A New Colossus: The Tenement Museum

The best thing about working in a museum is, of course, working around world-class art and important pieces of history. But the second best thing about working in a museum is that you get into other museums for free. An acknowledgment of our shared love of learning and our measly non-profit paychecks, this reciprocal admissions process is a godsend in New York, where there are museums of every stripe at each corner.

One of my unofficial resolutions for this year is to visit museums more. I really don’t have an excuse not to: It’s free, it’s gets me outside of the apartment, it’s an activity of educational value, and there are more than enough museums in the city to occupy my time. I have, thus far, been pretty unsuccessful in my museum-going venture — a result of anxiety and museum fatigue (a thing that happens when museum-going is literally your job). But the other day, with two hours to kill on the Lower East Side (before an Escape the Room adventure, more on that in a different post), I ventured to a smaller, less-explored institution: The Tenement Museum.

A disclaimer: Pardon the history nerd in me, but I found the whole experience endlessly fascinating, so I’m going to nerd out a little about it here. The Tenement Museum is housed in an actual tenement at 97 Orchard Street. Its mission is to tell the stories of the over 7,000 immigrants who lived there over the years, and to explore the history of immigration itself. The ground floor gift shop and admissions area is small but inviting. I walked up to the counter, flashed my badge, and tentatively asked them if they did reciprocal admissions for other museums (most places do, but as a visitor services employee myself, I know it’s nice to be asked for a ticket rather than demanded one). The Tenement Museum is a little different from most traditional museums where you walk in, purchase your ticket, and wander through the exhibitions at will. Because of the nature of the space, here you buy tickets for different guided tours and are then led by an educator through the different floors depending on the tour you’ve chosen.

I arrived at 4:00 p.m. and was told that my museum badge covered the price of one tour, with two starting at 4:15 and three more at 4:30. I picked a tour called Irish Outsiders and met my tour guide at the entrance to the shop a few minutes later. Armed with complimentary hand fans (the tenement is authentically sans air conditioning), myself, a girl from Denmark, and a couple from Louisiana walked with our guide to the back of the building, where he began to lay out what life would have been like in the tenement in 1869.

If you’re at all familiar with tenements, you probably think of them as little apartments packed with 11-15 person immigrant families — very little light and overall poor conditions, straight out of Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives. This is a pretty accurate picture of the tenements of the 1890’s, old buildings filled to bursting with Eastern European families. However, when 97 Orchard Street was built in 1863, it was part of a new type of housing, a step up for many who moved into them. The Irish family my tour followed moved to the neighborhood from Five Points, a diverse area farther downtown. The area we now call the Lower East Side was then called Kleindeutschland or Little Germany (in 1869 the neighborhood has the 3rd largest concentration of German speakers in the world) and our Irish family would have struggled to adapt to the area as they attempted to make a better life for their children. Because of their ethnicity, they dealt with discrimination and financial struggles, as well as the hardships of everyday life.

As we walked through the small dark rooms of the tenement, we learned about the Moore family and what their life would have been like in the middle of the 19th century: Joseph Moore was a bartender, a good situation for an Irish man in this period; most worked as day laborers. His wife stayed home to take care of the children. Despite their attempts to better themselves, the Moore’s youngest daughter got sick and they couldn’t afford a doctor, until they needed one to sign the death certificate. 1 in 4 children in these neighborhoods didn’t live past infancy. Despite this hardship, Joseph lived to 71 and his second daughter Jane, the only child that marries, moves out to Queens, continuing on their legacy.

Our group was small and engaged, and because we asked a lot of questions, our guide allowed the tour to go long and showed us some things that maybe weren’t on the schedule. He told us about the Katz family, who lived in the tenement just before it was vacated. Let us go down the interior staircase and out the front door, exiting the tenement like the Moore family, in through the back door and out through the front, on to bigger and better things.

I thought to myself that the space didn’t feel nearly as small as I had suspected (don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t anywhere close to what we’re accustomed to in 2015, but I’ve seen families with small children living in spaces not much bigger these days). I love a cultural experience that takes what I think I know and turns it completely around, expanding the picture and pushing me to re-examine the education I’ve already had.

