Connections

It has been almost a year since I found out that I would be a member of CR 10. It feels like just yesterday but I know I am a different person now then I was back then. It has been a while since I’ve returned to this blog so forgive me for I may be a bit rusty. I find it difficult to return to the experiences of this past summer on CR with the hustle and bustle of sophomore year but I will do my best without getting too sentimental. Here goes nothing…

Coming back from Europe, I felt as if the whole experience was a dream. We packed so much into each day it was truly difficult for me at the time to fully appreciate what we had the opportunity to witness. Family and friends wanted to know every detail of the trip: where we went, what we did, what my favorite city was, who my familia was. Every time I tried to answer, I could only think how my words could never accurately relay the sensory overload I had gone through. How could random facts and anecdotes fully describe this experience to an outsider? How can I introduce to you every member of my familia and explain every experience we had shared together: the laughter, the frustrations, the tears, the awe, the struggles, and the goodbyes? The truth is, I definitely did a poor job of explaining CR to everyone, but I think that is ok. In fact I think that is the point. We call ourselves a family because only we can truly understand what happened in Europe those famed 3 and a half weeks. The weeks where a group of essentially strangers became family.

Connections, this entire experience revolves around them: connecting flights to arrive in Berlin, connecting trains in between countries and cities, and connections that Dr. Pitcock has cultivated so that we may have this experience.  One particular connection that has stuck out to me is the relationship with Dr. Pitcock. Fabio, owner of the restaurant Francesco Vini. It is a friendship that has grown from opposite ends of the world. It spans across two completely different cultures and yet it still flourishes, so much so that we, the students, can benefit from this connection. When we first ventured out into the strange and unknown world of Europe, we 16 were awkward, nervous, and excited around each other all at once. From my experience, there were times that I thought for sure it was a mistake for Dr. P. to choose me to come along for this journey. I couldn’t see how I fit in with the group. But as we all endured the same travels, laughs, tears, and joys, I felt connected with my group in a way I could never be connected with anyone else. While we were all on our own personal journeys, the fact that we journeyed together connected us in ways we never thought were possible.

Since school started, I have been so swamped with classes and extracurriculars that I have found it tough to find time to simply reminisce about our experiences. I found myself so lost in my academics that I was missing the relationships that I had built over CR without even realizing I was missing them. I missed quoting vines and laughing till I cried with Brittany. Her insightfulness kept me on my toes as I would never miss a moment to hear what she had to say. I missed navigating and kayaking with Marat. His compassion and thoughtfulness to consider every member of the group taught me to better consider other’s needs above my own. I missed the joy and smiles from Lauren that I relied on to keep me going when times got tough. The open love she exudes for everyone taught me to care and love more deeply than I thought I ever could. I missed practicing my terrible Australian accent with Indigo and her head turning, bubbly laugh that made my day whenever I heard it. When hearing her voice, whether she was singing or participating in conversation, you couldn’t help but give her your full attention. I missed having intellectual conversations with Ryal where I felt like I was learning more than I was teaching. His ability to be astoundingly intelligent yet his determination to make sure everyone in the group had a voice helped me realize what kind of leader I should aspire to be.  I missed having Brooke as a clear and decisive leader whose judgement I could rely on and who I would follow anywhere with no question. She was the shoulder I could lean on when I was too tired to carry on and she taught me how to lead by example. I missed Audrey’s calmness in the most frustrating circumstances and her ability to mediate differences without ever losing her cool. I also missed her surprising humor and her well timed jokes that could lighten the hearts of anyone within ears reach. I missed having Emma as a confidant for anything. No topic was too personal nor too difficult to share with her as she would open up just as much as you opened up to her. I missed Jake and his never-ending quotability and his voice that commanded the attention of a room whenever you heard it. His smile can light up a room and I can never forget the pure, deep friendship he pursues with everyone. I missed talking about literally anything with Abby. From politics to music, I found out we were essentially the same and I could always turn to her when I needed reassurance in my thoughts. I missed the discussions about religion with Jacob and his ability to teach me about traditions that I had no experience in. He pushed me to become more versed in other traditions. I missed the unapologetically deep questions that Kyle would ask to genuinely get to know each person. He was the catalyst for which I could analyze my own experiences and introspect on how that made me the person I am today. I missed learning about art and music and culture in general from Olivia Chambers. Easily the most well informed person in the group, she taught me to have a more global vision and how to enjoy life’s every moment at the same time. I missed Olivia Wales’s ability to capture every moment in its disastrous perfection. To spend any moment with her is to know pure joy and she taught me to look for special moments in the most unsuspecting of times. I missed shopping with Taylor and her never-ending adventurous spirit. She taught me to love myself and everyone around me without hesitation. I missed Lindsey and her ability to build relationships with each of us. She never shied away from difficult conversations as she sought to teach with humor and experience. She taught me to listen with a clear mind and a full heart. And of course, I missed Dr. Pitcock. Man, if I could write everything down that he has done for me and all of CR, this post would never end. I don’t know where I would be today without his guidance. He guided us through Europe, through hard days, through good days, through tough conversations, through forgotten memories, and essentially, he guided us to finding ourselves. I could not possibly thank him enough for all he has invested in us. I truly believe in his ability to form a team, no, a family.

