Saturday, August 12, 2017

Interlude: Saying Goodbye to Philadelphia

The view from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps
down the Ben Franklin Parkway towards Center City
A week before we moved from Philadelphia I spent a day alone at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was where I had fallen in love with the city back when we first came to Philly for Gary to interview with the Eastern PA Conference.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
with the Schuylkill River and Water Works
Bicentennial era pamphlet
I stood on the steps of the art museum, looking past the Washington Monument fountain down the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Second Empire City Hall. Behind me in the art museum was "Sandy" Calder's mobile Ghost, at the far end of the parkway was Alexander Stirling Calder's Swann Memorial Fountain, and atop City Hall was Alexander Milne Calder's William Penn: three generations.
detail from a lithograph of Philadelphia

Philadelphia as we knew it when we moved
I recalled my first views of the city, coming in on the expressway along the Schuylkill. Across the ravine was the strange sight of Laurel Hill Cemetery, the white monuments gleaming.

Then came the view of the art museum and the water works in front of it. Going down the Ben Franklin Parkway, bedecked with flags, past fountain circles, and ending with the imposing City Hall. I knew my ancestors had come into this port, and that in some way I was coming home.
Rodin's The Thinker at the Rodin Museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway
Our first anniversary after moving to Philly we went to Old Original Bookbinders for our first lobster dinner. They put a plastic bib on our necks. The lobster was amazing, dipped in butter, and so rich.

Ads including Old Original bookbinders
Saladalley was one of my clients when I was in sales
One birthday I ordered poached salmon with dill sauce at The Fish Market
The Fish Market 
We shopped at the Reading Terminal Market where we bought fresh vegetables and whole fish, boned leg of lamb to grill, and home made cottage cheese.

Reading Terminal. Photo by Gary L. Bekofske
We had our first Tabouli at a lunch stand in the Reading Terminal Market. I felt vindicated for always eating the spring of parsley from my parent's plate at restaurants. Here was a whole salad of parsley! We now grow our own parsley to make this salad.
Ad for the Reading Terminal Market
Bicentennial pamphlet

Reading Terminal. Photo by Gary L. Bekofske
We went to the Old City festival and bought exotic foods from the Middle East restaurant and Indian food from Siva, some of our favorite cuisines to this day. We loved to eat in Chinatown, where we had Peking Duck. We enjoyed chicken mole' and authentic dishes at a Mexican restaurant that opened near the Academy of Music.
restaurant ads in Bicentennial pamphlet
We had dined at Dicken's Inn, run by Charles Dicken's grandson, and took my brother for Cajun food at an expensive restaurant on South Street. I accidentally ordered raw oysters while dining on the Moshulu, and Gary and I each tried one.
It was during the Avenue of the Arts on Broad street that I heard an orchestra play Vivaldi's The Four Seasons for the first time. Under a huge tent along the Delaware River at Penn's Landing at a free concert, we sang along with Pete Seeger, "Bit by bit, row by row, gonna make my garden grow."

We had gone to the Mummer's Parade on New Years Day, crushed in a crowd of thousands on South Broad Street. We heard the Beach Boys in a free concert on the steps of the art museum on a muggy July 4th.

I had stood in light-filled Christ Church where our patriot forefathers worshipped and supped by candlelight in the City Tavern where they broke bread.
Bicentennial Ads
We had seen the St. Lucia festival at Gloria Dei, the earliest church in Philadelphia when it was first settled by Swedes. I had worshipped at Arch Street Meeting House and in African American churches.

We had seen plays--from Athol Fugard's Sizwe Bansi is Dead to Dracula: A Pain in the Neck; George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare; Jean Marsh in Too Good to Be True and Leonard Nimoy in a one man play about Vincent Van Gogh. We had seen Cats on Broadway and Candide at the New York City Opera.

And the concerts at the Academy of Music! The Christmas ballets of The Nutcracker and Coppelia. The outdoor concerts at the Robin Hood Dell and Mann Music Center. I remembered the cooling dusk, sitting on a blanket on the grass, transported by Scheherazade, white dining on brie and fruit and wine.
Riccardo Muti
We saw repertoire movies including the first time I saw Limelight and City Lights by Charles Chaplin, and Casablanca, and The Marx Brothers. We went to the Ritz and saw foreign movies with subtitles, and to the large downtown theaters for the re-release of Lawrence of Arabia and the premieres of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future.
The Liberty Bell in it Bicentennial location
I recalled the Bicentennial, history come alive for a whole year, the museums and free plays, the excitement and uplifting belief in America.
Scenes from around Philadelphia in a Bicentennial pamphlet
Goodbye to the many public statues: Emmanuel Frémiet's gilded Joan of Arc, Robert Indiana's LOVE statue and Claus Oldenburg's giant 'clothespin statue' that looked like lovers kissing, and the Lipchitz statue Government of the People which some thought looked like a pile of shit, and Henry Moore's Three-Way Piece. and the Pilgrim and Playing Angels and even the giant frog. Goodbye to one of only two statues ever made of Charles Dickens.
Dickens and Little Nell by Francis Edwin Elwell. Clark Park, Philadelphia
Photo by Gary L. Bekofske
Goodbye, walks along the Schuylkill where Thomas Eakins painted the scullers. Goodbye, Independence Hall and Carpenters Hall, to the second bank of the United States modeled on the Parthenon, to the Bourse and the Merchant's Exchange. Goodbye to Latrobe's Water Works and to Boathouse Row.

