wrap up, I am confronted with a mountain of schoolwork and exams, as well as extracurricular commitments that have built up. This is the immediate hurdle I must overcome.

At the same time, this is no regular semester – it is my third to last semester as an undergraduate. At the conclusion of next semester, some of my peers will know where they will be spending their next four years as a graduate student. In the semester after that, we will be graduating college, and heading off to another bigger, and hopefully better, chapter of our lives.

Much of the planning, then, takes place this semester. Much of this planning, though, feels like grasping for air – much time wasted, but very little gained, if at all.

Fortunately, I am now at a much better place than I was three months ago.

In the upcoming year, I will be working to attain a Master’s degree in Bioethics. In my near future, I see a career as an ethicist, which lines up neatly with the bulk of the research I have been doing in the last three years.

And hopefully, one day not too far away, I will attend medical school and ultimately become a neurosurgeon or neurologist.

As the dust settles, I am starting to see a path.

I am reminded of a Chinese idiom, “车到山前必有路,船到桥头自然直。” The literal translation is, “When the train gets to the mountain, there will be a way; when the boat gets to the pier-head, it will go straight with the current.”

Things are finally starting to fall into place. I am beginning to have a direction in life, and can rest easy that I have an ultimate goal I’d like to achieve.

But very little of this was planned. I ended up in Cleveland for college because all of my other plans fell through. I joined a sorority on a hunch. I applied for the Bioethics program on a whim.

Still, the old Chinese idiom was right – when you get to the mountain, there will be a path.

For some people, this path is planned. But for me, it is forged, one step at a time.

Fin.

Writer’s Note:
Some translators equate the Chinese idiom with the English saying, “We’ll cross the bridge when we get to it.” I personally think that these two sayings convey slightly different messages.

A Day at the Villa

The story of a woman traveling to find herself is a literary cliché. It usually starts with the woman, successful but unfulfilled and in an emotionally unsatisfying relationship, who breaks off from everything to travel. In her exotic journey, she discovers true love and experiences spiritual (and gustatory) awakening.

I cannot say that my Miami travels have done that much. It was, however, incredibly refreshing to travel down South and experience the beautiful sunshine and clean water, especially having lived in cloudy Cleveland for so long.

Miami is an incredibly photogenic city; and I am very glad that I brought Marcus along to document it all. Because the large volume of photographs taken, I will be splitting the trip into multiple posts.

I was incredibly lucky to have traveled with some wonderful friends, who were super flexible to changes in our schedule, and adventurous enough to go to (sometimes shady) places with me.

On our first full day, we visited Villa Vizcaya – the home of industrialist James Deering – in the beautiful Coconut Grove. I took a few snaps of the interior, which is of a mix of Asian, European, and American furnishings. We spent most of our time outdoors, in the Italian Renaissance-styled Garden, where we had some mini-photoshoots.

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Fin.

Writer’s note:
(1) Check out this interesting article on privlit, specifically Eat, Pray, Love, here.

(2) We visited the Cuban later that day, as well, and was lucky enough to bask in the art of Luis Cruz Azaceta
(3) We also watched Cargo by Kareem J. Mortimer, which, in short, was an incredibly memorable film that takes place against the backdrop of a refugee crisis. 
(4) A full itinerary can be found below.

Continue reading “A Day at the Villa”

Old Friends in Old Places

Since being back home, I’ve met up with some old friends and revisited some old places.

One such place is SoHo, or South of Houston St, a booming shopping and art district in lower Manhattan. Honestly, I’ve become pretty disenchanted with the store offerings at SoHo (and consumerism as a whole), so I’m more interested in finding places to take fancy photographs. So far, the hunt is still on.

Angelika Film Center HQ. SoHo, NYC. December 27, 2016 // Pentax KS2.
Angelika Film Center HQ. SoHo, NYC. December 27, 2016 // Pentax KS2.

Day time activities aside, my favorite thing to do in the city is walking around at night. I absolutely love the night lights of New York, and although it means I grew up never seeing a star in the night sky, I still would not have traded it for the world. Luckily for me, I got friends who are more than glad to indulge me in some nighttime city exploring.

Rockefeller Park, North End in Battery Park City. December 28, 2016 // Pentax KS2.
Rockefeller Park, North End in Battery Park City. December 28, 2016 // Pentax KS2.

Our original plan was to go watch one of our friends get a tattoo – but he got the tattoo without me! So we rearranged our itinerary, and settled for walking around our old high school neighborhood instead.

New Tats. December 28, 2016 // Pentax KS2.
New Tats. December 28, 2016 // Pentax KS2.

I finally got the chance to visit The Oculus, the main building of the World Trade Center transportation hub. A friend I was with said it best when he described it as a Venus fly trap from far away. A beautiful Venus fly trap, but a Venus fly trap nonetheless.

The Oculus at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava. December 28, 2016 // Pentax KS2.
The Oculus at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava. December 28, 2016 // Pentax KS2.

The structure was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish neofuturistic architect (think the late great Zaha Hadid). If I am being honest, I think the architecture on the outside is eye-catching, but doesn’t necessarily belong. The interior, however, is absolutely breathtaking with its clean white lines and futuristic feel.

Changing lights at the Oculus, World Trade Center Transportation Hub. December 29, 2016 // Pentax KS2.
Changing lights at the Oculus, World Trade Center Transportation Hub. December 29, 2016 // Pentax KS2.

Lastly, I rounded the last few days off with a belated holiday party with another old group of friends. This group of friends is very special to me—they are people I’ve grown up with. We’ve known each other for ages, and it is honestly always such a joy to round the year off with them.

Secret Santa with some old friends. December 29, 2016 // Pentax KS2.
Secret Santa with some old friends. December 29, 2016 // Pentax KS2.

The end of the year is always a time for reminiscing. I love catching up with old friends to share stories about our college lives, which for the time being seem like a distant fairytale.

That’s the thing about college, especially when you go to a college so far away. Any break or return home feels more like a vacation or an escape from reality. It is a weird feeling, especially when you think about how this very same place used to be such a big part of our lives, and now we’re completely focused on a different place.

But that’s life, right? You complete one chapter and you move on, but you really don’t think about how far you’ve come until you take a step back and revisit all the chapters you’ve already written.

Until next time! Happy New Year’s (soon)! I’d have a toast to that. 😉

Fin

Writer’s Note:
Benjamin Kabak over at CityLabs @TheAtlantic wrote an interesting critique of the shortcomings of Calatrava’s design, specifically the sacrificing of function for form. It can be read here.