The (rainy) streets of Philadelphia, part 4

March 31, 2014 – In parts one, two, and three, we visited the streets of Rittenhouse and Fairmount, Old City and Elfreth’s Alley, and University City and Powelton Village. Today, we will venture north and south of center city to visit Fishtown and Queen Village.

Fishtown
Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood sits northeast of Center City, its borders defined the Delaware River, Frankford Avenue, and York Street. The name comes from the area’s former role as the center of the fishing industry on the Delaware River.

Each first Friday of the month on Frankford Avenue, the galleries feature an open house celebration for artists to display what they have been working on. It’s the perfect way to get a feel of what Fishtown has to offer.

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This spot along the Delaware River is an open space park that commemorates William Penn’s treaty of peace with the chief of the Lenape Turtle Clan, Tamanend in 1683.

fishtown park

It began as a working class neighborhood, became impoverished, and then experienced gentrification. Fishtown is the trendy place to be now that artists and professionals have moved into the area.

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Strolling along Frankford Avenue you’re bound to see an old-fashioned trolley car patrolling the area.

fishtown trolley

Much of the area has an industrial feel, but there are upscale lofts and restaurant/bars in the old factory buildings. This one houses Fetta Sau, a member of the Starr Restaurants around Philadelphia. Owner Stephen Starr, also owns Buddakan, Barclay Prime, and several other Philadelphia area restaurants.

fishtown restaurant

Queen Village
Queen Village is a residential neighborhood immediately south of center city. Its boundaries are the south side of Lombard Street to the north side of Washington Avenue, and Front Street to 6th Street.

Fourth Street,  widely known for its variety of fabric shops, is known as Fabric Row.

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Second Street features a variety of pubs and cafes to the south. To the north, sits Headhouse Square, the site of Philly’s weekend farmers market.

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The residential area of Queen Village is charming and popular with young singles and families alike.

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A song you may hear on any oldies station asks, “Where do all the hippies meet?” On South Street, of course, home to popular bars and restaurants and unique shops for hippies young and old.

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Part five of the series continues next Monday, when we’ll visit Chestnut Hill and Manayunk.

The holy or the broken

music-notes3March 28, 2014 – Let’s play Name that Tune.

This song was…

  • Written in 1984
  • Not an initial hit for its Canadian singer-songwriter creator
  • Covered by over 300 artists including Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, k.d. Lang, Rufus Wainwright, Willie Nelson, and Il Divo
  • Widely used in film and television, and on elevators
  • Named the 10th greatest Canadian song of all time, and listed as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time by “Rolling Stone”
  • Named the greatest song of all time by U2’s Bono

Need another clue? This song was the topic of “The Holy or the Broken”, a book written by music journalist Alan Light.

If you guessed “Hallelujah”, give yourself a pat on the back. If you guessed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” you deserve much more; people may know the song, but it is rarely attributed to Cohen. And if you don’t think you’ve ever heard of the song, listen here, and I’m sure you’ll find you’re mistaken.

Light also writes for “The New York Times” and “Rolling Stone”, and is the founding editor of “Vibe Magazine”. He appeared last night at Kelly Writers House, a center for writers from Penn and the Philadelphia region on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus to discuss the book, the song, and the myth, and how it became an international anthem for human tragedy. Or triumph, depending on the performer and which verses of the song he or she chooses to sing.

Yes, “Hallelujah” can be that simple, or that complicated depending on your point of view. Even Cohen, who created the song, has been known to change and add lyrics to suit his mood. In all, he has written about 80 draft verses for it.

Light talked about and played portions from a few different versions of the song. He started off with Cohen’s version, and told the story that when he recorded it, the record company did not want to put it on the album. “We all know you are great,” the record company executive told Cohen after hearing ‘Hallelujah’, “we just don’t know if you are any good.”

According to Light, “Hallelujah” was a difficult song to write. Cohen struggled with the lyrics for years, and recalls being in a New York City hotel room in his underwear, banging his head on the floor saying, “I can’t finish this song.”

