Sunday, September 3, 2006
Cloudy, sunny, humid
Tired and thoughtful/though-provoking few days.
The trip to Philadelphia was fun. Lots of unexpected stuff, but in a good way.
The trip down was relatively smooth – was ready earlier than I expected, so I left for the city earlier. Cranky-making commuter ride in, as usual, but smooth across the Deuce and onto an earlier bus at Port Authority. It started to rain as we left. Three very different men stopped me and asked me out on my way across town, which I thought was amusing. And said no all three times. Not available. Sorry.
I alternated looking out the window (wondering if the swans in the toxic swamp of New Jersey glowed in the dark) with reading a book of columns by a writer from a small, upstate paper. Quite interesting.
Got to Philly, grabbed a cab – Philly drives me nuts in that the cab drivers always refuse to give receipts because I’m a woman. So I wrote one out and made the guy sign it. I’m going to complain to their Chamber of Commerce about it -- it’s not like Philly doesn’t get in business travelers. But, consistently, the drivers refuse me receipts. “I ran out.”
“What’s that piece of paper there?”
“It’s for the business men.”
“Business women don’t rate?”
“The men need them for their expense reports.”
“So do I.”
“No, you doan. Some nice man take good care of you.”
Can I just say how badly I wanted to kick this jerkoff in the nuts? I take care of myself, thank you very much.
But my friends’ place is a nice, Rittenhouse Square address, a great apartment, with a very cute cat. Dumped the luggage, had a quick snack, and we toddled around the neighborhood. There are lots of shops close by, and I managed to buy a couple of bottles of wine for the time here, and as a thank you for letting me come hang out.
We went to a new restaurant on Walnut St. called Alfa. Unfortunately, we caught the tail end of a great idea called “City Sips” – a happy hour held by many restaurants where beers are $2, wine is $2, cocktails are $4. Gets a big student crowd, which makes it a little unpleasant for dinner.
Unfortunately, this student crowd was more of the business school student and I-hate-my-life crowd than the art school crowd only a few blocks down. Not only that, but smoking is still allowed in Philly bars. That’s fine, but they didn’t have a non-smoking section in which we could eat.
I’m sorry, but a badly dressed bitch flicking cigarette ash on my table is not acceptable at McDonald’s, much less at an upscale restaurant. And, they claimed they couldn’t serve hot tea (which my friend wanted) because they were “doing renovations and shut off the water”. So, exactly how was the barman washing the glasses and pouring mixers?
They did give me the wine I ordered at the happy hour price, letting me mix it with my dinner. And the food was amazing – scallops in a tomato herb sauce with grilled asparagus and some of the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had outside of Maison, here in NYC. The wait staff was great, the situation less so.
According to one of the students at the table beside me, the free appetizers were dry, stale nachos and not worth it. He wanted me to go out with him (as if – I’m old enough to have given birth to him, for crying out loud). I asked him what he’d done to make the world a better place and he couldn’t think of anything. So I told him to go down to New Orleans and help rebuild with Habitat for Humanity, or to help with a soup kitchen here in Philly, or work to get his political leaders (employees) to commit some sort of act of social justice, and when he could prove he’d completed such an act, he should call me and I’d go out to dinner with him.
I’m not some desperate college chick who watches too much Sex in the City. You want to date me? Prove you’re worth my time. Aside from the fact that I’m not available right now.
There was a concert in the park in Rittenhouse Square. My friends’ apartment is close enough so that we could sit on the balcony with our wine and enjoy it from there.
There’s a terrific patisserie called Miel two blocks from the place, and a pub called The Black Sheep right across the street. I didn’t get to the latter, but I set up in the former as my appointment place. Good coffee, good pastry, good atmosphere.
The next day, quick breakfast from Miel, a meeting, and then downtown to the historic district for my research. I’d been down there about ten years ago for a mystery writers’ conference, but hadn’t had much time to look around. I hadn’t visited the historic sights since 1975.
