It has snowed for the past 12 hours here in Struggledelphia, and this weekend I was literally stuck in my home, unable to leave, unwilling to put on real pants. As I indulged in my 3rd (5th) cup of coffee of the day, and contemplated my frost-imposed fortress of solitude, in one of the snowiest winters this town has seen in a long time, I couldn't help but reflect on the weekend before this past one, and how very different that was indeed.
You see, my cousin Elyse, (hi Elyse!), is moving from Buenos Aires to Bogota, because, apparently, a life lived free of the shadow of the Colombian drug cartel is just a life wasted. No, but seriously, after three years in the land of Tango and cheap beef she's making a life change at moving on to the land of Salsa and cheap cocaine, which I personally would consider an upgrade, but then, I'm sort of sick that way. Also, there is a serious tostone factor to consider. Anyway, because Elyse lives a hemisphere away from me, she can be, shall we say, a bit hard to get a hold of, at times, and when she told me she had a stop in Puerto Rico for a few days, well, I jumped at the chance to see her. Puerto Rico and Philadelphia may not be exactly neighbors, but, hey, I'll take what I can get, and besides, when it comes down to it, I tend to avoid going to places where I have a 75% chance of being shot (sorry, Bogota).
Now, those playing along at home will recall that I have a place down in San Juan (and no you cannot crash there. Stop asking.)So while it was below freezing here I hopped on a plane full of Puerto Ricans and headed down to Viejo San Juan, to the land of palm trees, coquis, and luchitas every where you turn. Because I had a couple of days without Elyse, between netflix viewings and cocktails, I found myself wandering around the tiny city, chasing stray cats, yelling at pigeons and generally being amused.
The truth is, while it's known as a vacation destination and a navel bombing site, in MY mind, a strange and twisted place, to be sure, Puerto Rico is known for being a crazy land of crazy-filled crazy, and one that I always adore. There are a lot of hilarious things just about San Juan, and while we no longer dance fight on fire escapes (so 1961), we DO do a series of other bizarre things, the top five of which I will now relate to you.
1. Everyone flies kites. It's weird, it's strangely wholesome, and I always think that giant birds are flying down to attack me for at least a minute before I figure out what's going on. I don't know anyone other then Charlie Brown who flies kites, so it's Charlie Brown, and the citizens of San Juan, Puerto Rico. That's quite a club.
2.There is a Polo Ralph Lauren outlet. And a Guess outlet. And a Burberry outlet. And a Marshals. And only one supermarket.
3. There is a small section of the city called "La Perla" which is literally on the sea and outside of the jurisdiction of San Juan. That's right, it's a LAWLESS neighborhood. And it's funded by a potato chip company.
4. There is a Bacardi factory. I've never actually been there, but it's a life goal of mine to go. It's right up there with making it through an evening in high heels and watching every episode of Stargate SG-1. I'm dreaming big.
5. There is a Taco Bell. Now, that's just, that's offensive, is what that is.
As I hugged Elyse goodbye at 4 in the morning so she could catch her flight to Bogota and begin her new life as a drug baroness, I was glad to have been able to share this special little strugglesome world with her. And besides, compared to Puerto Rico, Columbia's going to be a piece of plantain, right? Right?
More snow is predicted for this Tuesday. It was 80 degrees and sunny when I left San Juan. I think I deserve some days without real pants.
Among the things I love best in the world, food is pretty much at the top of the list. And I don't mean that in the "I like food, and water, and breathing" kind of way, but more in the, "If I could marry food I totally would, and then I would (obviously) pull a Saturn and eat my childrenevery day" way. But it wouldn't be weird. It would be awesome.
So in light of my love of food and my 5 years spent wasting my youth and drudging in various restaurants, I'm adding a weekly recipe component to my posts. Let me know if there is anything special you want a recipe for, say, something new to do with turkey breast, or a fun way to cook the flesh of your enemies. I'll be sure to make it strugglicious.
Polenta Pizza Pie (adapted loosely from a Self.com recipe. Shut up.)