It’s also puzzling, he points out, that the song is used at many benefits to help victims of various disasters, yet no one, not even Cohen, knows what it actually means. The song even became popular with kids when it was used in the movie “Shrek”. Light explains that since “Shrek” was a DreamWorks film, a DreamWorks recording artist was needed to cover it. Rufus Wainwright sang an upbeat version for the film and it became planted in the minds of a whole new generation.

So, how did this song go from Cohen’s obscure album to Shrek? In the late 80s, Cohen and his music enjoyed a slight resurgence, and various artists put out a tribute album of his songs. Among them, John Cale of the Velvet Underground, who performed his version of “Hallelujah”. He recorded it much like Cohen did, as a solo piano piece, but he changed around the lyrics a bit. It was Cale’s version of the song that caught the attention of Jeff Buckley, who recorded it, and it became the most popular version of the song.  Buckley’s version is the one used widely in various films and television programs. However, it wasn’t a true hit for him, either. When he passed away a few years after he recorded it, people took a second look at his music, discovered “Hallelujah”, and made it what it is today.

Light also says that Cohen may “have penned it, but Jeff Buckley owned it.” He told the intimate crowd at Kelly Writer’s House that he didn’t think about dedicating a few years to writing a book about one song until he began to talk to people about “Hallelujah”, only to realize what a tremendous impact it had on them.

“Everyone had a story connected to the song, and that is very powerful to hear,” he said. “I wrote the book after hearing that a friend of a friend actually named her daughter Hallelujah after the song.”

Are there any bad versions out there?

“Very few,” says Light, “because it is a song that is forgiving. Among the bad, however, are versions by Susan Boyle and Bono.”

Boyle’s version, which appears on her Christmas album is too clean. Her voice is fine, but she barely brings any meaning to the lyrics, and concentrated more on the Hallelujah chorus. Bono’s version may be the worst ever, and Light explains that artist agreed as much when he interviewed him for “The Holy or the Broken”. Bono performs the song to a trip hop beat, whisper raps the lyrics, and belts out a soprano chorus that doesn’t please the ear.

My favorite is k.d. Lang’s sultry cover, which she performed when Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, and also at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

In addition to a compelling lecture, there were two moving performances of “Hallelujah” by Penn student musicians.

For more information about Kelly Writers House, and the programs available to area writers, visit  http://www.writing.upenn.edu/wh/.

Movie review: Authors Anonymous

hr_Authors_Anonymous_2March 26, 2014 – If you are a writer who’s ever belonged to a writer’s group, you will likely relate to most of the story line in the new indie film “Authors Anonymous”. I’ve belonged to a few and admit it can be torturous to try to find a positive word for a writer whose work is bad, and I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of this scenario. 

I never got much from these groups, which is why I don’t join them anymore. However, it doesn’t mean I won’t watch movies about them because there is something intriguing about work shopping and critiquing when I don’t have to participate.

The story follows a dysfunctional group of unpublished writers who dream of making it in the publishing industry. It’s real life comedy and drama as they struggle to find positive contributions to author’s readings and encouragement in a sea of rejection letters, which is the part all writers can relate to. The part that I hope they cannot: when one of the group hits the big time and signs a book and movie deal, the rest of the group unravels with envy, the knives (or in this case the pens) come out, and they all show the dark side of their personalities.

The movie stars a fine ensemble cast featuring Chris Klein, Teri Polo, Dylan Walsh, Dennis Farina (in his last completed film), and Kaley Couco. It’s filmed documentary style, ala “The Office”, which works nicely because the confessions of the members are often stabbing and hilarious.

“Authors Anonymous” is well acted, and takes a realistic look at the publishing world (and the seedy side of self publishing), yet the movie is far from perfect. It’s too silly and predictable for that. Couco plays the dumb blonde who finds success, yet she freely admits she doesn’t deserve it. She’s uneducated, can’t name a favorite author though the documentary team consistently ask her to, never heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway, and may have never read a book in her life.