The Liberty Bell has her own large, box-like structure now. Security’s tight – they couldn’t figure out why I kept setting off the alarms when it was obvious, in a T-shirt dress, I wasn’t concealing anything under my clothes.
The exhibits are fairly well set up around the Bell, and there’s something about seeing the Bell itself that’s pretty stunningly emotional. Writer Carolyn Marvin had an op ed piece in the paper about how the city plans to cut off the bell and Independence Hall and park from people with a high security fence, and how that’s a bad thing. I agree. There’s got to be a way of protecting these landmarks of freedom without preventing people’s connection to the symbols, all in the name of “protection”. People need to experience the symbols viscerally, visually, emotionally to understand what those Founding Parents fought so hard to achieve.
If you cut them off from the people, in the name of “security”, the terrorists win.
How about doing some more investigative and preventative work and training the security personnel appropriately? Give them the tools to do their job. Joe and Julia Q. Public are going to cooperate and do their part to keep the symbols safe, if you give them a chance and don’t treat every single person that comes in as a potential terrorist asshole. Teach the security personnel the appropriate techniques to deal with the public and how to spot/stop a threat.
The Visitors’ Center also has some excellent exhibits – but only information for people who don’t even have a basic, fifth grade social studies class clue about what happened, which is a bit sad. I agree with get ‘em while they’re young and hook ‘em on history, but there has to be a way to keep the interest in history growing as the students grow.
The Visitors’ Center should also have a shelf of books by local authors, instead of just the sound-byte type books it specialized in.
We swept by the National Constitution Center, hoping to go back later, and past the cemetery and the Meeting House, hoping for the same. The National Constitution Center looks quite new, and I think is a great idea. As young as possible, kids need to get a sense of why the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Bill of Rights are so important to this country and so unique in the world. Only then will they have the tools, as they grow up, to keep Big Business and the Consortiums from destroying the principles upon which those documents (and this country) are based, all in the Business’s definition of “patriotism.”
“Patriotism” is knowing when your leaders are betraying you and not allowing it. That’s what happened here in 1776. That’s what the citizens of this country need to do again in 2006.
Quick meeting in the lovely Loxley Court (I’ll post photos later) and then over to the Betsy Ross house. The actors preparing for performance were very nice, but the vibe from the staff inside was so negative I decided not to go through the house. I’ve been through it several times, and, mostly, I wanted to revisit with Betsy and get a good biography on her, which of course, not a single store in Philly carries. There are several children’s books, but no adult biographies, which is just a crime. I know they exist, because over the years, I’ve read several. But damned if you can find a biography of Betsy Ross at the Betsy Ross house.
So I bought a children’s bio, hoping it listed some sources at the end, which I could track down in the future.
Down to Penn’s Landing for another quick meeting. Note to self: kitten heels work with the t-shirt dress but get stuck in the brick paths.
A very lovely man helped extricate me from a particularly stubborn set of bricks. He wanted to know why I didn’t seem upset. I said, “Because it’s my own damn fault. I should have done my research about the paving and worn flats. I’m not going to whine about it.” He wanted to know if I was free to go with him to a Philadelphia Fringe Show this weekend. I actually would have loved to, but I wasn’t going to be around.
Stopped at Portofino for lunch – friendly, quiet, great service, very good food. I had lobster ravioli in a tomato cream sauce – very good. I’ve only had lobster ravioli in an alfredo sauce or a squid ink sauce before.
After lunch, I was in heaven at Hibbard’s Book shop – a terrific second hand book shop where I was ready to set up a cot and move in! I stopped at five books:
The Road to the Temple by Susan Glaspell (I am a Susan Glaspell fanatic, and, after all, without her, we would not have the work of Eugene O’Neill, in my opinion);
The Poems and Plays of Sir Walter Scott, Vol. II – containing an inscription from 1916!