I know it might seem like I am rambling, but this is honestly what CR is about. It’s not about the places or the cities. It’s not about the food or even the beauty of our surroundings. It’s about the people. The memory of people in history, forgotten and infamous, and it’s about the people who I got to experience it all with. Thank you, each and everyone of you for being a part of my life. Mia familia.

Signing off,

Nishanth Sadagopan

 

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Art in Italy

Coming into Italy, I was incredibly excited. Not that Germany and Switzerland weren’t amazing because they surpassed my every expectation, but I had been anticipating Italy for the longest time because of what I was taught in high school. I took latin all throughout high school and had learned about the culture and the Roman customs, heres and Gods. I couldn’t wait to step off the train and geek out to the incredible nation of Italy. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the incredible art from the Renaissance that defined Italy. 

First off the was the Uffizi Gallery, home of the most famous renaissance pieces owned and endorsed by the Medici family. First of all, these museum is huge, we spent about 2 hours in here and still only scratched the surface. Renaissance geniuses like Botticelli and Caravaggio were showcased all throughout this palace. The Birth of Venus is absolutely striking to behold firsthand. The attention to detail and the incredible portrayal of of the goddess of love served to be a standard of beauty after its crew ion. This only goes to show the influence that these artists had on the public at the time. The most striking piece to me, however was Caravaggio’s Medusa, a grotesque and intricately detailed painting on a shield that seems to take you by the eyes and won’t let you go. Very reminiscent of the ancient legends that staring into Medusa’s eyes will turn you to stone. Caravaggio was able to portray this feeling simply with paint. 

We then visited the famous David by Michelangelo. Even though this complete marble statue does attract fame and tourists from all over, let me tell you it is not overhyped. This towering colossus immediately takes your eyes as you turn the corner to see its majesty. The defined muscles and veins capture you and make you question how it is possible to define such features out of a solid block of marble. I can’t comprehend how Michelangelo was able to accomplish this but according to him he isn’t creating these magnificent statues, he is simply liberating these figures out of the marble to achieve their true form. It’s absolutely breathtaking. 

After enjoying the beauty of Florence, we traveled to Rome: a place just waiting for its magnificence to be explored. We went to the Vatican and were absolutely floored. There was incredible in every corner you searched. From the intricate murals on the ceilings of mere corridors, to the genius of Raphael, you can’t walk 30 seconds without your jaw dropping. In the museum of the Vatican, besides the 3 Salvador Dali paintings hanging in a secluded part of the chambers, my favorite piece by far was Raphael’s School of Athens. The masterpiece done by the genius at the time who was the same age as us, if not younger is incredible. Words cannot do this piece justice. I was most struck by the commentary he included in his painting: by painting this piece that portrays the pursuit of knowledge and dedicating it to the Vatican, he was saying that it is the Catholic Church who controlled knowledge and owned it. This in fact was true at the time because the Catholic Church tried to hide the fact the the world was round and that the universe revolved around it. The fact that Raphael was able to get away with this through his art is absolutely incredible. 

These are only a few of the pieces that struck me so powerfully in Italy. There is so much more beauty that I would love to go back and delve into even deeper than I had. I hope you get the chance to see these magnificent pieces firsthand at some point in your life. 

