When I was but a wee struggle my darling mother,( who deserves some kind of award just in general, I mean, the woman took me to the Renaissance fair like 50 times, I mean, no she didn't, that never happened, kidding!) would tuck my brother and I into bed nightly, intoning that famous line from Hamlet that inspired tenth grade essays the world over and one terrible film. Now, I am quite sure that my mother was not attempting to introduce us to the concept of suicide at such an early age, and in fact I didn't really understand the reference until later in my life. However, recently, as sleep has become more and more of a vanishing commodity in my life, that line torn from the mouth of the melancholy dane has began to haunt me.
Now, I have never been one to experience sleepless nights. With the rare exception I can usually sleep like a log and have through tempests and clear skies alike. When I was younger and my neighborhood was less gentrified and more crack den, I would snooze blissfully, happily unaware of gunshots and police sirens blaring through the night. I had a gift, a rare talent to sleep on regardless of the circumstances, and I don't know what sin I committed, but I think it's gone. Something about the combination of summer heat and attention hungry kittens has wrecked havoc on my ability to sleep, and I find myself waking up at 7am every morning with a start and fitfully tossing and turning until I can no longer pretend that Mr. Sandman is coming back. Then, staring at the expectant furry face of a small demon disguised as a cat, I throw off the covers and head towards the computer for a breakfast date with my boyfriend hulu as light begins to fill my house.
I can't just blame the gatitos, however. The truth is, when you consider the world the way it is today, how can anybody be sleeping that soundly? I swear, sometimes it's like the thought of the new season of Mad Men is the only thing that keeps the world moving. I couldn't say whether I'm waking up every morning because of everything I read in the newspapers or because my back is sometimes mistaken for a scratching post, but I do know this: My waking life may be something of a struggle lately, but it's beating my time asleep hands down. For example, the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking. People seem to have finally stopped talking about Twilight. They recently opened up a new ice cream place a block from my office. The silver lining, my friends. It's out there. Trust me, I wake up early enough in the morning to catch it.
It's been a while since I found a song I loved enough to recommend to anyone, but the creepy sweetness of Joanna Newsome's The Book of Right ON has me hooked.
I like dance the way that I imagine cats like swimming, it's not something I can really do, per se, but I admire the effort in others. I appreciate watching dance, I am excited and fairly un-critical, or, at least, less critical then I am of the things I have any talent at all at, like cooking or walking quickly and efficiently down the street without disrupting other people (yes, crazy mumbling homeless man from this morning, I'm talking to you). So it was with great pleasure that I learned that my mother had gotten free tickets to Balletx, a local company whose work has pushed the envelope that is classical ballet, or so I had heard. Alas, when it comes to my life, nothing is free of struggle, because struggle will, despite ones best efforts, abound like hell.
Feeling pleasantly calm after dinner and two glasses of wine, my mother and I took our seats in the Wilma Theater, surrounded by a fully filled audience of wide eyed theater-goers ready to experience the magic. And, frankly, I'm sort of still waiting.
The show, which was really three separate pieces created by the company and divided by two intermissions (which was the first mark against it, I mean, two intermissions? Seriously? Don't these people dance full length ballets? If the outfits for each piece are just various different sweatpants can't we just cut some time and save ourselves the price of a costume designer? Come on, now), began with a dance that showed us all why most dancers never cross into acting (though they SHOULD). The dancers, standing in a line on a blank stage staring seriously into the audience began moving awkwardly yet gracefully (awkward in a way only really graceful people can be) and speaking short lines of text that were repeated over and over again like a round. The next piece featured four "set" pieces that resembled four small barres which the dancers had to awkwardly trundle around the stage as they lept and moved to four very different songs. The last piece, and my personal favorite, was a vicious and stirring dance to Ravel's Bolero, a piece of music I have always enjoyed. I will say this, that what made this piece stand of from the two others was the violence and savagery in the dance, juxtaposed with the song itself. Swan Lake, eat your heart out.
Look, don't get me wrong, these are some amazing dancers. Most of them come from our best ballet company, and their training and precision is impeccable and evident. Their sheer abilities are wonderful, but at the end of the evening I was left with the question of why? Why had they made these pieces? What was the purpose? Each one was too close to ballet to be truly groundbreaking or innovative, but far enough away to feel like modern. The images themselves were interesting, but what did they evoke? What lasted from this encounter other then my continued appreciation for Ravel and my envy of the svelte ballet silhouette? I couldn't really tell you.