The rest of the envious group features a husband and wife team (Walsh and Polo) who conjure up bad idea after bad idea, i.e. a novel about an eye doctor who is also a vampire, a man who wants to be the next Tom Clancy and decides to self publish (Farina), and a well-read literary type with plenty of talent, and a major case of writer’s block (Klein). This film should be dedicated to all of the writers in writing groups who never give up, even though chances are slim they’ll make it in this difficult industry.

The film won’t change the world or win any awards for excellence motion pictures, but it is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes on a rainy spring afternoon. It arrives in select theaters in April in the U.S., and is also playing now on Comcast On Demand.

The streets of Philadelphia, part 3

March 24, 2014 – In parts one and two, we visited the streets in the Rittenhouse and Fairmount, and Old City and Elfreth’s Alley. Today, we will venture west to University City and Powelton Village on the cusp of West Philadelphia to show the diversity of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

University City
Philadelphia’s city limits are home to 20 universities, but if there is one area that can be known as college town, it is University City, home to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. The area covers from 30th Street to 47th Street (east to west), and Powelton Avenue to Baltimore Avenue (north to south). Although the traffic and tall buildings can give the impression the area is part of center city, the tree-lined streets and open green spaces are the hidden gems that give the area a surprising suburban college feel.

Here is a shot of Sansom Cafe, on Penn’s Campus at 36th and Sansom Streets.

samson cafe

Across the street from the cafe are a few other shops on the campus, including the official book store.

book

On Walnut Street, between 35th and 36th Streets, you’ll find one of the campus mini parks tucked away from the traffic.

walnut walk

A few blocks east, on Drexel’s campus at 33rd and Market Streets, sits the Paul Peck Alumni Center.

peck

Powelton Village
Powelton Village is a small, diverse community that officially sits inside the limits of the University City area, but stands on its own with pride. It extends north from Market Street to Spring Garden Street, east to 32nd Street, west to 40th and Spring Garden Streets, and to 44th and Market Streets. Its Victorian twin houses and converted apartments are home to some families and plenty of Drexel students. The area takes its name from the Powel family, 17th century colonialists who owned many estates in the area.

35th and Baring Streets, in Powelton Village is also home to many Drexel fraternities.

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A quiet spot in Powelton Village at 36th and Baring Streets.
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More apartment buildings and frat houses for Drexel at 36th Street and Powelton Avenue, with the school flag displayed in front. Amazing architecture.

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On the way home, I stopped at 34th Street and Girard Avenue, on the outskirts of Powelton Village, to take a photo of the city and Boathouse Row across the Schuylkill River.

river

Part four of the series next Monday features Queen Village in South Philadelphia and Fishtown.

Very superstitious

imagesMarch 21, 2014 – We associate Friday the 13th, walking under ladders, and black cats with bad luck, but these three barely scrape the surface of the many superstitions that keep us in line.

While I’m not a total believer in bad luck coming my way if I don’t keep my fingers crossed, I can be superstitious on occasion, and I follow the rules. For example, I avoid walking under ladders, for the safety factor alone.

Here are other superstitions I grew up with, and their origins:

My mother always said never put new shoes on the table, a superstition that dates back to the Elizabethan era. In those days, a miner’s family learned of his death if his shoes were placed on the table. Therefore, putting shoes on the table outside of this practice was considered tempting fate.

Another gem from my Mother’s family claims that finding a penny face up will bring you luck. Finding money in any denomination is lucky, right? Chances are this idea came from an old children’s rhyme: “See a pin, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck. See a pin, let it lay and your luck will pass away.”

How about the belief that bad luck comes in threes? Traditionally, this superstition began among British troops during the Crimean War. Soldiers learned the danger of lighting three cigarettes from one match, a thrifty practice, but one that also gave a sniper time to spot the light, take aim and fire, and kill the third man.

On the other hand, some claim, “Third time’s a charm”, so where does that fit in? The origin of this phrase is from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and completely contradicts the bad luck comes in threes belief. 

Many of us knock on wood to avoid tempting fate after making a boastful observation. Some say the fixation on wood may come from old myths about the Christian cross. More likely, old English folklore explains that when people spoke of secrets, they went into the woods to do so privately and knocked on the trees while they spoke so the evil spirits could not hear them.