Goodbye to being surrounded by history, to walking past where Phillips Brooks wrote 'O, Little Town of Bethlehem,' the Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman Houses, Ben Franklin's grave and the first library which he founded. Goodbye to the 18th c houses and Elfreth Alley and New Market.

Goodbye to the 30th Street Train Station, place of the opening scene of Witness, and to John Wanamaker where a car drove into the display window in the movie Mannequin. I only have to watch Blow Out or Trading Places to revisit the city we knew.
Bicentennial ad for Wanamaker
And the shopping! The department stores, now gone: John Wanamaker, Strawbridge & Clothier, Gimbels, and Lit Brothers. The new Gallery and Gallery II. And Encore Books where I bought so many books for so few dollars.
The Gallery and John Wanamaker
We had gone to the amazing Philadelphia Flower Show and to Longwood Gardens.
At Longwood Gardens
And to the Tyler Arboretum and the Ambler Arboretum. And to the Tinicum Nature Preserve to see the migrating birds, where once we saw thousands of white egrets in the trees.
Tinicum Nature Preserve

A cluster of trees
            jade green fans brush-stroked against
            blue skies dappled with pearly gray clouds
stood lit by a noon-high sun.
Vivid and verdant, richness of growth,
nature's masterwork swathed in movement:

White flight checkering green 
like phantoms
or gathered angels.
Souls in gala celebration
saluting the season.

Egrets, white flames 
Leaping from cool still green,
darting from depths of green
into shadows of green.
Hovering, alighting.
Eternity's crown,
nimbus of elms.
The miracle of flight
visiting the permanence of roots.

It was where I finished my education. I remembered Professor Olshin who taught the Jane Austen seminar and how we were on campus and ran into her and within a year she had died of the cancer she had been battling.
photo by Gary L. Bekofske of Kensington. 
How many hours had I spent on mass transit? The subway and the El? Going to school, work, to shop, and for days spent walking around the city?

the new subway station
I said goodbye to the city that formed my twenties and was the background of my adulthood.
View of the Ben Franklin Parkway from the top
of City Hall
My footsteps echoed as I walked up the stairs under Augustus Saint-Gaudens's Diana with her bow and arrow to visit my favorite art: Fish Magic by Paul Klee. Carnival Evening by Rousseau. John Singer Sargent's Luxembourg Gardens. Van Gogh's Sunflowers.|8
I remembered when we brought Chris to the museum and how he was so interested in Salvador Dali's Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) and having to explain it to an eighteen-month-old.

I returned home to Gary and Chris, excited for the next big adventure waiting for us, but knowing that Philadelphia had left its mark on me.

Views of the City

I saw your familiar yet unnamed face
flicker across the movie screen’s blank stare
and every image burned with recollected stain
the wall-writings, the liter,
the detached reflected city streets
in the towered window’s glare.

diesel perfume and urine-soaked stair,
the rapid rush of walkers
going somewhere, anywhere,
with intense vengeance.
The panhandler’s challenge, the derelict’s sleep
on steamy subway grate, the wind
whipping down manufactured canyons
with a whirlwind of refuse.

And yet among all this came creeping
the quiet vacuum
where small things took root:
the flower of a fountain,
the square of sycamore where a child played,
the balanced architecture of a hopeful past,
violin strings slicing air,
you were also this, and more----

A dreamed, racial memory,
the place where my ancestors first came ashore,
when baffled, tongueless, full of faith
they sought new life in a foreign place.

Recalled, my first view of you,
driving down the river’s gorge,
your ancient dead saluting on the far hill,
gleaming white in spring’s green leaves;
passing Eakin’s famous bridge,
turning our eyes to the temple
rising over falling water
where I would learn to worship
the craft of  human hands
and mortal imagination.

Distancing the parkway,
flag-full and fountain-embraced,
until reaching  your heartbeat,
the clash of ages
where generations of Calders and Rouse meet.
In that disconsonance, I knew
I’d returned to the home
I’d always dreamt I’d find.

I gave you my best years.
And you, you stamped your imprint
on my most tender and childish being.
Here I viewed the extremes humanity can achieve:
where the lame led the blind,
and the powerful bomb the children of the disinherited,
and subway tunnels echo with solemn saxophone  songs,
and shop windows beckon entrance
into organ-filled halls.
I memorized your every aspect and view,
walked you from South Street’s decay
to Kensington’s skeleton-lined avenues,
I knew your markets and your alleys.
The light-filled rationality of Christ Church
to the Occidental streets behind the Chinese gate.

I have been damaged
as by sunlight too bright,
too well observed,
and no one understands here
in this peninsular Midwest,
what I have seen
and what it meant
or why I dream of you yet.

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