1/2 a cup of corn meal 2 1/4 cups of water 1/2 a cup of red onion, thinly sliced 1/2 a cup of red pepper, diced 2 teaspoons olive oil 2 teaspoons fennel seeds 2 tomatoes 4 cloves of garlic, minced 1 3 ounce turkey sausage (or pork, if you are not a chosen person) 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Boil the water and add corn meal in a thin stream, along with about a 2 teaspoons of salt. Whisk the mixture until the cornmeal has dissolved (it will initially be lumpy, don't get upset). Continue to whisk until the mixture is thickened and well blended. Pour the polenta into a greased pie pan and chill for about 20 minutes.
Remove the skin from the sausage and cook in a saucepan with cooking spray, or, if you want to be a fatty-no-friends, olive oil. In a separate saucepan, saute 2 teaspoons olive oil, the onions, peppers, two cloves of garlic and fennel seed, until the onions and peppers have just begun to soften. Place polenta pie base in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. As you are baking the polenta, dice the tomatoes and cook in a small pan with the other two cloves of garlic until the mixture is a thick, chunky sauce. Spread the sauce over the pre-baked polenta "crust", and then spread the sausage and the pepper-onion mixture on top. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Spread cheese on top, and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serve with salad, or eat it straight from the pan as you watch a Law and Order marathon on USA. Whatever feels right to you.
Since I've joined the ranks of the working girls (no, not THOSE kind of working girls, get your mind out of the gutter!), I've discovered something miraculous. While the daily grind doesn't just extend to my coffee, and while the work week can seem endless at times, one of the most amazing things about working, rather than being a student, is, with some exceptions, your nights and weekends are fairly free. Now, this might not sound that revelatory, but stay with me here. For the last 22 years, excluding the brief respite given by vacation times, my evenings were occupied, initially with piano lessons, play practices, vocal jazz rehearsals (am I painting a solid picture for you concerning both my dorkiness and my mother's saintliness?) and later, as the years went by, with part time jobs and meetings and always, through it all, the endless homework, coursework, paperwork and schoolwork, designed to turn the average human being into a pedantic philosophy quoting machine. Or, you know, teach us something. Whichever way you slice it, it took up most of my time, so between classes during the day, working in the evenings and chasing this elusive "sleep" creature all weekend (between drinking bouts. What? Not-Yale was tough!) , I pretty much kept myself busy.
But now that all of that is behind me (at least for the next few years) I'm discovering this amazing thing known as "doing things during the week". Wild and unconventional as this concept is to me, it seems to me that I may be a little behind the times on this one. For example my friend Jon, (hi Jon!) Has drinks and dinner dates with people all the time. When we trade stories about the previous evening, I regal him with tales of Netflix and Sleepytime, while Jon counters with exciting stories about his dating adventures in the Capital. Once I started asking around, it seemed that all of my friends had ceased to reserve their "out of the house" moments for the weekends. So I thought, why not?
Now, given my innate uncoolness and my deep seated need for sleep, I figured I couldn't do anything that crazy on a Monday that might mean I couldn't make it to work on a Tuesday. So body shots, Roman orgies and road trips to Washington were all out, (Sorry, Jon), as were assassination attempts on Latin American dictators were all out. (Just ask the CIA, that last one can take YEARS.) So what was a girl to do to fill all her new found time? The obvious choice, attend two different one-man plays about the lives of Truman Capote and James Baldwin, respectively. Duh.
The Maukingbird Theater Company is a small but prolific company here in Struggledelphia who produce work which looks at questions of sexuality and gender in a new and often striking way. I've seen a great deal of their work, and for a new company they are interesting in tackling some of the most disturbing and perturbing questions facing society today. Their current work is kind of a two parter, two separate plays, each a one man show, each with the same set, but each with a different subject. "Tru", a blustering and meandering 2 hour Odyssey, is told from the perspective of an aging Truman Capote, whose tenuous status in society is quickly plummeting due to his indiscreet, if acute, descriptions of the socialites and dilettante around him. "The Threshing Floor", a singing, zingingly tight hour long chronicle, probes into the life of James Baldwin. While Capote made a career of being the ultimate hanger on, Baldwin exiled himself from the United States in every possible way, I mean, the man practically put the ex in ex-patriot. Perhaps I preferred the piece on Baldwin because of my own recent regression to US soil, because of my own concerns, post graduation, post travel, post life as I've come to know it, about what to do next.