During the holidays, many of us argue over who will get to make a wish with the turkey’s wishbone. Tradition says that he or she who walks away with the biggest piece after breaking it will have good luck. It is believed that first-century Romans began the practice, although bird bones have been used throughout history as a way to predict the future.

How many times have you heard that it is bad luck to open an umbrella indoors? There are a few legends about how this superstition began, the most logical coming from the United Kingdom. Umbrellas in the 18th century were clunky contraptions that were not easily opened, and could be dangerous. Many Londoners experienced the bad luck of losing valuables or goring themselves with metal spokes if they opened it inside their homes. It was simply safer to open umbrellas outdoors where there was more space to maneuver it.

Finally, I was told that an itchy palm meant that money was coming my way. I liked this one because it was positive, where other superstitions focus on bad luck. According to folklorists, this belief originated with the Saxons, who felt that rubbing diseased skin with silver would cure it. Sounds gruesome, but logical.

While you might think it all seems ridiculous, research finds that people tend to believe that negative outcomes are more likely after they jinx themselves. Is that superstition or psychology? Either way, it’s enough proof for me, knock on wood.

Welcome spring!

equinox_lgMarch 20, 2014 – March Madness is not the only kickoff today.

After a harsh winter for most of the United States, and more snow and frigid temperatures than I can remember, spring arrives today at 12:57 p.m. EDT, the exact time this message will be posted on this blog.

During the March equinox (the arrival of spring), the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are nearly equal.

Here is a little music to inspire the most welcome change of season.

Give our daughters healthy women to look up to

March 19, 2014 – Last Wednesday, I wrote about the petition to ban the word ‘bossy’ and how I didn’t believe banning a word could make a difference.

This week, my sister sent me a petition that I signed with gusto because I do believe it will make a positive change for young  girls. It also impacts the ‘War on Women’, another topic I’ve written about recently.

Shannon Bradley-Colleary, a mother of two (daughters), and a blogger at thewomanformerlyknownasbeautiful.com, is on a mission to stop advertisers from using anorexic models in their ads. She spotted the photo below in the March issue of a magazine from a Yves Saint Laurent campaign, and decided she didn’t want one more woman or girl to be damaged by believing starvation is the beauty standard. Shannon wrote a letter directly to Francesca Bellettini at Yves Saint Laurent, and started a petition on change.org to invite others to join her cause.

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To date, the petition has more than 32,000 signatures, and many have said they have signed to make the world a better place for their daughters.

“I signed because I’m a doctor and a father of an impressionable young lady,” said one visitor.

“Why promote a standard of beauty that isn’t healthy or beautiful? I would be broke hearted to see my daughter looking this sickly,” said another.

Other countries have already made steps to make a difference. In Israel, for example, a law effective in 2013 requires models to produce a medical report showing they have maintained a healthy BMI for three months before a shoot. Earlier, countries including Italy, Spain, and India banned underweight models from working. The U.K. and the U.S. have guidelines, but the industry is self-regulated.

This is a great example of when a ban can make a difference. If enough women stopped buying the publications that feature unrealistic models, or better yet, the products that they advertise, change will come. If you agree, sign the petition and let your voice be heard. 

The streets of Philadelphia, part 2

March 17, 2014 – Last week, I displayed photos of the streets in the Rittenhouse and Fairmount neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Today, we will venture southeast, to the old city neighborhood and Elfreth’s Alley, which completes our journey in the center city area.

Old City
Old City, a neighborhood where our forefathers walked before us, is home to the historical past of the United States. East from center city towards Front Street are the quaint side streets of the Old City neighborhood where mom and pop shops reign, and residents live in the same colonial houses that once were home to the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

In the early days of the U.S., Bread Street between Second and Third Streets, was the area of the city where the flour was delivered and breads and pastries were baked for the city. Today, it houses two blocks of loft apartments for rent. The sign below shows some of the lofts’ amenities, but there is one that has been removed as you can see in the photo. Wouldn’t it have been better to pay for a new sign? It makes me wonder what they took away.

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A view down Bread Street.

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On Arch Street, between Second and Third Streets sits the home of Betsy Ross, who is designed the American flag.

