July 31, 2007

Philly weekend: Saturday

I headed to Philly this weekend for a much-anticipated three-day trip, the main focus of which was to see Chris Cornell perform at the Electric Factory on Sunday evening. I had also figured on taking my bike and getting in a ride along the Schuylkill River Trail on Saturday, but the weather forecast was iffy and my bike was filthy, so that plan was scratched at the last minute. I threw a bag of clothes, my camera, and myself in the car Saturday morning and headed off into traffic that felt like a weekday rush hour. An accident on the bridge over the Susquehanna River and a whole freaking lot of cars on the road ended up stretching the 2.5 hour drive to 4 and putting my mood on edge.

Driving into Philly, though, things began to turn around. Once on the city streets, I began seeing bicycles everywhere. The streets of downtown Philly have a dedicated bicycle/bus (what a safe combo!) lane during rush hour, and the narrowness of the streets seems to keep auto traffic at reasonable speeds. I could easily see myself cruising those streets, and immediately wished I had taken the time to clean my bike and braved the weather report.

Ah well. Instead, after checking into the excellent Club Quarters hotel, I set out to explore.

I ended up wandering around for as many hours as I had driven, from Center City over to the Old City and back, stopping to chill out in a few great parks here and there. The parks in Philly really are refuges, with tall, very old, amazingly healthy trees. It was surprising to see such majestic sycamores in the middle of a crowded city. Of the parks, my favorite was Rittenhouse Square, which is a wonderful place to sit and soak up some atmosphere. The square is obviously a popular hangout for the local hippie/yuppie crowd. People were painting, playing guitar, having Saturday evening picnic dinners, even getting married over in a corner of the park. I sat for a long while watching an older gentleman wade around in one of the fountains creating huge iridescent bubbles. He was so intent on what he was doing, and it was cool to watch people approach and break into smiles as they saw the bubbles floating and bursting over the pool of the fountain.

A group who sat down near me and pulled out great looking carry-out dinners directed me what turned out to be the perfect spot for dinner: A teeny little hole in the wall @ 21st and Walnut called Tampopo. On the way there, I was able to catch up on the Tour de France individual time trial stage that had taken place that day when I overheard a guy explaining it to his girlfriend and joined their conversation as we walked down the street. After ordering the Tuna Bi-Bim-Bop (sashimi tuna over brown rice, cucumber, jicama and avocado, with a sweet/spicy sauce- very tasty) I settled down at a table next to three guys who were deep in discussion of the intricacies of Dungeons and Dragons. It was a bit easier to refrain from jumping into that conversation, though it was a kick to listen to. After dinner, on the way back to the hotel, I found a great little used book shop called Whodunit? and picked up a few irresistible finds. It wasn't at all the day that I had originally planned, but turned out to be a string of nice little individual moments that left me a very happy camper.

Philly really has what I consider to be true diversity. There's the typical inner-city, hip-hoppie, African-American contingency, there are business types, yuppies, hippies and punks, and sprinkled over them all are tourists from every culture imaginable. There are high-tone, very chi-chi restaurants just a block over from dollar stores and human-hair wig shops. There's a strong artistic bent, as well, considering the place is chock-full of art schools and museums.

And there's the tremendous history of the place, which really is amazing when you look below the veneer of tourist schlock. I found that I feel much more at home in Philly than I do in DC. DC's all business, from tourism to banking to politics, and the false polish allows scant space for anything edgy or gritty. Philly's more like Baltimore in that it's found a way to comfortably blend polish with a rougher edge. It's got history, character, beauty and flavor in spades. Just gotta find a good tea shop there...

Sunday's tale to follow--

July 7, 2007

What's new: Music and Friendship

Strange summer so far. I seem to be entering into one of my periodic extroverted phases. After a winter of self-aggravated discontent, self-imposed isolation, and self-indulgent introspection, the hermit seems to have wandered out of her cave for a bit.

This foray into sociability comes on two fronts (possibly three): the internet and the outdoors (the third hasn't yet gotten off the ground, so we'll just have to wait and see how it develops). Regarding the outdoors, I've always gravitated towards activities that lend themselves to solitary enjoyment-- hiking, kayaking, cycling. Many, if not most, people seem to do these things with others, but if one is sufficiently self-sufficient, then these activities are an excellent escape from the annoyances of society. Being alone by myself in the woods, on the water, or cranking the pedals, allows me to think about whatever I choose. I can mull and brood over issues at work, contemplate deep philosophical ideas, or just plain let my mind go blank. Last year, though, I began to experiment with kayaking and cycling with people I met on 'net forums geared towards those sports. One in particular, the Team Estrogen Women's Cycling forum (I absolutely hate the idea of posting at a site named for a female hormone, but it's really a great forum), has led to becoming part of a group of DC-area women who've begun to ride together on a fairly frequent basis. And now it's branching out-- a few weeks ago, three of us got together for kayaking, and one of them invited me to a get-together at her home. This has made it difficult to find time to paddle with Lee, my occasional paddling buddy of the last two summers and a fellow introvert. Even more disconcerting, I'm finding that it's been a few weeks since I've had a weekend entirely to myself. Obviously, this is not something to cry about, but it's requiring some adjusting to. These people want to spend time with me, and I have a good time with them. What might be considered strange is that I can't decide when it's time to begin referring to these people as friends. For two years, Lee has been "the guy I paddle with". The Team Estrogen ladies are just that, or "the women I cycle (and now kayak) with". At what point do they cross over from being people I enjoy certain activities with, to being friends? (Ugh. I just realized that question sounded like something Sarah Jessica Parker would say in a voice-over on Sex & the City.)