This is precisely why I loved the Tenement Museum. I went in expecting one thing, and came out with a completely different viewpoint and a desire to go back and learn more, which in my opinion is what a museum experience should do. The Tenement Museum creates an interactive environment that invites you to learn actively instead of passively. Not only is it a great museum, but it’s also such an interesting, rich look at New York’s history. It’s a history that is steeped in immigration, formed by the comings and goings of diverse masses of people over the years. In one building, the museum shows us how the city and the population changed, and how it became what it is today. It shows us that New York is constantly changing with the ebb and flow of people that come here seeking refuge or a better life. Maybe the statue out in the harbor extends the invitation. But 97 Orchard Street, and places like it, is the place that takes in “your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Point A to Point B: Scout’s Commute

I often complain about my commute. While it’s easy to get into Manhattan from our neighborhood, getting to South Brooklyn, where I work, is a little more difficult — a complicated puzzle of buses and/or trains that usually ends up taking 45 minutes to an hour. I quickly learned that the most efficient way for getting from my point A to my point B was walking. I just plug in a good playlist, podcast, or audiobook and pass by some of the best scenery in Brooklyn. So following Zelda’s cue, I’ve put together a little photo essay of my commute. And despite an overcast day, the character of Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and Prospect Heights shines through.

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July Round Up

We’ll be honest: July hasn’t been all that kind to us. Between Zelda’s apartment hunt and Scout’s job/roommate hunt, we might be having a little trouble keeping our shit totally together. But y’all have been our solace in a rough mental landscape; it’s been nice to have something constant to anchor us in this ever-more-stress-inducing environment. At the end of the day, whether we’ve spent it hunched over cover letters or trawling apartment listings, whether we’ve had panic attacks on the train or lost the will to leave the apartment altogether, you were there for us. So thanks, for giving us something to look forward to. Here’s hoping next month will be kinder.

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What We’re Doing: The July heat had our brains all befuddled, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from delivering posts to your screens, three days a week, as promised. From Zelda’s resolutions to Scout’s inner comedy nerd, pictures and movies and letters to July, we covered a lot of territory this month. Scout paid homage to one of our favorites Homes Away From Home, Zelda waxed poetic on one of her favorite Girls Raised in the South, and we brought our first ever guest writer into the mix! A few summer brews and summer vibes brought it all together, and now we head into August poised to start a new chapter, celebrate our blog birthday (gah!), and see what this next year has to offer.

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What We’re Listening To: Our July playlist came courtesy of the coolest cats we know: you folks! We asked our favorite fellow Southern transplants which songs reminded them of home, which tracks took them back to front porches or backyards, BBQ festivals and fish fries and lazy afternoons by the lake. From Dixie Chicks to Debussy, y’all delivered, cooking up a playlist steeped in Southern flavors both classic and contemporary.

What We’re Watching: Zelda has been loving Emily Diana Ruth’s YouTube series “Letters to July,” so much that she made her own (albeit textual, not video) entry. Scout succumbed to the will of the Tumblr-verse and dove into Netflix’s Sense8 with abandon (cue the gifsets). And we both cheered along as the US Women’s National Soccer Team kicked absolute ass to win the World Cup! (Well, to be fair, Zelda’s cheer was more of a silent celebration, since she was at work. But the enthusiasm was the same.)

(Via Mashable)

(Via Mashable)

What We’re Reading: There were so many awesome things to read this month, we couldn’t choose just one! July is usually the month of beach reads and pool-side fluff, when we turn our brains off for a bit and let the pulp in. But the internet doesn’t take vacations, and this month had no shortage of both fun and thoughtful pieces for us to sink our proverbial teeth into (plus, you know, cute dog videos). Topics include: the Napoleon complex of the museum docent (Scout identified intensely with this one), Misty Copeland’s unlikely rise to ballet acclaim and mainstream fame (an oldie but a goodie given her recent promotion), the surprise country music culture of Kenya, the ascendance of baby Elsa’s in the post-Frozen era, the silent power of Facebook icons, the enduring wonderfulness of Gilmore Girlsphotographing a people who shun the art form, what it means to be a Daughter of Appalachia, all of the terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad things that could happen if we invited someone to coffee, and the bawdiest, most delightful movie review we’ve ever read (courtesy of Roxanne Gay, of course), which actually made us want to pay New York prices to see Magic Mike XXL.