I must say, I do so enjoy this season. Some might say that Spring and Fall are the best of all possible times, and I understand that those times of year are delightful in their own way, all temperate and breezy and whatever, but me, I like the Summer, I really do. I like the heat, I even like sweating, as my friend Lisa says, there is something that feels healthy about it, even though she is far too much of a lady to hug someone while she is doing it (me, of course, I have no such a compulsion, ask my mother's silk shirt collection if you are curious). And, well, as for the humidity that haunts our fair city of Struggledelphia, well, my hair wasn't going to be up to any good in the best of circumstances, so really, I can't complain.
But it's the humidity that really gets me. Living in a city means putting up with a lot of strange smells under normal circumstances, but something about the combination of humidity and sunlight really brings out the bouquet, shall we say, of this fine wine that is a Struggledelphian summer. On my way to an appoint the other day I walked through Rittenhouse Square park, a wonderful place to people watch, eat your lunch, and watch women of many nationalities and cultures care for white children. I fondly remember a wonderful evening I spent in the park with my friend Mariel as we dined on Japanese food and bud light and heckled capoeristas as the sun set. Good times. Anyway, on this particularly painfully hot afternoon as the sun beat down turning my once cute outfit into a hot mess of awkward looking, I turned my head to see a Labrador retriever calmed seated in the fountain, up to his doggy ears in water. Is it wrong to be jealous of a dog? Well, if it is, then I don't want to be right.
Looking into the eyes of this particular canine, I saw a spark of understanding in his gaze. "Find your own fountain", he seemed to say. Would that I could, my friend, would that I could. Shaking my frizzy little head, I headed off to the free library to pick up the book on Fidel Castro and compilation of Chinese fairy tales I ordered. I told the librarian I have eclectic taste.
Of course all that humidity had to end at some point, and now it seems monsoon season has reached the east coast. The rain scares the hell out of my cats, and hilarity ensues. Unlike a certain dog I know, they don't seem to be big on water.
For those who live in or around the proud city of Struggledelphia The Barnes Foundation will not come as an unfamiliar name. However, as I try to account for those of you not living in our beautiful town of corrupt politicians and dreadful public transportation. I know, I'm really selling this place. The truth of the matter is that I very much adore Struggledelphia in all of it's insanity because it is that same level of crazy that has us hosting "The Fattest Day of Summer" (beautifully covered at Philebrity.com), or the hipster's paradise in cycle form, a biking and sodium filled evening once a week of pretzels and skinny jeans, or the Barnes.
The Barnes Foundation has faced a huge amount of scandal in the last couple years, and I certain don't feel qualified to explain the history of the foundation (not that that usually stops me) but suffice to say, the Barnes is a large art museum located in the suburbs of Struggledephia. In the museum hangs one of the largest private collections of impressionist art in the world, which was painstakingly collected by Mr. Albert Barnes, who, as my friend Andrew described him, must have been like Henry Clay Frick on crack. . Mr. Barnes developed some kind of pharmaceutical product (oh for the days before the Food and Drug Administration. My dreams of being a traveling con-man/doctor will never be fulfilled now) which earned him his millions and allowed him to pursue his true passion, Art. Barnes went on to buy lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of art, which he offered to the Struggledelphia Museum of Art, who found Cezanne's landscapes and Renoir's cherubs outrageously avant garde, and rejected him out of hand. Not to be defeated, Mr. Barnes established his own damn museum, which now is available only by appointment, at least until it gets moved to it's new downtown location in the next few years. However, given the lawsuits surrounding the move (Barnes specified in his will that the collection was never to be moved or re-arranged) that might take a while.
Where do I come into this story? Well, in celebration of my 22 years on this planet, my friends Andrew and Becca were in town for the weekend, and, savvy art history majors that they are (were? what's the etiquette here?) they decided that we should sojourn to the suburbs and face the museum head-on. And what is the museum, you ask? It is a struggle. A huge, terribly displayed, wildly strange, Renoir filled struggle with strange iron hinges and tools hung next to and surrounding each painting like some kind of medieval torture chamber with an appreciation for bowls of artfully rendered peaches. There is amazing art in this museum, beautiful stunning paintings that beg to be seen and studied, but four rooms in you realize a series of things:
1. Renoir is unbearable for more then two paintings in a row. Barnes bought his whole studio. 2. Putting tiny paintings close to the ceiling of a room may deter perspective thieves, but only because no vision is strong enough to see the thing from the ground. 3. African tribal masks? Great. Matisse? Great. But not in the same room. (I'm having nightmares)
This museum is, in short, a thrill ride of crazy with some struggle thrown in for good measure. I salute you, Mr. Barnes. You make struggle look easy.