In addition to the TE cycling forum, I've also been posting at a couple of sites dedicated to Chris Cornell. I've ventured into music forums/chat rooms in the past, and actually began forming some virtual friendships that were pretty close. Throughout it all, I waffled between enjoying the anonymity that allowed me to comfortably open up and the dis-connect of not being able to see people's facial expressions and hear their tone of voice, of having interaction that is entirely intellectual as opposed to physical. I always felt strange reacting emotionally to the words of someone I couldn't see or hear and questioned whether these people I interacted with could really be called "friends". I mean, they couldn't come over and help me move furniture if I needed, or give me more than words when I needed comfort. Nor could I offer the same things to them. So were they really friends? This thought is what led me to cut ties with everyone I considered a "friend" a couple of years ago. After that I descended into full-on hermit mode, enjoying my books, my bike, my kayak and the great outdoors all on my own and finding great contentment (and occasional discontent, of course).

So now I find myself out in the world, beginning to form attachments again. Do I want this? Do I want to have a busy schedule of "dates" to do this or that with other people? Do I want to care about how people at some music forum react to my words and about what they think of me? I don't know.

On another note, I'm beginning to explore new musical territories. As mentioned in my My(WasteOf)Space profile, it takes a lot for music to really move me. I'll listen casually to all sorts of different things, but for me to want to go out and buy an album and listen to it repeatedly I've got to be touched emotionally, provoked to thought, or sucked in by a beautiful voice. For several years, I've listened to anything by Maynard James Keenan. For a while there, MJK's involvement with A Perfect Circle meant there was plenty new to listen to in the years between T00l albums. Lately, though, between his vineyard and T00l's latest epic tour, it looks like it may be a while before there's anything new from him (I'm looking forward to his Puscifer release, but I have a feeling there won't be much in the way of moving lyrical content to that. I could be wrong, though.).

And, of course, there's been Chris Cornell. It took a handful of years of casual listening to break through the density of his lyrics, but once through, the addiction developed with frightening intensity. In recent posts, though, I've written about my concerns over the direction his music's taken. The things I related to so much in Cornell's music over the years were the sense of isolation, the confusion over human interactions, the combination of melancholy in relationships and strength in solitude. At least, that's what I took from it. With Chris now a happy family man writing songs about love and his wishes for a better world for his children to live in, there's much less for me to relate to. And, as I've stated before, it seems that his incredible talent for imagery has been tempered by sobriety. I don't know how long it will be before his next album, but I'm both eager and tentative in my anticipation of it. The handful of songs from Carry On that I enjoy make me feel it's very much a transitional album, and that he'll find a way to combine those elements I've always loved with his new attitude and pespective. It'll be sad, though, if the next album reveals that it's time for me to move on.

To that end, I've begun listening to Incubus. Similarly to the way I got into Soundgarden, I've been familiar with Incubus since 2001 but only on a casual level. A friend sent me files of a few songs from their album, Morning View, back when it was released. I've listened to these songs periodically over the last several years and enjoyed them, but never really paid full attention to them. I recently had a project at work that required more focus than the distractions of the office allowed, so my boss gave me permission to plug in my earphones and crank some tunes. Hearing those Incubus songs through earphones gave me a chance to really hear both Brandon Boyd's voice and his terrific lyrics. So, I went out and bought Morning View and it quickly supplanted Cornell's Carry On in my cd player. One song, in particular, has been set on 'repeat' on several occasions:

Wish You Were Here

I dig my toes into the sand
The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue blanket
I lean against the wind
Pretend that I am weightless
And in this moment I am happy...happy

I wish you were here (x4)

I lay my head on to the sand
The sky resembles a backlit canopy with holes punched in it
I'm counting UFO's
I signal them with my lighter
And in this moment I am happy...happy

I wish you were here (x4)

The world's a roller coaster and I am not strapped in
Maybe I should hold with care but my hands are busy in the air

I wish you were here

When I really listened to these words, the sentiment of them struck me like a punch to the solar plexus (a punch softened by Boyd's lovely, mellow vocals). I've felt that way so many times. I've written here in my blog about it, that feeling of freedom and contentment that is so delicious on one's own, but that you can't help wishing you could share. But with whom? A friend or loved one is the first thought, but really, sharing it with anyone who needs that feeling in their life would be fulfilling. Which kind of brings me back full circle. Do I want to make the effort to try and turn these recent real & virtual internet acquaintances into friends and risk the frustrations that will be part of that? Or do I maintain my disattachment and keep them at arm's length, enjoying sharing words &/or activities with them and leaving it at that? Do I "wish [they] were here" in those special moments of euphoric contentment? I just don't know.