What We’re Eating: Scout and her roommates threw a little pre-Fourth of July FREEDOM party, and her roomie, Stephanie, cooked up these mac and cheese cupcakes (or perhaps more accurately muffins, since they are savory). We here at Z&S are firm believers that everything that can be cupcaked should be cupcaked, in the same way that what can be waffled should be waffled. As it turns out, mac and cheese does both. Yum.

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What We’re Drinking: Zelda took another page from Mamrie’s book (literally) and mixed us up some Alabama Blizzards (otherwise known as peach bourbon tea slushies), to drink while we watched animated French cats make a Homeric journey home (the cure for stress if we ever met one). Scout spent most of the month drinking beer, as usual, and shared some of her favorite local brews with the blogosphere.

What’s On Our Wishlist: With college football season fast-approaching, Scout is hankering for some new swag in which to cheer on her usually mediocre Wildcats. So she anxiously awaits the Shop Local KY release of this tank, and lusts after various emblem-emblazoned tees. She’d also like a full time job and a new roommate, but alas. Zelda, meanwhile, asks only one thing of the universe this month: a new place for her and her books to call home. Apartment hunting in New York is the worst, y’all.

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Deep Greens and Blues

I’ll be honest: July has not been the kindest to me. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m moving, which in and of itself is a stressful ordeal. I‘m a nester, someone whose wanderlust runs counter to my extreme discomfort about any big life or location change. Add to that the serpentine torture of the New York real estate market, an unexpectedly accelerated deadline, and a heat advisory, and you’ve got yourself a giant, Zelda-shaped ball of stress. The past few weeks have been a blur of spreadsheets and checklists, boxes on boxes on boxes, and almost daily calls to my mother, who makes everything better or at least lets me cry about the things that aren’t. Luckily, things seem to be falling somewhat into place this week — new pad, new hood, new roommate (in addition to my current one) — and fortuitous circumstances have conspired to bring my father, brother, and sister to New York, with a car, the day when I and my possessions will be making the trek from my beloved Bushwick to the as-yet-largely-unexplored Crown Heights [Scout’s note: Don’t leave me!]. But as I write this, there are still leases to sign, certified checks to hand over, and a whole slew of possessions that must be wrapped, boxed, and taped into submission. Which is why I could not be happier to be heading, as you’re reading this post, to my favorite place in the world.

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I am a Southern gal at heart, it’s true — full of love for bourbon and mac and cheese and Derby and bluegrass. But my happy place, the spot where I feel most at home and at peace no matter what’s going on in my everyday life, is in distinctly Yankee territory. Since before I can remember (from the womb, even), my family and I have gone every summer and every four Christmases to Chocorua, New Hampshire, a village (too small to qualify as a town) in the White Mountains. My dad has been going there for his entire life, and my grandma for hers. Since my great-great grandfather first built the Big House for his daughter as a wedding present, generations of my family have been making an annual pilgrimage to this spot in the woods, by the lake, in the shadow of the mountain.

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I find it hard to put into words just how I feel about this place. Perhaps because, with my frequent childhood moves, Chocorua has been home longer than any other town I’ve ever known. Or maybe it’s because something in my bones hums in harmony with the trees up there, a bond strong as granite that has stood for over 100 years. My father likes to say that Chocorua is where all his chapters begin and end, where he recharges and finds the strength to turn the next page. My life, too, has been conducted on mountain rhythms. Every move, every new phase, is charted in the guest book we all sign each time we leave the house. Sometimes on a rainy day I’ll curl up with one of the leather-bound volumes, tracing my life back from Brooklyn to Paris to college to braces to chubby fingers tracing crayon scribbles, which my more literate mother kindly translated (apparently giant loop, small squiggly line was code for “I love the lake and my cousins and the Chocorua fairies.”). Going even farther back, I find my mother’s first visit, pre-engagement, when she braved the climb up and down the mountain and thus earned her admission into the family. I find my father, scrawl as inscrutable as the present day, heading off on his navy tour or to boarding school. Even farther back is my grandmother, inscribed by her mother as “Virginia Balch, age 3.” The books go all the way back to that first nuptial summer, when the faces I hold most dear hadn’t even been dreamed up yet.

