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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PHILADELPHIA!!!

So, a couple weeks ago the NY Times had an article which posed the question “Where would Hemingway Go in 2011?” and various writers picked European cities (Bruges? Really?). I forwarded the link to my artist pal Brian Gormley for his response, which was, “We owe it to ourselves to check out Philadelphia.”

Plans were made and yesterday was the big excursion. Neither of us wanted to drive, as there are few ways of travel more apt to put one in a foul mood when visiting a city. So, I agreed to drive to Brian’s place in Bucks County and from there was drove his car to the SEPTA train station in Doylestown. 

The train was clean and comfortable, with a quiet car where we fled rather than listen to one (loud) side of a conversation about some woman’s time in rehab and jail. It was $11 each, round trip, and that included an unlimited all-day Independence pass on Philadelphia’s buses and subways. That worked out fine except that total travel time for me was about 3 hours each way (not including a half wait at the train station) and I can drive there in an hour and a half. Plus we ended up walking everywhere.

I don’t know if, like Danny DeVito’s TV show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia but it sure was yesterday. Fortunately it wasn’t humid.

Two things struck me after we came up from underground at the Market Street Station:  Philadelphia is vibrant. Philadelphia is friendly.

This second impression probably shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the place was founded by a religious sect (Quakers) who called themselves the Society of Friends.

From the train station we walked a couple blocks to the Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch Street.  This place is a must see / must visit / must eat. It’s been a farmers market since 1892.

Gormley made a beeline for Tommy Dinic’ s (since 1954)  where we both indulged in pulled pork with broccoli rabe and provolone. (Anthony Bourdain singled out this place and this meal on his TV show recently, according to Gormley.). I would never have put pulled pork with provolone (or broccoli rabe, for that matter) but it was a great midday meal. When Brian told the server it was much better than a Philly cheese steak, she replied scrappily, “Cheese steak is fast food. This is slow-cooked food.” Total for both of us, including a $4 tip, was $21.

From there we decided to walk down to North 2nd Street. Along the way we passed American history in all its glory – Franklin’s burial site, along with other “Signers”; the first post office; the Constitution center, the mint, the original Friends Meeting House, and so on. We weren’t site seeing but absorbing, and so kept walking – stopping only to read brass plaques of historical fact.

Finally we arrived at 29 North 2nd Street, right across from Christ Church, founded in 1695 

29 North 2nd Street is the recent home to the burgeoning empire of Jules Goldman, dealer in books, antiques and art in the heart of Old City Philadelphia. (No website but he does have a telephone 215-923-2203.) The building is made up of huge floors of loft space. One could search for days through the books, records, bric-a-brac, paintings, prints and so forth, and still not scratch the surface. The place has a throw back feel to it -- like something out of Paris in the 1920s or NY in the 40s -- and Jules likes that.

Jules Goldman and Gormley have known each other for quite awhile, apparently from the flea market scene around New Hope and Lambertville, NJ. This was Gormley’s (and my) first visit to the building and before long plans were made for an exhibit of his paintings this autumn. More on that as it gets closer. (Rumor has it that a certain ukulele player and his musical sidekicks with be playing some New Orleans jazz and bawdy blues as part of the exhibition opening festivities.)

We hung out with Jules for quite awhile, then took a walk around the neighborhood. One of our stops was in one of the city’s premier live music bars, the Plough and the Stars. Marion  Ryder, the Irish-born proprietress, came right over and talked with me about our music after I gave the hostess at the door my business card and inquired as to who does the booking. Marion is checking out Working Class Bohemians' music on line and if she likes what she hears, JJ Peppers and I may have a musical foothold on the city soon. Obviously, we’re not traditional Irish musicians, so who knows what will happen on that front.

However, what struck me most about this encounter and the others we had during our excursion – everyone is so welcoming, available, and friendly. The stand-offish attitude of empire and money that permeates so much of social intercourse in New York seemed entirely absent.

Next we walked – trekked is more like it – to the Phildelphia Inquirer building, where we met up with my old pal John Timpane. He is currently the Inquirer’s new media correspondent, and former Op Ed page editor. He is truly a charming character, and a classy guy. He hails from California originally but seems to be made for Philadelphia. He’s a musician who plays bass and flute, as well as being a newspaper man. He took us across the street to Westy’s Tavern for a couple of beers and conversation. Timpane, like everyone we met yesterday, is a big, and genuine, Philadelphia booster. It was good seeing him and getting his take on the music and the literary scenes in Philadelphia. (Both score high on the Timpane applause meter.)

Finally, it was time to grab a bite and catch the train home. This is another reason my car will have to serve me on my Philadelphia trips in the future: in addition to doubling the travel time (Hey, a few Penn DOT shovel leaners can do that to a car trip) the last train back was at 9:50 pm. I could not have caught a show if I had wanted to. Checking out the Philadelphia theater scene will have to wait until a later date.

We walked down the street from the train station and into Chinatown, where we opted for Malaysian cuisine at a spacious high-ceiling place called Penang at 117 N 10th St. The service was quick, the food tasty and very affordable. I had ginger duck noodles and Brian had watercress and squid and a beer. The portions were huge. The tab for both of us was $18.

Then we had to leave. But we were both impressed and will both be going back with enthusiasm. Oh yeah – I Love Philadelphia!

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