Or maybe I just liked it because it was shorter. Now that I know weeknights are an option, I'm going to fill them just as high as I can. After all, I've got 22 years to make up for. Just don't tell my choral teacher, okay?
You know what's a huge struggle? If you answered me, then you are indeed correct, but that was the easy answer, so no points for you. However, if you instead answered "growing up and joining the human race", well, go ahead and pat yourself on the back because you won.
Now, I am fully aware of how difficult it is to get a job in today's market. However, despite "la crisis", or perhaps because of it, most of my friends are, surprisingly enough, gainfully employed, if only because the people my age are willing to accept lower salaries and longer hours then, say, a parent of two. So here we all are, fresh out of college, filled with the vigor and promise of youth, our whole lives ahead of us, and then we jump straight into a world of heath insurance forms and taxes and early bedtimes. I mean, did you know that based on your commute you have to wake up by at least 8 to be somewhere and caffeinated by 9? Which means you have to go to BED by at least 1, which means you can't watch adult swim, which means what the hell are you going to talk about with anyone ever? I honestly don't know how adults do it!
And listen, this isn't just hearsay, I really do know what I'm talking about. For the next two months I myself am working what I believe the kids call a 9 to 5, answering phones, filing papers, selling my soul to the company store, the usual. And I have a few observations from my long hard days in the salt mines (and by salt mines I mean Real Estate Company. And by long hard days, I mean my father buys me lunch every day) which I would like to share with you, as a way to aid my fellow compatriots, young and old. And by compatriots, I mean drones.
How to make a 9 to 5 a "Nothing but Fun": 1. Use the time when you are being paid to be "working" as covert opportunities to catch up on some serious reading. May I suggest observing the social habits of others? Boning up on the news? Or, you know, stalking? 2. Construct a suit of armor out of paper clips. It worked for my brother in the 6th grade, it can work for you. Ladies, don't be gender normative, armor on up! Only you can defend middle earth! 3. Make long distance phone calls on someone else's dime. Come on, don't you have some friends in New Guinea you could be catching up with? 4. Set up an internet dating profile. The sketchier the site, the better. 5. Fill out magazine subscriptions and catalog offers in the names and addresses of people you dislike. Penile enhancement offers always sweeten the deal.
I'm sure you've all got more at home. And if you do, would you mind sending them to me? I seem to have a lot of grown up time I need to fill.
Well, it took me about 18 hours, three bottles of water, two enormous cups of coffee, a glamour magazine (shut up), one evening in Heathrow airport, two friskings, one 8 hour trans-Atlantic flight, one 40 minute trans-USA flight, three customs declaration forms (I really should stop using pens), and one screening of "Love Happens" (life lesson, no matter what, don't EVER see "Love Happens"), but I am finally back on the Western Side of the Atlantic ocean. And when I GOT back, after communing with my cats, watching something like 20 hours straight of netflix and Hulu ( I had to catch up!), and indulging myself in wine and microwave popcorn (a concept that has yet to reach Europe in a popular sense), I made a startling realization. Was it that despite it's heavy sense of procedure I still love Bones? Well, yes, yes it was, but that wasn't the main thing. No, the real and really scary thing I discovered was that I've been keeping this blog for a year now. Which means that some of you have been reading about my strugglsome struggles for a year now. Which means that YOU must be exhausted. I know I am.
That's right, it's been a full year since I realized the struggle had to go public. A full year since I sat in the Art and Architecture Library of not-Yale and first began to consider my life through the lens of struggle. And since that time the world has seen two Twilight films, one band of pirates (not the fun Caribbean kind, though, which just goes to show, everything is better in the Caribbean) , several massive snow storms, an unprecedented number of celebrity deaths, an economic recession (known in Spain as "la crisis", a more direct moniker, I must say), the marriage of a Jonas brother (viewers of the Disney channel weep), and the first ever Olympic games to be held in a South American country. Now, as that country is Brazil, well, the Olympic athletes might have to play with switchblades in their sports bras, but, hey, progress, right?
But on a more personal note, it's been a pretty full year for me as well. I graduated not-Yale, I farmed organically, for about two weeks, I traveled around Europe, I subsequently mocked Europe, I did yoga, I read Rushdie, I recycled. I was also kicked by a horse, got lost in major transit stations in at least 5 European cities, yelled at by tenants, contractors, strangers and Germans, caught strep throat, caught 4 different colds, caught many trains in the wrong directions, and struggled, struggled, struggled. But then, didn't we all. And perhaps I'm not so different as I was a year ago when I published my first post, still a mess, still can't figure out what to do with my hair, still technically living with my parents.