The Times Anthology (meaning the LONDON TIMES) edited by M. Alderton Pink, published in 1945;
The Long Party: High Society in the Twenties and Thirties by Stella Margetson;
The Diary of Beatrice Webb: Volume One 1873-1892 – Glitter Around and Darkness Within
Of course, that means I’ll have to track down volumes two and beyond.
Checked both Borders and B&N on the off chance that they might have an adult bio of my Betsy, but, of course, they didn’t. And I was getting crabby now. On my feet, getting stuck in pavement for six hours, in spite of delightful food and books.
Stopped in a shoe store “Just to look” and ended up buying a pair of black suede pointed toe flats and a pair of wine-colored flats. Now, all I need is a pair of black ankle boots and I’m set. Tried on nearly 15 pairs in the store, but none was quite what I wanted.
Stopped at Miel’s on the way back for a mid-afternoon snack and their delicious coffee (French pastry/Italian coffee – good mix).
Then went across the street to a store called Kitchen Kapers. Ended up buying some bamboo spoons (my wooden spoons are wearing out and the bamboo are supposed to be better), another mortar and pestle (I collect them) and a cast iron red towel rack with a rooster on it – marked, unbelievably as “Old Dutch French Country”, which makes NO sense to me, but it was one of those things I liked and might never see again, so I bought it.
How heavy has my luggage become?
Recouped at the apartment in the afternoon and decided that, with a friend coming in for dinner, I’d just run out and bring back a ton of Chinese food. Got it from Wok, and the food was terrific, although they couldn’t tell me what the cross-streets were when I called.
So, The Elitist just happened to be in town for some weird reason -- I think he’s having an affair with some local art gallery gal – and came to dinner (I’m tempted to call him my SLF – Snobby Literary Friend), but if he’s going to be written about, he prefers to be known as the Elitist. A well-published writer (who asked his true name not be used in this blog). Believes all marketing personnel are either whores or whoremongers, does not teach or do conferences, and genuinely believes artists are superior to the rest of the human race. He’s the first person I’ve ever met who is genuinely a conservative liberal. Not a liberal conservative, but a conservative liberal. He’s an agnostic, and would be an anarchist, except that “the stupid tend to come to power in anarchy”. He believes in the sacredness of the written word above all else.
It’s amazing we can even stand to be in the same room together, but we actually get along pretty well. We can challenge each other in conversation. He feels I’m too fair and cut people too much slack, especially when it comes to writing – he’s the one who thinks I shouldn’t help other writers so much (unless they’re paying me) and that I should be glad when, as he puts it “some silly housewife uses her kids as an excuse not to write because she’s incapable of making the commitment to her writing and too cowardly to give up her insulated little play world for something real” because it’s less competition for the "real writers."
We both agree that far too many marriages are simply legalized prostitution – one partner trades sex for money and a home, and, because there’s a wedding ring involved, it’s accepted by society.
His view is very different from mine – I believe there’s an insatiable need for stories and you can never have too many good writers. He believes there’s only room for a few, and the good ones have to fight the mediocre ones and force them out of the arena. He feels the good ones need to eat their young in every sense of the word in order to succeed, and to be a Disciple of the Word is a calling beyond than popping out babies or making your women have them. He also believes you can’t be a successful writer if you’re a dedicated parent. He believes the two are mutually exclusive.
I use Anna Quindlen and Elizabeth Berg as my arguments for that one, but he’s not a fan of Berg’s and thinks Quindlen is the aberrant exception.
He’s published many books and is well-respected, so he can’t be completely off base. But I think there’s more room and more definitions for success than he allows.
In any case, it makes for lively, if exhausting, discussion.
Friday, I had a bad feeling about Ernesto’s approach and left earlier than I originally planned. I’m glad, because things got nasty just a few hours after arriving home. In addition, MetroNorth moved us to three different trains before finally stuffing everyone on to a train without air conditioning (and then refusing to open the windows) and getting us out of Grand Central. I’m sending Peter Kalikow a personal invoice for that one – his mismanagement grows more appalling every day. I can’t wait for Spitzer to be elected governor of New York and oust him from the post. That alone ALMOST guarantees my vote – though Spitzer has to answer a few more questions before I’ll be completely convinced.