Sincerely, 

Nishanth Sadagopan

I Drank from a Lake Today

We finally arrived in Interlaken after a long an arduous journey with unexpected twists and turns that really tested the resiliency of our group. But we made it nonetheless. We made it to the most beautiful, serene place I have experienced. Let me employ my inner Monet and paint the scene for you: there is a quaint but well developed neighborhood with a central plaza and a street comparable and reminiscent of the Champs-Élysées of Paris (just replace Parisian products with Swiss ones). Look in the sapphire blue sky and you will see raining men (and women), literally. People paragliding and hang gliding (for reasons I cannot comprehend) every minute to the point where the sky can have 15 to 20  people floating on the currents of the Swiss air at any particular moment. Follow the path of where these adrenaline seekers floated from and you will see green giants everywhere. Massive creations, oddities of the earth’s crust, monuments of nature surround what looks like a crater of a town. Trees blanket the facades of these rocky beasts. The town is situated in the middle of two massive lakes, each surrounded by there own range of mountains. The first thing you notice when you step onto the platform when you leave the train is the smell of the Alpine air: pure atmosphere, crisp to inhale, refreshing to the body. It is the air that has been cleansed by millions of trees, the result of an unadulterated landscape. Needless to say, we as a group needed this location on our itinerary after the mentally and emotionally taxing experience we had just encountered in Munich.

The familia was bubbling with excitement the moment we stepped in our hostel. Debates immediately ensued as to what events we all would do at the extreme sports capitol of the world. The hype of this location had preceded our group by former groups: “Make sure to go canyoning” or “You absolutely need to go skydiving! When are you gonna get that opportunity again?”. I, however, had been dreading this moment for a while. I knew that everyone would want to go skydiving or paragliding or some sort of free falling, while I would rather enjoy my feet firmly planted on the ground. To me, the beauty of this place did not prompt me to test my limits fear-wise. Instead I was more interested in embodying the spirit of the place: Solitude. The location and geographical situation of this beautiful city gave me the sense of a serene solitude. A sense of being closed off from the hardships of the world, if only for a day or three. Don’t get me wrong, I love my familia, but my thoughts haven’t been allowed to be my own for a while. Today, I needed solitude, not big activities with the group that I wouldn’t have enjoyed anyways. So instead of canyoning, I decided to kayak. 

After walking 30 minutes to the lake from the hostel, we were getting discouraged. We had no idea where we were headed and if we were going the right way. We were about to turn back and give up completely when we saw it: the clearest, bluest lake imaginable. My jaw dropped. So this is why there is such a fuss about this place. I forged ahead towards the lake with an added spring in my step. We finally got to the center that rented the kayaks and were debriefed on all the essential information we needed and promptly got into the lake so as not to waste anymore time. The water was glass blue and just as clear. So clear and clean that I drank from the lake. There is no other way to describe it other than, as sweet and the most refreshing thing I have ever experienced. The experience as a whole was serene, the perfect way to assess the first half of the journey and to prepare for the second half. We are far from finished and there will be plenty more taxing experiences. It’s very easy to lose yourself in these experiences. Sometimes we all just need to take a step back, enjoy the view, and drink from a lake to ground us again. 

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Blissfully yours, 

Nishanth Sadagopan

Dachau, in Me

Dachau. The name lingers in your mouth like a bad taste. It lingers in your ear like the sound of a gunshot. It lingers in the air like a foul smell. It is a name that brought fear into the hearts of those who heard it on the lips of SS officers during the height of the Nazi’s power. 

In me, the name conjures anger: anger that directed at humanity for being so flawed and misguided to create such a place of evil and hate. When I looked at the atrocities and systematic exterminations employed by human beings, I found myself hating all of those responsible for allowing such atrocities to occur. The torture devices, the constant beatings, and the threat of death looming over the prisoners’ heads like a dark, stagnant cloud. I was angry to share any humanity with the Nazis, knowing that what makes them human also makes me human and that I too have that potential for evil in me because I am human. A rage that I have never felt before burned inside of me when I saw the pictures of the bodies that were strewn and raked in piles, as if they had no identity. To the Nazis they were just… in the way. 

In me the name conjures sorrow: a deep sorrow for those whose lives were stolen from them. Lives that were stolen regardless of whether or not they survived the concentration camp. Their lives were still taken along with their humanity while the suffered in such a desolate place. When I saw the crematorium, I was surprised to find it not in a desolate area, but in a beautiful, wooded room of nature. I walked in this furnace of death and was taken aback by the mere presence of death in that place. Although the furnace in Dachau had not been used, it was still the site of hangings and mass murders. I walked in to the next room and found it was empty. It was a small room that was maybe a foot higher than my head reached. It didn’t strike me as significant. I walked out and turned to find a sign next to the door that brought clarity to the room. For I had walked through, and stood in the gas chamber. 