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The release I feel upon reaching this place is almost instantaneous. We roll the windows down to smell the piney air, scan the trees eagerly for the first glimpse of Mount Chocorua’s rocky top, and when we finally reach the turn we pause, on the wooden bridge, to say hello to the mountain, and the lake, and the sky –members of the family who have been waiting all year to welcome us home.

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Scout likes to make fun of me for how “ridiculously wholesome” my family is. And while we bring a healthy dose of sass to the table as well, her accusation is not totally unfounded. We voluntarily, eagerly even, spend a week or two together with no internet, no TV, and only recently a smidgen of cell reception. We swim in the lake and lie three to a hammock, play board games when it rains and read novels on the porch. We take turns at dinner duty, dish duty, swing-pushing duty. And at night, sprawled on couches or curled up on the rug, my uncle pulls out his guitar and we have family song time. The tradition started when we were little, as part of our bedtime routine. But it continues today because we love it, unabashedly, belting out Raffi and James Taylor with as much gusto as our 8 year-old selves. If I’m stressed or anxious, lost or confused, teetering on the brink of an unknown abyss, there is no place I’d rather be than that living room, singing “Sweet Baby James.” And as I prepare, yet again, to turn a page, I try to remember that this is what home really is, no matter where you find it. It’s being surrounded by those you love and who love you, who make you feel safe. Apartments will come and go, things will be packed and unpacked and packed again, addresses will change. But home is wherever you find it. And even if the walls crumble and the paths grow over with moss, mine will always be in a corner of the woods called Chocorua.

Drink Local: Craft Beer from Brooklyn and Queens

The hot, muggy summer weather that has recently descended on the city is perfect for spending some quality time with good friends and cold brews. Moving to New York exposed me to a whole new world of beer. With many craft breweries based right here in the city, I’m never more than a few feet from a fantastic local beer, and I’ve tried a lot of beer. Here are a few of my favorites.

Grimm Action/Adventure, Lichtenhainer (Smoked Sour Ale), 5% ABV (Gowanus, Brooklyn)

I’m in love with most of the beers from Grimm Artisanal Ales. Joe and Lauren Grimm create every recipe in their Gowanus, Brooklyn, apartment before it’s perfected and produced on a larger scale. Action Adventure is by far my favorite of the bunch. It mixes my two favorite styles (sour and smoky) to create something that tastes like everything I want in a beer. Action Adventure is a lichtenhainer, a nearly extinct German style of smoked sour beer. It’s thirst-quenching and tart, with a background of smoky haze — like lemonade at a cook-out.

Bridge and Tunnel 1642 Mespeatches Ale, Honey/Spruce Ale, 6.2% ABV (Maspeth, Queens)

Named for the original inhabitants of Bridge and Tunnel’s own Maspeth, Queens — the Mespeatches Tribe — this blend is an homage to the beer-drinking Dutch and English settlers that (unfortunately) booted said Mespeatches out of Queens when they arrived. Brewer/owner Rich Castagna cooked up a honey spruce ale, using only ingredients that would have been available to the 1642 colonists. The result is an incredibly unique and tasty session beer, with a side of New York City history.

Finback Sunday Fieldtrips, Saison, 7%ABV (Ridgewood, Queens)

Also located in Queens — hard to get to on MTA but an incredibly pleasant bike ride from our own Bushwick neighborhood — Finback’s been brewing for the past few years, and their taproom has been up and running since last year. I finally made my way up there this summer and loved pretty much all of the lines, but for a hot July day, I’m going to go with the Sunday Fieldtrips, a light, smooth saison that is incredibly refreshing, and has enough alcohol for you to finish it feeling good.

Other Half All Green Everything, Triple IPA, 10.5% ABV (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn)

Brooklyn’s Other Half is making some of the most consistently good beers in the city, and I’ve liked pretty much everything of theirs that I’ve tried so far. However, as someone who made her way into craft beer through IPA’s, this Triple IPA feeds my hoppy soul. While I’m more of a saison, sour, and session beer person in the summer, sometimes it’s nice to go back to my roots with a big, resinous, citrusy, but pretty easy drinking beer (just one though, since it clocks in at 10.5% ABV). I highly recommend stopping by their taproom in Carroll Gardens for the in-person, straight-from-the-keg experience.

