(In Part One of this Philadelphia posting I wrote about why this city has the title of “City of Brotherly Love” as well as “Cradle of Liberty” which I will discuss a tiny bit further here. I also highlighted some city firsts as well as my observation that it rains every single day. There are a lot of interesting facts about Philadelphia so if you missed part one, go back and read it here:
Philos Adelphos, Philadelphia Part Two
I’m sure it’s well known that the Declaration of Independence was signed here in 1776, and first read to an audience in Independence Park. President George Washington served his presidency here from 1790 to 1797. Starting the same year that the daily paper went out of business and the year that the Philadelphia Stock Exchange opened. Interesting. Those were happening-times around here. Seems like a much quieter place now, it has to be said.
In case you were wondering about that technological first, it was the design and build of the worlds first entirely electronic computer, ENIAC. This beast was more than a thousand times faster than it’s predecessors, so an enormous achievement both in size and importance. This was 1946. Today we carry more computing prowess in our pockets in the guise of mobile phones while ENIAC weighed-in at sixty thousand pounds. (According to Siri, that’s equal to forty average six-cylinder sedans. She didn’t just tell me that, I had to do the math in my head. I’m not completely reliant on her.) The world has changed very quickly.
I happened into the lively Reading Terminal Market where I would have been happy to get out of the rain had it not suddenly stopped while I was waiting to cross the street to it’s entrance. Of course it recommenced soon after I reintroduced myself to the open air an hour later. In the market I enjoyed a fantastic dark roast coffee and a scrumptious Roast Pork sandwich with Provolone at Dinic’s after seeking the advice of some locals. My friends in Rhode Island had told me not to miss this market and I felt well-advised. I tried to read the fascinating history of the market but my eyes glazed-over with boredom. (I’m sure it’s well-written, I’m just funny that way.) Anyway, it’s a great place to wander, eat, and purchase everything you might need to prepare many kind of meal.
I learn online, with some surprise, that Philly has the most public art pieces of any US city. The surprise came from the fact that I noticed very few, although perhaps many were being obscured by the nearly constant rain. Or maybe many are not waterproof and are contained within indoor public spaces. For outdoor space, Fairmont Park, with eight thousand acres, is the largest US city park. I thought to myself, would that be a simply wonderful place to tromp through muddy grounds while enjoying winter rain storms? Possibly, but I didn’t.
At some point in the day I noticed I was a head-turner. I was all dressed in black, well nearly; my wool/cashmere overcoat perfectly unsuited for rain was dark gray. With frumpy but comfortable black leather shoes, black pants and trousers, all topped with a black hat, whenever water was not pouring forth from the skies I was turning the heads of a local segment. It wasn’t that they thought I was sexy, they were looking for my curls. The black hats worn by Hasidic Jews can signify their group. In Brooklyn I was told that they might wear the same style hat as does their “leader”. (Sorry, I don’t know the lexicon.) One of my hats happened to be a similar shape to the local hat of choice, and with a beard and all in black, I could not help but notice the double-takes I was being given whenever I was within eyeshot of a person of that faith. (Is he? Oh, no, he isn’t.)
Open my umbrella, and I was immediately transformed. It was far too colourful, they would never carry such a garish non-black item. This got me new attention though, I cannot tell you how many times I had a version of the following conversation. In the birthplace of the American flag no less (the first one made by Betsy Ross in 1777 in her local upholstery shop). “Where you get that American flag umbrella?” “It’s the British flag, I got it in London.” “Wha! They stole our colours?” “No, I think you’ll find that the UK is older than the US.” I think most tourists visit Philly because of it’s American history and heritage. It wasn’t that any of these Americans would not have recognised the American flag (I can hopefully assume), it’s more they did not recognise the Union Jack and only saw the colours.
In addition to Will Smith and Kevin Bacon; Richard Gere, Kobe Bryant, and Grace Kelly all called Philadelphia home at the time of their birth. I mean they might not have known where they were, but if they had known. As a non-American, I remember this town most from the marvellous and touching film, Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Antonio Banderas. It was groundbreaking in 1993. This was a ground-breaking film that dealt with AIDS discrimination and homophobia. There was even a homophobic character who supported the cause because despite being homophobic, he recognised defending the main character as being the right thing to do. Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Streets of Philadelphia” was hands-down my favourite of his, and it hit number one status in many countries at the time. (Although it only made as high as number two in the UK. I know, seems heartless. It would have made number one there today though.)
Somewhere near to my hotel I decided to treat myself to a souvenir that soon after revealed itself as having been a cultural misunderstanding. I really don’t know what I was thinking when I spent near to three hundred dollars on such a ridiculous purchase. I intentionally took too many clothes on this road trip so I would not be tempted to buy more. I resisted the Black Friday and after Christmas sales in SOHO, Greenwich and Tribeca even from within the confines of shops purveying on-sale clothing I liked when shopping with my sister and her Dachshund. So here I saw these very unique offerings and I finally broke down.
I bought myself a fashion suit. Doesn’t sound so bad. But let me tell you. A patterned trouser, with huge pleats (to accommodate a more shapely rear attribute than my own), a matching zipper jacket, a colour-matched mock turtle sweater, matching socks, and shoes. Oh, I thought I was a picture of style in the store. It wasn’t until I tried it on in a different city for the first time outside of the all African American store that I saw it. I looked like a white guy trying to disguise himself as a fifty-year-old hipster black guy. In 1960. It looks like a costume on me, I have no idea how I was ever able to look at that entire matched outfit and think, yes. This is just the thing. I will look the bomb.
I pulled-away from the city, where I can only assume it rains every single day, on a wet Tuesday Morning in the direction of nearby Baltimore. I can remember it was a Tuesday because I had perfectly (although unintentionally) timed my visit to not be able to see most of the museums, closed on Mondays during this off-season. Like Paris, where I was a little disappointed the first time when I was not swept-off my feet by constant romance, I’ll probably like Philadelphia even more the second time I visit. I may not have noticed an extraordinary amount of brotherly love in the air, but it was friendly and handsome just the same.
Click on the image below to view and hear the music video “Streets of Philadelphia”. If you receive this posting by email, it will open the blog post in a browser to work, if not click on the blue title to open the posting in an internet browser.
Interesting about this video is that rather than using Springsteen’s studio recording they re-recorded him singing live as he walked down the streets. The video was to be as real as possible and it was done to great effect. The video also shows the hardship and poverty that appears to continue today.