Sunday, June 8, 2008

Plan B

With the temperature in the high-90s and major humidity already thickening the air, a friend and I arrived in Center City Philadelphia just before noon.

Luckily, our exit from the parking garage where we'd stowed the car meant we started viewing the Rittenhouse Square Fine Arts festival from the shady side of the park.

There were many interesting artists, but I'd forgotten how painting-centric this show is - and this year it was more of the same.

In tent after tent, artists offered a window into their worlds - some more literally than others. Each had their own style, but some really had a shtick: one artist displayed nothing but paintings of sides of buildings, with the action taking place inside sporadically placed windows. One of these paintings stopped us in our tracks, two were kind of interesting, but after that, it felt like a production line mentality, the same theme rendered in different hues and buildings so visitors could choose one in a color palette that matched the sofa.

We meandered around the square, and for the first two sides we visited, we each found works we responded to - and in pointing out a Raku-fired series of tiles in one artist's booth, my friend mentioned off-handedly that he'd been a serious potter at one point in his life - who knew?!

After making our way around the square, and hitting the organic farm stands that lined Walnut Street, we set off for the David Sedaris book-signing.

As we approached the bookstore, hundreds of people were already waiting in line outside - in the broiling heat. Quickly, I procured a book from the table just in front of the entrance, and asked the sales staff how long Mr. Sedaris would be signing books.

"Until the last customer's book is signed!" a woman answered. As she spoke, an ardent fan tumbled out of the tiny bookstore with a friend, gushing: "It was *so* worth it!"

With hundreds of people still waiting to be admitted into the bookstore, the bright mid-day sun beating down on them, my friend and I decided to grab some lunch to cool off, before getting in line. We headed off to Tria, a wine and cheese bar, for iced tea and salads with figs and gorgonzola.

Refreshed an hour later, we headed back down the street to the line, which hadn't budged.

So we set off to shop a little, and ended up at Capogiro, for the best gelato in the city. Blood orange sorbetto and strawberries and cream gelato were the perfect antidote to a sweltering day.

Do you see a theme?

We got back into line, standing just a couple of people away from the same group of women we'd spoken with when we first stood in line. And now, thanks to the sun's trajectory, we were standing in shade! Glorious, cooling shade.

Only after about three minutes, we were ready to faint from the heat, with 100 more people ahead of us. At the rate they were admitting people to the store, we would have to wait another two to three hours.

I'm sure if we had stayed, we'd have experienced David Sedaris' patented brand of humor up close. Been able to pay tribute to a writer whose style I've long admired. Tell him how much I enjoyed his recounting the verbal fumblings of his French class, explaining the particulars of the Easter celebration to a non-Christian classmate.

So we bailed.

At first, I explained it away that the heat made the whole process intolerable. And it did.

But in talking about how, "Oh, in the fall or late spring it would be lovely to have an excuse to stand outside for several hours," I realized that I couldn't imagine anyone for whom I'd be willing to stand outside for five hours in a row on the sidewalk.

No matter which way I thought about it, standing in line for hours just seemed such a tremendous waste of time.

Because a gorgeous fall day could mean walking through the park, or touring many of the city's gardens, or trudging from museum to museum.

Waiting in line - even for someone whose work I respect - couldn't hold a candle to any of that.

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