So as I look ahead to the new year, with all it's promise and hope, I recognize that I still have some struggling to do. After all, I'm only 1 year old. So happy anniversary to the struggle, and to all of us who continue to do it. And hey, at least my parents have cable. Things seem to be looking up.
First and foremost, let me wish all of you a healthy, happy and struggle-free New Year. Since I myself am fully aware of the impossibility of my own year/existence being devoid of struggle, the least I can do is wish good things on others. Now, I'm sure you are all desperate to know about how I spent my New Years Eve, if only to, you know, point and mock. But before we get there, I think it's only fair that we jump back and talk a little bit about the build up.
As you may recall, the day after the that whole Christmas thing I found myself running out of Madrid like a bat out of hell, bound straight for Berlin. Well, Berlin, by way of Palma de Mallorca, so, you know, 10 hours of travel just to get to an umlaut, but, you know, I'm not bitter. I finally arrived in Berlin, after the weirdest and, honestly, more ghetto series of plane rides of my life (at one point we were shuffled onto a bus and just taxied around the runway for a while until the plane was ready for us. Standing room only. Smelly smelly European people. I think you get the idea. Now, as for Berlin itself, well, Berlin is, honestly, weird. It's a weird place, it's a huge struggle, it's exactly what you'd expect of a city that was divided by a giant marked up wall for several decades and then re-united in the modern era. The most edible naturally German food to be found in the city is called currywurst, and is a sausage served with ketchup and curry and fries. Sure. There is even a museum devoted to it, but given that I only had three days in Berlin, I had to give that one a miss. However, I did get to spend my days wandering around some of the riches of the ancient world (so graciously and kindly ripped out and stolen by the Germans, thanks, guys), and observing some "Bruegel" guy and his "art work" , apparently he's, like, famous, or something? I don't know, all the signs were in German. Go figure. The upside of Berlin is that everyone, and I really do mean everyone, from the cab drivers to the coffee shop waiters, speaks English. Given that this is not the case in, say, Spain, for example, this was something I found really quite exciting. The downside of this turns out to be that, and I don't know why this is, but when Germans speak in English, well, they just tend to sound, how to put this, amazingly, astoundingly, totally, well, RUDE. Really really rude. Honestly, downright mean. I don't think that they MEAN to, per say, or that there is an intention for cruelty, but they just YELL at you, it's unreal. At a VERY nice Austrian restaurant I attended with Ben and Michael (hi, guys!) and their family the oh-so-proper maitre'd actually barked at us "hurry up, hurry up!" as he shepherded us to our table. Now, granted, there were, like, 12 of us, but STILL! If only we tipped here in Europe, then it could reflect that treatment. I suppose that's why we don't. Just one more reason to blame the Germans.
Waving auf Wiedersehen to Germany I jumped on a flight and made my way over to the sunny shores of England, to bask in the balmy weather and get myself a tan. Much to my shock and despair, it was foggy and rainy! Who would have guessed it? Here in London I celebrated the New Year with a bunch of public school boys, my friend Andrew, (hi, Andrew!) and some fairly disturbing British Art. I must say, as much of a struggle as I am, I can't help by like London, with it's delicious Indian food and it's horrifying social systems. Outside of New York I've never heard so many different languages spoken on public transportation, and you kind of have to love that, don't you?
Or perhaps it's just that I love London because it's the last stop on my way home. And tomorrow night, just before the Tube closes for the evening, I will be on my way to London's Heathrow Airport, to while away the evening drinking in the airport bar and waiting for my flight to be announced. Is it going to be a struggle? Well, of course it is, have you seen the title of this website? Is it going to be worth it? Well, after a long period of wandering, gentle readers, let me tell you, that to get home, frankly, swimming the Atlantic ocean would be worth it, let alone flying over it. So, for all of you following along at home, I'll catch you across the pond. It's been 100 days in Europe for me, and I'm ready to say Adios, Ciao, Chuss, Cheers, and Au Revoir. It seems that for me, there's no struggle like home.
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.