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Now these are just four of my favorites. There are countless other awesome beers coming out of the five boroughs and the surrounding area. So if you don’t find what you want here, try another one of the city’s (and it’s environs’) fine establishments: Long Island City’s Transmitter, Bushwick’s own Braven, Astoria’s Singlecut, Red Hook’s Sixpoint, Boerum Hill’s Threes, The Bronx’s Gun Hill, Two Roads of Stratford, Conn., Breweries both Brooklyn and Bronx…there are so many choices. In New York, you’re never more than a train ride away from fantastic beer. Happy Drinking!

Stranger In a Southern Land

We are super excited to introduce our very first Guest Writer to the blog! As two Louisville gals living in Bushwick, our perspectives have certain limitations, so we’ve been reaching out to some of you folks to get another spin on things. Interested in becoming part of the Z&S writer family? Email us at zeldaandscout@gmail.com!

By Lori Suvajian

I am in no way a Southerner. I was born, raised, and educated just outside of Boston, and then moved to Brooklyn straight after college. I grew up shoveling snow and cultivating a New Englander’s proud loyalty to Dunkin Donuts. In fact, my first conversation with someone with a Southern accent was when I was 22 (not because I had made any particular efforts to avoid Southerners — they’re honestly just hard to find in my neck of the woods).

So when I made my first trip down to my boyfriend’s place of origin — Sevierville, Tennessee (pop. 14,807) — I was a wide-eyed Southern Virgin with a lot of learning to do. By trip’s end, my eyes had been opened in more ways than one. Here are the two lessons that come most readily to mind.

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Lesson One: Social Etiquette with Strangers

Let’s say I’m at a Dunkin Donuts in my Massachusetts hometown. There’s no line. I walk to the counter and the cashier stares at me, expectantly. I give her my order, she says “Okay,” and leaves to prepare my food. I stare at the donuts while she makes my coffee. She hands me my items. I say “Thanks,” put a tip in the jar, and walk out. The cashier gives no sign of a farewell. Does this story sound strange to you? If it does, you’re probably not from where I’m from.

In the North, it’s perfectly acceptable to go through a check-out line hardly saying anything to the cashier, who will, in turn, hardly say anything to you. It’s not rude. It’s just the way strangers relate to one another. The cashier doesn’t really want to entertain me with conversation, and I usually don’t feel like drudging up meaningless small-talk with a stranger. We’ve both got other things on our mind in addition to the act of buying coffee, the act of making coffee — we don’t need to add wondering how this unknown person’s day is going to the mix. The transaction is cold, quiet, efficient, and easy. And then everyone moves on.

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But in the South, it’s a different story. Southern culture seems to dictate that strangers express interest in each other’s lives. It’s a matter of politeness. The woman ringing up my groceries at a Southern supermarket will greet me with a large smile, say something like “Well how you doin’ today, honey?” and continue to talk to me throughout our transaction. What’s even crazier to a Yankee like myself is that this is not the mindless droning of forced small-talk: she actually wants me to give her answers!

While in the South, I found myself constantly taken aback by these talkative encounters. This friendliness was kind of nice, kind of weird, and, if I’m being my perfectly honest and slightly cynical Bostonian self, a liiiiitle bit annoying. Sometimes, you just want to buy some deodorant in peace. In the North, people do their own thing and leave other people alone. There is a silent understanding that our silence is okay. Yes, it could be seen as antisocial, and it can even be a bit lonely. But sometimes it’s comforting to know that in certain situations, social interaction is neither expected nor even encouraged.

This Southern friendliness does come with significant advantages, however. For one, I’m more likely to leave a check-out counter in the South with a smile on my face, even if it’s a slightly bemused one. And on a more macro scale, whether it be at a gas station, a party, or an interview, Southerners in general have much more practice generating conversations with strangers than Northerners. And this is a valuable skill, since being comfortable talking with people can be a real door-opener.

Experiencing SEC football for the first time.

Experiencing SEC football for the first time.

