Philadelphia Observations

I learned about Philadelphia in elementary school. It was the birthplace of America, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drawn up, homeplace of Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross among others. Philadelphia is the sixth largest city in the U.S., and is without a doubt, my favorite east coast city next to New York. It has a very large Wikipedia entry which is my way of admitting I don’t know Philadelphia very well.

My first cultural memory of Philadelphia involves Alistair Cooke’s America series. That series aired on PBS at the time, and I mostly remember that he often put me to sleep. Imagine my delight upon discovering Monty Python and the announcement, “… we bring you this recording of Alistair Cooke being attacked by a duck.” Then Eric Idle, playing Alistair Cooke says, “I can never visit Philadelphia without being reminded of the story of the famous Texan,” and then he is attacked by a duck. And so it is. I can never visit Philadelphia without thinking of Alistair Cooke being attacked by a duck.

I visited Philly three times in the last year (out of five visits) so I’m starting to get a handle on it even though I got lost again on the way down last time. I have missed the Jersey Turnpike exit more than once. (Signage in New Jersey is another story and perhaps obsolete as we all become GPS-capable.)

The first (recent) visit involved a visit with my parents to the Barnes Foundation in its native Lower Merion home. The collection there is quite overwhelming and I can’t really do it justice here. I understand it will remain open in pieces during its transition to downtown Philadelphia. Most people in the art world know about this controversial move as chronicled in the documentary, “The Art of the Steal.” While the film is clearly biased against the move, the fact that most of the activist rich people who fomented its move neglected to be interviewed, their point of view is circumspect. Either you respect the wishes of the dead as laid out in their wills, or lots of money and the promise of lots more trumps everything.

I appreciate the general benevolence towards art Philadelphia has. They have a building code which mandates that all new construction in the downtown area have a generous amount of both public space and public art so there are lots of strange sculptures in front of many buildings and sitting areas. Do struggling artists get tax breaks and subsidized housing? Maybe if they apply for it.

Beer and drinks in Philly are cheap — at least $1 or $2 less than in NYC. Food is the same and bland. No real bargains. I admit I haven’t had a wide sampling although it seems to be less veg-friendly than New York.

I last went out for a friends’ gig. I was told we’d be crashing in someone’s loft and I brought two sleeping bags. No one claimed my other bag so I fell asleep at some point on top of the unused bag as a cushion. People woke me up to fight over my unused sleeping bag. So much for brotherly love.

Just west of City Hall by about seven blocks and across the highway are odd slums where homeless people and junkies live. Some gentrification loft developments are there as well which is how I discovered it. It was kind or weird walking around there and smelling piss and garbage and then looking up seeing the grand Philadelphia City Hall not too far away.

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