Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3 emails

It's been a rough day. Somewhat of an emotional roller coaster. A few reasons to smile and a bunch of not so pleasant outcomes.

It was a gorgeous day in Charlottesville. After having talked about exchange rates and purchasing price parity in the Global Financial Markets class, and sitting out in the sun (yes, the professor asked us to go out and enjoy the weather) talking about diversity at Darden for the Leading Organizations class, I was done for the day.

Things started to get a little rough after this.

First up was a series of emails which reinforced the disadvantages of being an international student. The result - no travel, no interview.

With nothing to prepare for, I went about reading my ethics case for the next day. ExxonMobil in Cameron and Chad. Midway through that, I get a rejection email from a recruiter. I already knew the outcome so it wasn't a surprise. What caught me off guard was the honesty and genuineness of the mail. I had talked to the guy a few times before. In fact, I had emailed him even before coming to Darden when I was 'school hunting'. He had graduated last year and so totally knew the hardships of this whole process. Our conversations had been very friendly and casual. It was one of the only 'networking' attempts which had gone well for me. Moreover, he was friends with one of my learning team mates. Talk about being a small world! 
To say that it was the best rejection mails I have received wouldn't be wrong in anyway. So much so that, it didn't feel bad. Also because, the guy who did get through to the next round is a good friend and really deserves it. 
So I emailed him back and we talked about some other stuff besides jobs and internships.

The day was getting over and I was at my house thinking of what to do when I received another email. Guess what, another reject. This time from a project that I had applied to. Again, not really surprising considering that I didn't have a good background match. But it's always hard when they all come together. For a moment, it felt like a classic Catch-22 situation. You don't get picked to do it because you don't have the background. And you don't have the background because you're never picked!

In between all these, a dear friend got perhaps the most prestigious scholarship at Darden as we cheered for him during First Coffee.

Tomorrow's another day. And I have no idea what's it got in store. The weather, at least, should be good.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Barcelona Diaries - 2/2

Besides the fact that the group going to the Barcelona GBE (Global Business Experience) looked like one I would easily get along with, the major pull through for this trip was the course itself - Strategy As Design. In layman's terms - go sightseeing in Barcelona and write a journal with pictures at the end of it.

Note: for an incredibly detailed account of the entire trip read this blog post.

The City... absolutely gorgeous.  Antoni Gaudi took up the first two days of our trip and to be very frank, I would rather have done it in less time. The snowstorm which hit Barcelona on Monday (the first one in nearly 50 years!) made matters worse. Nevertheless, he deserves a mention. 

Gaudi 101 - Blending in with nature and unfinished grandeur 

The first thing that struck me during the visit to the unfinished church at Colonia Guell, was the fact that it didn't look anything like a church. True, it was unfinished and would have been much larger had the upper storey been built.  But yet, the rough cut twisted pillars, the uneven levels to match the topography and the broken ceramics – all combined to give the impression of something human, almost flawed, something with which you could associate yourself and not feel insignificant. I'm not sure I was too impressed with the beauty of the architecture. It defied conventional aesthetics and wasn't particularly pleasing to the eye.

Park Guell confused me. The contrast between the slanting, rough cut stone pillars which mimicked nature in form and color, and the fantastic entrance with its ceramic dragon looked conflicting to me. I am told Gaudi meant it to be a journey from the spectacular (almost garish) to the natural. But to me it was very sudden. It threw me off a particular mindset. Ironically, though, I liked visiting the place. Again, it defied conventional aesthetics but this time around, at least the 'park' looked quite spectacular.

If day 1 was about Gaudi being simple and natural, day 2 was about him surprising us by conjuring up gigantic structures. The Sagrada Familia, although only partially built is one of the most massive structures I have seen. The fact that he made the people believe in it so much so that billions of dollars are being spent to complete this Barcelona landmark by 2030 - is testimony to his belief in his art and himself.

I think I would have liked Casa Milla on a bright sunny day. Its wavy walls and colors gave a feeling of a wonderland. Unfortunately, after spending 2 hours inside the bus, all I wanted was to get back to the hotel room and get drunk on Sangria.

The heavy snowstorm meant that I had kept my camera inside the bus for most of the day. On Monday, the Barcelona GBE stock had taken a severe hit. Snowstorm and 2 days with Gaudi hadn't gone down well with a few (read the guys occupying the last few rows in the bus - me included). From Tuesday onwards, though, the stock kept climbing up.

From breathtaking views of the city to the architecturally alive city squares, in Barcelona, you could keep clicking pictures and hardly go wrong.

We also visited the Gothic Quarters of the old city and the church it housed. More traditional and more awe inspiring - it conformed to the vision of a church which I have.

Art and history apart, we also went to the Barcelona FC stadium - Camp Nou. One of my friends who went a few minutes before us saw Messi! We weren't that lucky. More disappointing was that Barca was playing on Sunday, the day after we left. Yes, it was the same game in which Messi scored a hat trick.

"More than a club"

The museum inside the stadium is worth mentioning. The long touch screen panels with rare video footage and summaries of the club's finest moment were a great way to keep the visitors engaged.  We played around with them for quite sometime.

