March 14, 2010

Onward and Upward

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There’s always been a curious asymmetry between fall and spring semester here in Ithaca.

Fall semester begins with a month of blissful summer sun creeping down into the craggy gorges and flooding Collegetown and Libe Slope with golden afternoon light. In October, we break out our stylish sweaters and scarves as the air turns crisp and the trees come alive in shades of orange and yellow. The farmer’s market fills with apples, squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Traipsing through the Plantations, you find yourself surrounded by colorful autumn flowers. At this time of year, I like to wander down the stone steps to Fall Creek just past the suspension bridge. I sit on a rocky ledge and watch silhouetted cars streak across the sunset along the Stewart Avenue Bridge. And in December the first snows fall and Christmas songs from the Clocktower chimes fill the valley with festive music.

But Spring semester is a completely different beast. For two long months, massive, wet snowstorms from the south go to war against frigid, dry arctic blasts from Canada. Then, when the snows cease, the rains begin. Salt stains on your jeans transform into mud stains. Everything seems cold and wet. You renormalize your expectations until overcast becomes the new partly sunny, and partly sunny becomes miraculous. Freshman realize their second-semester GPA-recon plans have been thwarted. Sophomores and juniors experience their mid-college crisis of identity. Seniors, in the darkest corners of their mind, begin to realize: The real world is coming to drag them off the Hill.

Honestly, I feel sorry for those sun-drenched pansies in California, Florida and the Southwest. They will never experience the indescribable pleasure of walking through the cherry blossoms in a tee-shirt on the first warm spring day, drunk off sunshine. To live here is to appreciate changes. But for now, in the cold, muddy, wet armpit of late winter, things look a little bleak.

Well folks, have no fear. As a seasoned veteran of spring semesters, I’ve developed ten patented methods for surviving Ithaca’s ugly months.

1. Embrace Your Inner Artist: Everyone has some sort of artistic release. For me, it’s sneaking into Sage Chapel at night with Broadway/Disney sheet music. I fill the room with sounds from the piano, and belt “Part of Your World” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” Some people enjoy drawing, painting, dancing or karaoke. Make it physically exhausting and cathartic. Enhance the experience with … fermented grape juice or medicinal herbs.

2. Clean Your Apartment: You might not understand organic chemistry or production functions, but goddamnitt, you can get that stain out of the carpet! The happiest people go to bed exhausted and sore, drenched in sweat and Windex. My over-priced dish soap is jasmine-scented, and every time I wash my pots I feel like I’m at a spa.

3. Dine Out: Ithaca has no shortage of good eats. Grab a friend (or two) and go out for a fine meal. Try a Po’boy at Maxie’s Supper Club, or the warm brie with melon at Just A Taste. Pile into a car and head out to Glenwood for a Pine’s Burger, or just head to Stella’s for some seared ahi tuna. If your meal doesn’t last at least 90 minutes, and if the conversation isn’t 30 percent devoted to discussing how amazing your entrées are, you have failed at this activity. Order appetizers, cocktails or desert. Or all three.

4. Fornicate: Sex: it works. Bitches.

5. Culture Yourself: Go to the Johnson Museum and check out the temp exhibits, stroll through the gallery spaces or just gaze out the fifth-floor windows. There’s a gem/rock exhibit in Snee Hall that I just love. On certain Fridays, you can check out the CAVE in Rhodes Hall — an interactive, 3-D environment where you can manipulate hemoglobin molecules or watch tsunamis travel across the planet. Check out the many student exhibits in Sibley and Tjaden. Go to Feurtes Observatory on clear Friday nights to check out the Whirlpool Galaxy or Saturn. Or head downtown and check out the galleries and shops on State Street and the Commons. There’s even a free Clock Museum on State Street by the Daily Sun building, open Saturday afternoons.

6. Explore Campus: Check out amazing views from the top floor of Bradfield Hall, the glass staircases of Rhodes or the Clocktower. Or travel beneath the ground in the incredibly long tunnel between Plant Science and Weill, where you can find an intersection labeled, “Hollywood and Vine.” Change things up a little! Get lunch somewhere new. It’s criminal to graduate without trying the tofu scramble at Manndible, the Morrocan stew at Moosewoods or the deli sandwiches at Mattins.

7. Take A Hike: You can spend an entire day wandering through the woods and gardens of the Plantations without ever leaving campus. Trust me, there is always another trail waiting to be discovered around here. Once I found a tree in a grassy field with a small swing and a sign that read “Piglet’s Corner.” On another sojourn I discovered a Prayer and Meditation “Chapel” perched on a cliff above Ithaca Falls.

8. Go to the Lab of Ornithology: It’s the most adorable place on Earth. Sit in a rocking chair by a crackling fire while bird-watching through high-tech Swarovski lenses. The site is also home to a bunch of winding trails with plank-walks around the marshlands of Sapsucker Woods.

9. See A Movie: If you have writer’s block or feel incapable of problem solving, table the homework and catch a flick at Cinemapolis or the Mall. You could sit there in the libe, cursing your own mediocrity and banging your head against the table. Or you could go see Colin Firth as a tormented English professor, hooking up with hot young men. Your choice.

10. Relax and Enjoy Life: Seriously. We’re young and healthy with bright futures ahead of us. Savor it. We live in an amazing place, surrounded by natural beauty. Cornellians are a vibrant bunch who brought the world Burger King, the Empire Apple and “The Devil Wears Prada.” Our ranks include the folks who designed Grauman’s Chinese Theater, penned Slaughter-House Five and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon.” There are a million ways to be successful coming out of this place. Very few of them require a 4.0.

Next time you head into Mann library, Barton Hall or the ILR building, take a look at the inscription above the entryway. It says Excelsior: ever upward. For most of the world, Ithaca is where the Odyssey ends. But for us youth, who bear our books ‘mid snow and ice, this is only the beginning.

Original Author: Munier Salem