I don't know what it is about birthdays, but they always strike me as odd events. When you are little they are whirlwinds of excitement and cake, and, because at that age it's still acceptable, you can have a theme. I remember one favorite birthday when my parents had a woman from the Struggledelphia Zoo come in with cages full of live animals and I spent the day joyously chasing roosters around my yard with a boa constrictor decorating my shoulders a la Britney Spears. I also got to hold a hedgehog. Best day ever. But, as we grow older and wiser, we tend to shy away from parties with matching Aladdin napkins and plates, and are more attracted to parties with matching tequila shots.Certainly last year, my 21st birthday, was celebrated with the theme of "shwasted". I fondly recall proudly stepping into a Strugglevania liquor store and presenting the clerk with every form of id in my wallet, including my Russian student visa and my library card. She was unimpressed, but she gave me my first legally purchased alcohol ever. I guess Cyrillic wasn't her best subject.
Some might say that 22 is a massive let down from the birthdays which have come before it. It doesn't have the wide eyed wonder of my zootastic event or my Disney themed pizza party. I don't feel like a responsible part of the country like I did at 18 with my new-found ability to vote and buy pornographic materials (anyone else think it's weird that those two go together? Don't blame Clinton. It's not his fault. Damn you Supreme Court!). I have been legally drinking for a year (sorry, liver) and so the bloom is sort of off that rose. So do I have to look forward to as I celebrate my departure from the womb? The world being what it is, and me being a young college grad fighting not to be nauseous when observing the job market, honestly I think there are times when we all wish we could just hop back in.
But I'm choosing to take a more positive approach, and view this birthday as a step forward. Hope and change, right? I mean, that's what I voted for. In my power yoga class (which I take twice a week with my parents. Say it with me: Never been cool) a middle aged father of two with huge tattoos and a shiny bald head guides us through an hour of intense poses and stretches in a room heated to 100 degrees. While my usual response to his voice goes something along the lines of "oh, for the love of god stop talking and get to the part where we lie down on the ground because my arms are about the EXPLODE", he did say something the other day that made me think. When discussing pain, like the pain that shoots down my legs in downward dog as I scowl at my feet and sweat, he said that what pain really is is change. We feel the pain of changing when do something different, and difficult as the pain can be to stand, it's that pain that makes us something better.
I'm all for self improvement. Especially now that I can legally drink my way through it. So as painful as growing older may be, I say, bring it on. Another year of struggle, coming up.
Ah the first of the month. A fresh start, a new day, a glorious beginning. Unless you are me, and then it's just a strugglesome hectic hellish 24 hour period filled with pain, despair, stress, and ultimately whiskey. Mmmm, whiskey.
Let's jump back a little for some context, shall we? You see, while other young people may have gotten summer jobs involving waitressing or babysitting or possibly some kind of retail, from the tender age of 18 I was required to begin studying for my real estate license. As one does. For the last two summers I have spent my time dashing around Struggledelphia in a mad effort to convince insipid co-eds and obnoxious Wharton students to rent our apartments, all the while trying to retain my sanity and refrain from punching anyone in the face before they have signed the lease. Afterwords, on the other hand, all bets are off. So while other young people frolic through the summer, having picnics and taking road trips (I get a lot of my information from teen films, so I'm just assuming this is what people do) I have spend my summers dealing with idiots, or, in real estate terms, "tenants". And the worst day for rentals is always the first of the month, because that is the day that most of our leases start, so the day that most people move in, so the day whose encroaching presence makes me live in fear.
Now, I believe that there are people out there, responsible capable people who sign there leases early, who respond by email and phone, who generally seem to WANT to move in to their apartments in a speedy and efficient manner. I just haven't MET them. All I've met are incompetent individuals who make the first of the month my personal inferno. So this Independence day, as fireworks go off around me and leering drunks try to convince me to be the side dish to their marriage, I'm celebrating me independence from tenants. At least until the first of next month. Happy Fourth of July, guys! Struggle on!
I think this mannequin looks the way I felt. Business on top, struggle on the bottom.
Leah Franqui is a fairly interesting person/director/writer/reader/eater/drinker. She likes ugly dogs and dislikes her hair in the morning. She's a sucker for environmental causes and plays hardball with deals on chewing gum. She is a struggle.