A short weekend in Philadelphia
When my mother-in-law invited me and my wife up to Philadelphia to visit a couple of art museums, I jumped on the opportunity. Philadelphia has wonderful a skyline, great examples of colonial Georgian architecture, cobblestones streets, and world-class museums.
We stayed at the Loews Philadelphia, which would be the perfect location but for the huge collection of downright mentally ill people wandering the streets nearby. I saw one guy swearing and punching the air in front of him as he trudged by staring at someone unseen figure of his imagination. I don’t know what happened to the mental health institutions that used to give these people the help they so clearly need. Being out on the streets does no one any good.
The Loews is actually in a great location geography-wise, being only two blocks away from the magnificent Second Empire masterpiece, Philadelphia City Hall. And one block north is the amazing Reading Terminal Market, one of the country’s best indoor food marketplaces. It was very crowded inside, the walkways filled with teenage girls in the city for a volleyball tournament somewhere, but I enjoyed browsing the seemingly endless rows of food stands. I especially liked the Amish-run stands selling chocolate-peanut butter popcorn and jams. I’m glad I caught them on a Saturday, as they don’t work on Sundays, of course. Before we left on Sunday for Washington, I went back to the market and bought something that I’ve never tried before: raw milk. Yes, the unpasteurized, homogenized sort straight from the cow’s udder. You should try it–it’s amazing. I can’t believe I’ve been drinking 2% for most of my adult life. It has a richness and fullness to it that is hard to describe. We’ll see how long it lasts in the fridge though. I also bought some raw goat milk and gave that a try–really good.
Back to the primary reason we were in Philly: seeing the art museums. Our first stop on Sunday was the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) to see an exhibit showing the works of Norman Lewis, an under-appreciated African-American artist from the early 20th century. The exhibit had about 75 works on display, ranging from portraits he did in his early days to the more abstract works of the latter half of his career.
The older part of the PAFA, the Furness-Hewittt building, was opened in 1876 just in time for the city’s Centennial celebration. Because we were on a private tour, we entered through the back door and walked through the rooms used by student artists. All along the walls were hundred year old busts of Greek and Roman figures, including twenty foot tall replica of Michelangelo’s David. Loose paintings, edges curled and laying on a shelf, revealed the students’ varying takes on a young woman model. We emerged from this workshop and into the main hall of the museum itself, at the base of a magnificent staircase leading up to a grand hall lined with enormous paintings from the 19th century.
We caught a cab to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the country’s best art museums. On display was an immensely popular International Pop art exhibit, advertised through a painting depicting a woman licking a rainbow-colored ice cream cone in the shape of manhood. If that sort of thing is your thing, don’t miss the International Pop art exhibit. And be sure to see the French maid mannequin, splayed out on her back on a couch as if she had just overdosed on heroin.
Philadelphia has a great reputation for restaurants, more so nowadays with the resurgence of American cities. For breakfast on Sunday, we tried Green Eggs Cafe and were taken aback by the breadth of its vegan menu and its excellent coffee. On Saturday, I got an afternoon machicatto at Square One Coffee, a small-batch coffee roaster and cafe packed with students catching up on their dissertations or cramming for their medical school boards. I was definitely the oldest person there at a decrepit 37 years old.
Note: We will be visiting Norway in May for a week. Our itinerary includes Oslo, the Fjords, and Bergen. Can’t wait!