A few days ago I visited Philadelphia for the first time. Coming from a country far, far away, I knew little or nothing about this city. That is, I did see the Tom Hanks movie, and have the cream cheese, but there had to be more to this place than evil pathology and ordinary dairy produce. Right? So, I decided to go check it out. This is what I discovered.
1. Philadelphia has a great market
The Reading Terminal Market is easily found in the city center. As a matter of fact, I ran into it first thing as I got off the bus. And I didn’t even know it existed. Such a great surprise! Offering fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, baked goods, specialty and etnic foods, flowers, crafts, books and clothing, the place was bustling with people. There were chefs looking for the day’s catch, police officers enjoying their fresh coffee and cinnamon-smelling baked goods to go with it, and me searching for breakfast. Distractions were plentiful, though, and being far stronger than my hunger they kept me there for over an hour. By the way, the chocolate ears you see to the right, were allegedly Mike Tyson’s. Funny people these chocolatiers!
2. Philadelphia has a sense of humor
Now, this is a government whose work I too can enjoy. Since 1959 The City of Philadelphia’s Percent for Art Program has made art accessible to the public through calling for one percent of building budgets to be spent on art. Isn’t that great? I think the right art makes people happier. For sure, it brightened my day. The large scale game pieces at Thomas Paine Plaza reminded me to play and the red aluminum letters spelling LOVE on JFK Plaza reminded me what’s really important in life.
3. Philadelphia has great public spaces
I discovered this beautiful fountain on Logan Square. As I was working my way through the Museum District to get to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I suddenly found myself in Little Paris! It was my honeymoon all over again. If only my husband were there… I would have made him take one of those this-is-me-in-front-of-a-beautiful-thing pictures. Those never turn out any good anyways, so I guess, in retrospect, just as well he had more important stuff to attend to.
4. Philadelphia has Norway
Benjamin Franklin Parkway is Philadelphia’s Champs Elysees. (I just couldn’t resist another French metaphor.) Alongside the flags of the world served to spice up the remainder of the walk to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was sort of relieved to find the Norwegian one.
5. Philadelphia has Rocky
Remember these stairs? If you don’t I reckon you haven’t been to Philadelphia, you’re probably not the biggest of art buffs and you definitely haven’t seen Rocky in a while! ‘Cause these stairs, baby, were made for running. The kind of running Rocky Balboa so victoriously did in the 1976 movie “Rocky”. Mr. Stallone may not be working out here anymore, but the stairway still gets its share of out of breath people. (And yes, I ran. What do you mean? Of course I did!)
6. Philadelphia has Cézanne and Beyond
“In my thought one doesn’t replace the past, one only adds a new link to it.” Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
I am going to qoute Richard Dorment writing for the Telegraph (UK) on this one: “Not many exhibitions can be said to change the way you think about art, but Cézanne and Beyond at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the US is one of them. As powerful a show as you are ever likely to see, it brings together 50 paintings, watercolours and drawings by the painter from Aix-en-Provence to hang alongside the work of 18 20th-century artists who fell under his spell.” And: “Let me just say that this is one of the most important shows I’ve seen in two decades of reviewing for this paper.”
And Pablo Picasso (1881–1973): “[Cézanne] was my one and only master! Don’t you think I looked at his pictures?”
7. Philadelphia has Al Capone’s cell
To the voice of Steve Buscemi I audiowalked through the historic Eastern State Penitentiary.
“Opened in 1829 as part of a controversial movement to change the behavior of inmates through “confinement in solitude with labor,” Eastern State Penitentiary quickly became one of the most expensive and most copied buildings in the young United States. It is estimated that more than 300 prisons worldwide are based on the Penitentiary’s wagon-wheel, or “radial” floor plan.
Some of America’s most notorious criminals were held in the Penitentiary’s vaulted, sky-lit cells, including bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone. After 142 years of consecutive use, Eastern State Penitentiary was completely abandoned in 1971, and now stands, a lost world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers.”
Mob boss Alphonse “Scarface” Capone served his first prison sentence in Eastern State. His eight months here were spent in relative luxury, though, as his cell was furnished with commodities like rugs, lamps, comfy chairs, a desk and a radio.
8. Philadelpia has murals
I found this urban masterpiece walking back to the city center from Eastern State. It’s the biggest mural in Philadelphia and it really impressed me. I love the colors, the details, the perfection! Wish my living room wall could fit something like that.
While I was photographing this Lincoln mural a young (my age) woman (a nurse, god bless her) walked up to me and asked me whether or not I understood what it’s about. She told me she sees people all the time taking pictures of this mural, but she has yet to understand what it means. I understand it qoutes Abraham Lincoln, other than that… I’m still working on it!
9. Philadelphia has parks
I know it’s a cliché, but I really did have a lovely walk in the park. In the Washington Square Park, across from Independence Square. Having sauntered around Central Park a few times, Washington Square is tiny, but it’s still big enough for walking your dog, having your kids run around or bringing your friends for some football practice. I simply brought a cup of coffee to one of the benches and people watched. The Philadelphians looked great in the afternoon sun.
10. Philadelphia has liberty and independence
My biggest lesson on the historic Liberty Bell is that in order to see it properly you must get your behind down there before five pm. If not you’ll have to view it through the window. And that window offers no view of the famous crack. However, you do get your crappy photo and you can honestly say you’ve seen it. Since I wasn’t allowed inside, the information I’m about to repeat is strictly copy-and-paste from http://www.nps.gov/inde/liberty-bell-center.htm.
“… Since the bell was made, the words of the inscription have meant different things to different people. When William Penn created Pennsylvania’s government he allowed citizens to take part in making laws and gave them the right to choose the religion they wanted. The colonists were proud of the freedom that Penn gave them. In 1751, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly ordered a new bell for the State House. He asked that a Bible verse to be placed on the bell – “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). As the official bell of the Pennsylvania State House (today called Independence Hall) it rang many times for public announcements.
The old State House bell was first called the “Liberty Bell” by a group trying to outlaw slavery. These abolitionists remembered the words on the bell and, in the 1830s, adopted it as a symbol of their cause.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Declaration of Independence, 1776.
And on that thoughtful note I ended my trip to Philadelphia, a great city that certainly is about more than the movie and the cheese. I think I’ll even go back one day – to get a better view of that bell and to have some of that fudge I so painfully restrained myself from diving into at the market.
Did I try the Philly cheesesteak, you ask? No, but I did get a bite of Mike Tyson’s ear and that was cheesy enough for me!