There was a path next to the crematorium that led to into the woods. I followed it in an attempt to ease the burden that is Dachau through the solace of nature. As I walked, I saw a large stone adjacent to the gravel path among the trees. As I approached it, it looked more and more like a tomb stone. I read the new apparent memorial. It was the site of the execution of many individual prisoners. It was called the pistol range. This beautiful area was the last thing that hundreds of prisoners would see before their death. I forced myself to stand before the area that they called the blood ditch, to look out into the trees as if this would he my last site on this earth. I turned around to where the SS officer would be standing. I stared down the barrel of his gun as he pulled the trigger. A bell tower in the distance struck at that exact moment, ripping my breath away from my lungs. 

In me the name conjures fear: a fear not quite the same that the thousands of victims who stayed in Dachau faced, but a fear that this oppression stemmed from hate could have and still can take me and those I love. Would I have been one of the victims of this terror? I do not fit the Aryan archetype. As half Indian and half Caucasian, would I have been deemed a threat to the Nazi’s perfect race? Would I have been persecuted for my religion? Would I have been silenced because of my political beliefs? In reality, I could have given the wrong look to an SS officer or slandered the government trusting the wrong person with my opinions and I could have been taken in the custody of Dachau. I am just living in a different era and that is the only thing that with certainty prevents me from being ripped from my family. But time is not a guarantee. These events can happen again because they happened before. 

In me the name also conjures hope: a hope that is not prominent but is there nonetheless. A hope that we as global neighbors, no, a global gamily can grow and learn to work and look through the rhetoric of hate, to look at each other’s differences as strengths rather than weaknesses. It gives me hope knowing that in the end, there were survivors, there was an end to the destruction, and there was peace achieved. It gives me hope to know that Germany has become incredibly progressive and has sought every opportunity to memorialize its mistakes as a nation so that the memory of the victim and the atrocities done to them lives on. It is a world leader in its journey to equality on all fronts. The transgressions of the Nazis can and will never be forgotten, not by the world, and especially not by me. It is through the knowledge of this strife that we can grow toward a peaceful society. For we will never again allow this to happen. 

Dachau shall always remain within me. It is an experience that will haunt me, yet it will be one that I cherish. 

Auf wiedersehen, 

Nishanth Sadagopan 

Preserving the Memory

Despite being exhausted from the long and arduous journey to the other side of the world, I woke up at the first sign of light in Berlin at 5:04 a.m. Our journey to learn about the culture of our neighbors to the east would start today and I wasn’t going to waste any time. I wanted to find out and document everything that I possibly could, from the simple cultural differences at breakfast, to the preservation of the history of this storied nation and city.

Our journey through the first full day started at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of transitions. The gate has seen the defeat of Germany to Napoleon and the humiliation that followed as a result of the removal of the quadriga. It has seen the rise of a dictator bent on world domination who would march his Storm Troopers through its entrances as a display of power. It has endured the hardships of a literal tear in the middle of the city where the gate which was once open to the public was no longer accessible due to the Berlin Wall separating West from East Germany. It was the perfect site to set the tone of the trip. The Brandenburg Gate opened our eyes to the expansive memories this beautiful city holds.

After being split up into our small groups, our squad “Team Alpha” planned and mapped out our day so that we would be able to cover the itinerary with enough time to truly experience each moment. We first visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. This powerful name only just begins to invoke the sense of evil and destruction that happened to a particular people group under the prerogative of a dictator. I found it very interesting that the city did not simply want this to pass beyond memory, but instead wanted this memory to remain in the forefront, a memory that would remain stitched in with the fabric of its being. This was apparent by the layout of the memorial:  a large block of land dedicated to those who were taken in the anti-semitic violence right in the middle of the city. It served to make a statement that this must always be in the minds and hearts of Berlin. img_2079.jpgIMG_2083

After we saw the memorial, we went to the museum underneath the memorial. This was the most difficult experience of the entire day. The museum was a dedication the victims of the systematic murders of an entire people group. It almost made us feel as if we were responsible for all of these deaths, which in a sense we were. As a global population, we did not do enough to stop such a genocide until it was too late and the damage had already been done in the millions. It nevertheless was almost unreal and impossible to comprehend in this day and age. This is why I believe it is so important to continue preserving this memory. Because it did happen, it is possible to happen again and thus it is necessary to hold it in our minds always so that we can learn from our mistakes and move forward as a global culture. Because of the cyclic nature of history, it is very possible that we will face the same challenges and pressures of propaganda and fear.