Lesson Two: Gender Roles

There was an exact moment in Tennessee when I realized just how foreign this level of Southern politeness was to me. I had just finished eating lunch at a restaurant with a bunch of blue-blooded Southern men: my boyfriend, his dad, and a couple of his dad’s buddies. Stuffed full of biscuits, I stood up and swung my jacket around to put it on. Suddenly, I felt someone behind me tugging my jacket sleeve away from me. I remember a feeling of panicked confusion, thinking, oh my god, this is so weird, is somebody actually trying to steal my jacket? I mean, why else would anyone be pulling my clothing out of my hand? (As a Northerner, I’m all about my personal bubble. When people I don’t know invade this bubble, it’s generally cause for alarm and needs to be stopped immediately. Stranger danger and all that.) I turned, ready to confront the jacket-stealing creep, and saw that it was just one of my boyfriend’s dad’s friends trying to help me put on said jacket. I had only met the guy half an hour ago. I was dumbfounded. Chuckling at my look of surprise, the man said, “You’re in the South now, lil’ lady. You’ve got to get used to people doing stuff for you.”

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Both in the moment and looking back, I had/have mixed feelings about the gesture. It was kind of endearing, oddly antiquated, and a little patronizing. On the one hand, the man displayed a thoughtful, generous instinct and was just trying to be nice. I can appreciate that. I’m more accustomed to male strangers making a loud comment about my ass than genuinely trying to improve my day. We need more well-intentioned acts in this world, especially from the menfolk.

However, as a modern woman, I prefer acts of gender-neutral kindness to actual chivalry. I would rather a guy hold a door open for me because I’m another human than because I’m a chick. The whole damsel-in-distress shtick does not appeal to me. And being viewed as a damsel who needs people to do things for her is actually a bit insulting: I’m a grown woman, not a “lil’ lady,” and I can take care of myself. I am no Southern Belle.

I hope, though, that this sexist chivalry is just a means to an end, a flawed way of viewing women that nonetheless leads to more respect for women on a day-to-day basis. I’d be interested in any analysis that compares the quality of life for women in chivalrous/non-chivalrous cultures. For now, though, the jury’s still out on the issue…

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Takeaway:

So what’s the conclusion? What was I thinking about, sitting on the plane home and watching the fields of Tennessee shrink into the distance below me? That things down South aren’t as clear cut as I had thought. I’m not going to lie: My expectation for traveling to Tennessee had been that I would eat some delicious food, enjoy the novelty of open fields and cows everywhere, but have to grit my teeth through the social antiquity that characterizes the South. But to be honest, it was kind of uplifting to be in an environment where people are expected to be nice to one another (it should be noted, however, that unfortunately not all kinds of people who live in the South enjoy the benefit of Southern hospitality…). And although some culture shocks were a bit uncomfortable, the social differences were thought-provoking: Can small talk actually be meaningful? Does chivalry actually benefit women? I guess I will have to book more tickets to Tennessee to find out.

Lori is a twenty-something native of the Boston area who betrayed her people by moving to New York after college. Her hobbies include exploring new places, making collages, and dancing in a manner that alarms her cat.

Friendship is Not Liking the Same Movies and Loving Each Other Anyway

Sometimes Zelda and I struggle with what to write about for these Friday posts. It’s hard to come up with something that’s relevant both to our lives and to the mission statement of our blog. I was struggling with this very problem this week, so Zelda suggested that I watch Frances Ha, and write something inspired by the film. I agreed.

I was wary to begin with, which may have contributed to my overall feelings about the film. I have trouble stomaching the sort of “Indie Hipster Millennial Existentialism” thing that seems to be popular nowadays. But Zelda assured me that it wouldn’t be all “sitting around smoking cigarettes and bemoaning Derrida,” except when they’re making fun of those who do (there was however talk of Proust and Virginia Woolf, which did not seem entirely in jest). So in I dove — added it to the Netflix queue, and finally pressed play Tuesday morning.