Saturday was all about Ernesto. The news reports talked about how it “wasn’t even” a tropical depression – but we were hit pretty hard. High winds, driving rain, power flickering. I didn’t dare work on the computer, and, because I could feel something percolating, I purposely didn’t allow myself to write at all.
Instead, I worked my way through three large stacks of paper that had been standing around for who-knows-how-long and got it sorted or tossed. I baked my beloved double chocolate raspberry cake. In the five years I worked on Miss Saigon on Broadway, it was affectionately known as “sex cake.” Anytime we had an event, someone would say, “You’re making sex cake, right?”
I tried to vacuum (but the power flickers made it impossible). I scrubbed the bathroom and the kitchen. I hopped on and off the computer. I found out a colleague of mine died, and mourned. He was an incredibly kind man and will be missed. May those who remember him also remember to act in kindness and compassion as a tribute to him.
I read Jane Smiley’s A Year at the Races, which I highly recommend. She believes in the same types of treatments and responses with her horses that I do. If you like either her writing or have any interest in horses and racing, read this book. Tender, sad, funny, and honest.
I forgot to mention another book I read, such a fast read that I finished it completely on the trip to and from the city: Sonia Singh’s Goddess for Hire. There’s a lot of wit in it, and fun, and intelligence. Some of the coincidences are a little too pat, but I liked the characters enough to go with them.
Today was about newspapers, grocery shopping, and, in general, restlessness. I need to get on the ball with the fall. I need to make some life-altering decisions in the next few months. I want more time, but it’s not there. They have to happen now. I don’t feel ready, but too damn bad.
It was also about removing fallen branches in the parking lot (thankfully, they created a circle around the car, none actually hitting it) and helping neighbors with downed trees. I may hate repetitive machine noise, but I wield a wicked chain saw. Until the local PD asked us to stop, that Con Ed needed to come around and work on power lines, and they were afraid we’d get zapped by downed lines.
I bought my fall/winter purse (bronze colored leather) and a couple of new sheet sets for my mom. I helped her make up her bed with one of the sets (her arm still bothers her, nearly a year after the accident) and she’s very happy. I rescued a lovely oval cherry occasional table (occasionally when? It’s either a table, or it’s not) that someone was throwing out because she just redid her living room in painted white pine. Okay, whatever, I’ll take that lovely cherry item off your hands. Not really any place to put it, but I don’t care. It’s too pretty to end up in the garbage. And it will look great in the house.
What do I want out of my life and career? I want and need to walk my talk. If it’s something I believe, I have to live it. No excuses. No shopping at Wal-Mart ever, just because I can afford it and it’s convenient, when I loathe what they stand for. That sort of thing. Taking the time and making the choices. Saying no even more than I do now. Ferociously protecting the work and making the decisions I need to make so that I can do so.
I don’t want fame. I don’t need to be rich. I only want/need enough money for a relatively modest lifestyle. I don’t want to take myself so seriously that I become po-faced and boring and forget to laugh because I only want “serious literature.” Hell, let’s face it, there’s as much need in the world for Harlequin romance and graphic novels as for Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie. They’re all part of the fabric. They’re all necessary.
I don’t want to be sucked into the marketing vortex because “that’s the way it’s done”. I want to craft my own career – knowing the craft and the protocols, so that when I make a choice to do something differently, it is an informed choice, not an ignorant one.
Some of the new acquaintances I’ve made recently, I feel my time among them will be short-lived. They are far too impressed with themselves. They think they’re more than they are. They don’t realize their good qualities, but promote their lesser qualities, because they think it’ll put them on the map. Been there, done that. Don’t need to be around it anymore.
I choose to live my life differently.
Tomorrow: more thought and planning. Work on Real and “Ris an Abrar.”
But, mostly, more thought and planning.