To reflect on the experience we just shared with Berlin’s most intimate and awful history, Team Alpha headed to my favorite location of the day: Tiergarten. This beautiful, expansive park stretched further than the eye could comprehend. It encompassed, rivers, ponds, open fields, forest-covered paths, and beautiful sculptures and memorials. The quietness of this space despite its location in the middle of a bustling city was what made it so captivating to me. It seemed to me that this natural work of art was intentionally preserved in the middle of the city to bring beauty to the troubled story of Berlin. The space brought a sense of healing to our group after we had just bore witness the destruction implemented by the same nation. It was not a hiding place per se, but instead it was a place where one could remember and be comforted in knowing that all people of all backgrounds, religions, and national affiliations can enjoy the same space: a sort of call to love your neighbor through the beauty of the world, a beauty we need to preserve and work to hold. It is a testament to the fact that hate is not innate to our being, but it is instead taught by our interactions toward one another. To grow as a global population, we must learn to teach love and acceptance in the face of fear and hate. This is something the Berlin has come to terms with and it is something that we as a group need to bring back to the United States. IMG_2090IMG_2092

These were the locations that really struck me on our journey this first full day. I hope to learn more about the culture of this incredible city in the days to come.

Until next time,

Nishanth Sadagopan

 

Embracing the Unexpected

Wow. Just two days before I make the big hop across the Atlantic to start the journey of a lifetime. The thoughts and emotions running rampant in my mind can barely be contained. I am incredibly excited to forge new bonds with my fellow familia members by challenging ourselves and struggling on this new adventure. Many are excited for certain cities and the sites we will have the opportunity to experience. Initially I think I was most excited for the places we were going to as well. However, after learning more about the experience, I just can’t wait to get lost. It sounds weird I know, but I really cannot wait to get lost, and work with the group to get back on track. Along with my excitements and anticipations, however, I do have apprehensions. While I am excited to make new connections with my familia, I am going to miss my family and friends a lot. It will definitely be hard not having access to them, but that will be something I will be able to get used to. I am also worried for the amount of work this experience will require. Of course, I am not saying that I think this journey should be without its hardships and work, I am just apprehensive about the physical toll this experience will take on all of us. But this is only a minor concern of mine because I know we will all be able to motivate each other when we may be feeling exhausted or worn out. I hope that we as a group will be able to overcome all of our apprehensions with the help of our familia members so that we will grow closer to each other and create a support system that we can all rely on in the future. A goal for myself that I would like to reach for is opening myself up more to people and trusting that even when everything doesn’t go according to plan, whether that be on our journey through Europe, or our journey through life, there are always people I can rely on. I hope that my familia will become those people I can alway count on.

I am beyond excited to touch down in Berlin in 2 days, and I am looking forward to embracing the unexpected on our journey.

Until next time, from across the world,

Nishanth Sadagopan

Birth of Beauty

“To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature.” – Mark Twain

When considering this quote from Mark Twain about Florence, I was immediately immersed in a world of color as if I were in a painting orchestrated by Van Gogh or Monet, without lines or borders, just swaths of colors. I can just see the bright blues, yellows, and pinks of the sky, I can taste the reds, greens, and purples of the markets, and I can feel the orange and tans of the bricks and architecture that comprise the great city itself. I can’t wait to get my feet on the ground of such a central area in western civilization. Florence was at the forefront of trade, politics, democracy, food, and art after the era of Rome.

I learned of the amazing opportunities we will have to explore Florence after talking to our elder familiar members. The city has so much to offer in its vast history that we will get to experience in the architecture, the art, and the people. We might get the opportunity to see the Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”  or Michelangelo’s “David” or other pioneers of the Renaissance at the Uffizi. We will also see beautiful cathedrals such as the Basilica di San Lorenzo, Firenze which is one of the largest churches in Florence. We might also see the hardships endured by the Italian people in the midst of WWII visiting monuments to the sacrifices that their people endured.

We will truly immerse ourselves into the culture by experiencing what the people there experience, through the sites, art, food, and of course the world renown gelato, a dessert far superior to ice cream or any frozen yogurt. I can’t wait to refine my senses and my global awareness through the experience in Florence. Florence will be the perfect way to rejuvenate our tired bodies as our second to last stop on our cultural immersion. I am beyond excited to see where the birth of beauty (Venus is the goddess of beauty and love, hence, Florence is where beauty was born as properly rendered by Botticelli) occurred. Onward familia, to create something beautiful of our own in Florence!

Art enthusiast,

Nishanth Sadagopan