(Via The Feed)

(Via The Feed)

But despite both critical acclaim and Zelda’s assurances, I didn’t love it. That’s not to say that I hated the movie — I did watch all 86 minutes — but I didn’t feel like a lot happened, and I didn’t find it all that enjoyable. First off, the movie is, supposedly, a comedy, but I found very few things funny. Now I could forgive this. I wasn’t really there for the comedy: I was there for the inspiration. Zelda had assured me the film really spoke to the whole “living in New York and being young and trying to find yourself” thing we discuss on this blog. So I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, lack of giggles aside.

On a few of those counts, it did deliver. Titular Frances goes through housing struggles, job struggles, being on the subway platform only to realize your train isn’t running struggles. The movie does capture some of the feeling of being in New York, especially as a fledgling adult. But our protagonist breezes over it all with such ease that I don’t find it believable. We don’t see Frances confronting her struggles so much as we see her avoid them. My reservations aside, I felt like she could have dealt with shit more. Girl was in serious need of a “look at your life, look at your choices” moment.

The whole idea behind the film is that Frances is trying to make it as a modern dancer, and she’s struggling — creatively, financially, philosophically. But we never really see those struggles, or at least I never felt any sort of catharsis with her as she flitted from one apartment to the next, from temp gig to temp gig. Things always seemed to fall into her lap, a deus ex machina to scoop her out of the jaws of a reality check. I didn’t feel like there was ever a moment where she confronted things, was forced to stare down the barrel of cold hard reality, and I wanted that moment.

I wanted Frances to break down. I wanted her to have that moment where you try not to break into tears on public transportation but inevitably do, because this city is so god damn hard to live in. I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t had some sort of break down on MTA, and Zelda and I both certainly fit the bill. When I’m thinking about money, or the hour+ commute back to my apartment in Brooklyn late at night, or the eight cover letters I sent out this week only to get responses from no one, I can’t help but want to talk about it, to yell, or rant or text, or to cry. There are so many people and things and pressures in this city that I can’t just breeze over. It’s too much.

Maybe it stems from years of therapy and attempting to maintain my own mental health by talking about it, but to me the essential problem of the film was that everything got wrapped up neatly in a little bow at the end without much conflict at all, at least not internally. Frances has a fight with her best friend, she leaves New York for a while, she makes up with said friend, she comes back to New York, and she’s suddenly having a showcase of a piece she choreographed? This is definitely a plot of some kind, but I felt like I was waiting the whole movie for the real story to start. The whole thing seemed more like an extensive exposition setting up the protagonist’s life — just snippet after snippet of things that happened to her all strung together.

True, in that way, it was incredibly realistic — these little slices of Frances’s life — and I guess some people found it relatable (Zelda among them), but I didn’t connect to our angsty heroine. I didn’t empathize. I didn’t care. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Everything about her seemed like it was on the surface, and if she didn’t care about things, why would I?

I want to be clear that Frances Ha is not a bad movie. Critically, it’s supposedly a very good movie, and aesthetically I enjoyed it as well. The soundtrack is great, and the direction and cinematography are nice to look at. It just didn’t do what I wanted it to. Zelda tells me she came out of this film feeling like it “spoke to me and had such a powerful message of friendship and finding yourself and then my roommate and I went leaping down the sidewalk.” I wanted that, but it just never happened.

And I think that actually brings up an important point: You don’t have to like the same things your friends do. Obviously, a lot of friendships are based on mutual interests, but that doesn’t mean you have to love everything your bestie does. Zelda and I like a lot of the same things: our hometown, our neighborhood in Bushwick, John Green books, Veronica Mars and Parks and Rec, Aaron Tveit. But there are a lot of things we don’t agree on as well.

Zelda and I have encountered this problem more than once lately: specifically regarding her favorite author (as featured in Wednesday’s GRITS), Donna Tartt. While Zelda adores her, I have yet to make my way fully through a single one of Tartt’s books. I’m trying really hard because so many people I love also love them (Zelda, my mother, etc.), but I’m just not connecting. And if that’s still true when I (hopefully) finish The Goldfinch, that’s okay. Zelda’s still going to be my best friend if I don’t like her favorite author. She’s still mine even though she doesn’t appreciate the wonder of the 1992 Christian Bale classic Newsies, or the lyrical and melodic beauty of Matt Nathanson’s music. And maybe that’s the powerful message of friendship that I got from Frances Ha. Love, platonic or otherwise, means agreeing to disagree.