Friday, August 29, 2014

Philadelphia, Old and New

29 August 2014

We had an interesting bus ride from New York to Philadelphia, sitting with a young man who had majored in Islamic studies in college, and  a very Orthodox Jewish young woman who wanted to know why we don't visit Chabad centers (Lubavitcher Chasidic centers) around the world, and why we don't light Sabbath candles as we travel.  As I said, and INTERESTING bus ride!!!  We had quite the far-ranging conversation from quite varying points of view - but we were all very polite and not confrontational.

Philadelphia is a very old city - in fact, it was the site of the First and Second Constitutional Congresses, and after the Revolutionary War was the temporary capital of the new country.  In the year 1800, it was the largest city in the USA, larger than New York, Chicago, all those other large cities.

So the architecture is wonderful, full of Neo-classical and Colonial and Federal buildings, as well as some very interesting modern architecture.  

A new law mandates that a certain percent of funds allocated to new buildings must be spent on artwork - now there are all kinds of artworks both in and outside the newer buildings.  We visited an art park outside one of these new places; the center of the park was a mosaic globe, surrounded by two sets of pillars.  And a strange golden mosaic cone that didn't quite fit in with the rest of the park, but was rather amazing all by itself.  

So we've been meeting up with family and doing various things - lunch with some people, dinner with others, playing with the little kids, you know, the family kinds of things.

We also went to see "The Book of Mormon" which is a crazy funny musical comedy - for me, it was almost like seeing a religious version of the Peace Corps singing their way through Africa.  I know that sounds crazy, but the play was a bit nuts, so the description is apt.  If you get a chance, see it - and be prepared to be blown away by sheer wackiness!

Today, we visited the Japanese House in Fairmount Park, a huge park that was the site of the nation's Centennial celebration in 1876.  It's a beautiful old Japanese house in the traditional style, with curving roof and eaves, tatami floors, ikebana flower arrangements in various corners, and of course incredible grounds with a koi pond, sculpted trees, curved bridges, and all that.  It was a wonderful spot to hang out on a beautiful summer day, taking photos of this scenic places that couldn't look bad if it tried.

The koi were kind of creepy, though - they're beautiful when they're swimming around in the water, bright spots of silver and gold gliding around - and then they'd swim over to the boat landing where people feed them.  And they'd stick their fishy heads out of the water, opening huge sucking mouths trying to grasp whatever bit of food people might toss in - they looked like some sort of leech that would get stuck onto an arm or leg and suck the life out of you!  Just really creepy!

Other than the koi, the place was so peaceful, very zen.  The walls and trees shut out all traffic noises, there was a little waterfall as well as the stream gurgling its way through the garden, and the sculpted trees and varied greens were very soothing.  It was a wonderful spot to hang out and relax, which we did for a while.  And overheard the staff talking about plans for a wedding to be held there, perhaps that evening or the next day.  What a lovely place to have a wedding!  Not very big, but oh so beautiful!!

Oh, I almost forgot - Philadelphia has a fabulous mural project and now has over 2500 murals scattered around the city.  This started as an anti-graffiti project, and young people were included in creating the murals.  Plus many of the murals were designed with creative input from people within the communities, so the murals reflect the cultures of various ethnic groups within the city.  Other murals focus on social issues such as chemical dependency, ethnic or racial prejudice, crime and incarceration - the list goes on and on.  This has become a model for other cities that have started mural projects.  There are mural tours, too, and each neighbourhood is very proud of the murals there and happily welcomes visitors who come to see the artwork.

Just one more thing I like about Philadelphia.

We'll continue to enjoy the city as we finish up our time here - we still have one more week, with much to do and much to discover.

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