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You could argue that our forefathers were unimaginative when naming the streets in the city. Or, they were just literal. Like Bread Street above, where the flour was stored, Christ Church, oldest church in the area, sits off Second Street on Church Street.

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A view down Church Street.

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The City Tavern opened in 1773, and served the likes of John Adams, Paul Revere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the city’s most famous resident, Benjamin Franklin. It sits on Second Street between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.

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The small street that runs beside the City Tavern doesn’t officially have a name, but I’ll bet it was once known as Tavern Street.

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The Elfreth’s Alley Area
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest residential street in the U.S. Its name came from Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th century glass blower and merchant who lived there. The area was diverse; during the American Revolution, both patriots and loyalists lived on the street.

Nearly 3,000 residents have lived on this one block street since its beginning in 1702. Elfreth Alley is located off Second Street, between Race and Arch Streets.

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Stepping onto Elfreth Alley takes you back in time, unless there is a large truck in the middle of the road.

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The horse posts in front of each colorful home lend to its authenticity.

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Next Monday, we’ll continue with part three of the series, and visit University City, home to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, and Powelton Village.

Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

downloadMovie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 14, 2014 – I have looked forward to this movie ever since I giggled through the preview for it a few months ago. My excitement was so high in fact that I began to worry if it could never live up to my hype.

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” tells the charming, funny, and often quirky story of employees and guests at a European hotel in a fictional country in the early 1930s. As with Anderson’s other films, it casts usual suspects, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman, along with the welcome addition of Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, and several surprises. Make no mistake about it though, its Fiennes film.

Anderson told Fiennes that when he wrote the part, he had thought of him. Fiennes does not typically play comic roles, so I am not sure whether it was luck or insight on Anderson’s part. Either way, Fiennes is brilliant as Gustave, the hotel concierge accused of murder. Gustave is a character similar to the witty Inspector Clouseau created by Peter Sellers for the “Pink Panther” series. Fiennes doesn’t copy Seller’s or Clouseau’s style per se, but rather captures their comic timing.

The story is nostalgic, and filled with intrigue, adventure, romance, and unexpected friendship. It’s quite European, rich with history and discontent with what is about to happen to the continent as World War II approaches. Yet the serious undertone doesn’t take away from its comic genius. It’s also visually appealing, with colorful art deco images throughout. Anderson’s work is known for its stunning detail.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a fun caper that grabs you from the beginning and keeps you thoroughly entertained throughout its 100 minutes. I’d recommend it for anyone who likes an outside of the box comedy, although I remember the elderly ladies walking out of “Moonrise Kingdom” complaining that they just didn’t get it, so Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone. The release is early in the year, which often lends to being forgotten during awards season, but this may be the one that earns him the Oscar.

Banning the ‘B’ word

downloadMarch 12, 2014 – If we’re going to ban a word, several cringe worthy choices come to mind before the word ‘bossy’.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s quest to give girls more confidence and help them gain leadership skills is a noble one, and I applaud her for the effort. I fully support any intelligent campaign that empowers young girls to strive for their best. However, when I read that she and her female power team plan to achieve this goal by asking the public to ban the word ‘bossy’ and sign an online petition agreeing not to use it, they lost me.

Sandberg believes that many young girls (and grown women) are afraid to voice their opinions because they fear the label bossy. Has bossy become a word associated only with the female population like the other ‘B’ word? Does this ban mean words like pushy, overbearing, and forceful are next on the chopping block?

When was the last time you heard the word bossy used, anyway? I don’t frequent school yards, where it’s often used according to Sandberg, nor do I have daughters. However, I was once one of those awkward girls who lacked confidence (sometimes I still do), yet I find it difficult to believe using the word is that common, or banning it would make a difference.

A ban isn’t likely to empower young girls to overcome their fear, but teaching them to face adversity and continue to pursue their goals should someone call them a negative name, may help them succeed.

The campaign encourages everyone to sign the pledge at banbossy.com. I’m not sure if only those who use the word and agree to stop should sign, or if all signatures are welcome. I think I’ll let this one pass.