So while we attended classes and roamed around the city during the day, the nights were dedicated to getting drunk and club hopping. Our favorite haunts were the La Rambla and the Porto Olimpico - places we would hit every alternate day to party till the wee hours of the night. The music was catchy, the women were attractive and the company was awesome. Dancing on bar tables, blacking out, craving for chicken wings at the sight of Hard Rock Cafe, drinking challenges between people weighing 100 something  and 200 something pounds respectively, and just insane amounts of alcohol - it would be an understatement to say that we had a BLAST!

Throughout the trip, we spent quite some time loitering around  La Rambla. Had it been a little warmer, it would have been the perfect place to sit outside a cafe and drink coffee or sangria or beer. There's always a ton of things happening. From street performers to Flamenco shows (which we attended). The fascinating part about Barcelona is how design and architecture is a living part of the city. It's not something which had to be seen in isolation. It's woven into the fabric of everyday life.

Balconies - La Rambla

Bicycles - saw them everywhere

End of La Rambla leading to the Port

I need another post to finish. To write about the 2 small towns we visited outside Barcelona - Girona and Besalu. Should be mostly pictures I think.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Barcelona Diaries - 1/2

This has been overdue. But the start to Q4 has been a little rough. Changing classes, new seats, the Barcelona hangover and the confusing ritual called recruiting have left me disoriented. The gorgeous weather and some great live music this weekend should make things better though.

The Art...

It was my first introduction to Dali and Picasso and I feel more cultured for having done that. For a first timer, the Picasso museum provided an easy to understand, chronological progression of Picasso's art right from his childhood. I'm no good judge of painting. I like some and I do not like some. And I don't really know why. But the museum was an education because it opened my eyes to the process that went behind Picasso's creation. The transition from a very talented boy who paints landscapes, pigeons and portraits of his family members in a traditional (classical ?) style to his gradual shunning of the norms, his play on perspective and his efforts to stretch the boundaries of what we call art - was very evident. His time in Paris, his affairs with women, the melancholy filled 'Blue Period' and his rendering of Velásquez's Las Maninas - it was a very useful albeit very short study into the creative process of Picasso, his influences and his view of the world around him. And now I know what cubism means.

Dali was more abstract and surreal. Looking at his art was an experience. The spectroscopic images, the pixilated Abraham Lincoln, the 'portrait' of May West – Dali took painting beyond being just on canvas to something which stimulated the mind in more ways. He used elements of engineering drawing to come up with abstract paintings which looked like a horseman when seen reflected on a glass bottle. His obsession with sex, science and Gala was different from Picasso’s recurring themes of family members and multiple women. It was a pity that the museum didn't have some of his more famous works. This is what my friends who had seen Dali told me.

ToDo - visit Dali and Picasso exhibitions whenever possible.

The Food...

...has a lot of meat in it. I didn't like the Paella, although a lot of it could be due to my general dislike for seafood. As a Bengali brought up on fresh water fish cooked in Indian spices, my food palates just do not like the 'rawness' in most of the seafood dishes. I keep trying though. And of course I think that bhape Ilish (Steamed Hilsa cooked with mustard) beats any other preparation in the world. It's a pity that outside India, 'Indian Cuisine' is essentially just Chicken Tikka Masala, Naan and Biriyani.
The Tapas was good and I absolutely loved the ham croquettes that we had at some places. A lot like the cutlets we have at roadside stalls in India.
The best meal that we had was at a Basque restaurant. The name was too hard for me to remember. The six of us finished 3 or 4 bottles of wine and had food ranging from ham croquettes to fried calamari to the more simple fried egg on potatoes to the absolutely delicious sirloin steak cooked with red wine. For dessert, we had a red colored liqueur called Patxaran. Yes, very fancy and all for 55 Euros. I'm not an advocate of spending tons of money in expensive restaurants. I do not buy the ambiance, presentation premium that they charge. So this was my most expensive meal till date. But this time around it was worth it. I think.
We came there the next day too to kick off Sarah's birthday celebrations. I tasted rabbit meat and it was awesome.

Any account of food in Barcelona would be incomplete without the mention of the pitchers of Sangria that we drowned. The alcohol content varied from place to place and so did the taste. But as the staple beverage during out trip (by the way, throughout the city, water was hard to find and cost more than beer), Sangria became the perfect accompaniment to the long dinners that we had.

Oh, and on Friday we had a unique lunch experience. Albert, the chef at Restaurant Coure is a practitioner of Molecular Gastronomy. A follower of Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame, he gave us a short introduction on the art and science of inventing new recipes by deconstruction of known ones. He boiled an egg in front of us at precisely 62 degree which coagulates the white but leaves the yolk intact! For more than an hour, he held a group of 25 MBA students captivated as he talked about the differences in Europe and the US in terms of eating habits, culture and business models and how at the given price McDonald's makes the best burger possible.

For lunch we had French Onion Soup which tasted heavenly but looked nothing like it. Predictably, I didn't like the clam. The Ox Tail (yes, we are getting fancy here again) was delicious. I thought it was a lot like the mutton I used to have in India.

So much for now. There's a lot more to talk about. The city itself being the most important part. Hopefully, the post wont be as delayed as this one.