Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Philadelphia Walkabout

I got back Monday night from a trip to North Carolina and Philadelphia. I went to Durham for a long overdue visit with my sister and her husband, then traveled to Philly for a visit with friends Tom and his husband, Michael. Mark and I first met Tom on our Corsican cycling tour in September 2012 then joined him and others for our second tour from Geneva to Nice in September 2014.

Martha and me

Martha and her husband, Koen

The last time Mark and I visited Martha was two years ago when we went to witness her receive her doctorate from the University of North Carolina. It was an amazingly fun weekend. Here, we're pictured with our daughter, Rachel, who came down from Philadelphia (where she was working at the time) for the weekend.

After several days in North Carolina, I headed for Philly. My first day there was spent walking around the city under overcast skies while Tom and Michael were busy at work. What follows are images from that day. 

The lead photo, by the way, is of a sculpture in the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Tom had told me to take the train from the airport to the station, then walk through the hall "past the black angel" where I would find a taxi to his home. I had no idea what the "black angel" would look like, but I was so taken aback by the beauty of it that I had to take a picture. "The Angel of the Resurrection" commemorates the 1307 Pennsylvania Railroad employees who died in World War II. It was the first instance of something I would experience over the next few days - the beauty of public sculpture that, living in Salt Lake, I am not often exposed to.

The Rodin Museum

Logan Square and Reading Terminal Market

There are sculptures of three recumbent Native Americans in the fountains on Logan Square, each representing one of the three rivers of Philadelphia. This powerfully-built brave represents the Delaware.

The new Mormon temple visible past the fountains and sculptures of Logan Square.

I walked through Terminal Market. I resisted the Amish donuts, pies and other baked goods, the chocolate-covered pretzels and a myriad of other temptations and settled for a chicken gyro for lunch.

Independence Historical Park

As I approached Independence Historical Park, I had many thoughts running through my mind. I thought about how my dad, step-mother, sister Martha and I had visited this spot on 4 July 1976 - the Bicentennial. How we had seen the Liberty Bell, how we had seen President Ford speak (all we could really see from our vantage point was his bald head), how I - like millions of other school children - had been taught to revere these hallowed places. 

I thought about how I had once loved American history, but how that love had been largely lost over the years for a number of reasons. How things were not as simple as they had been presented to us as school children. How I was surrounded by scores of modern school children who were being taught the same myths that I had been taught. I thought of my own children and wondered whether I would feel differently if my younger children were there with me. I thought of how I had taken my three older children to Gettysburg, Williamsburg, and Washington, DC in 2005 and how much fun we had had on that trip.


But time had marched on. And what I felt that day in Philadelphia last week was a sense of hollowness. On the mall in front of the visitors' center, a small group of people were giving speeches and prayers to mark a national day of prayer. They all sound so angry, I thought. And somehow it all seemed so hollow. 

I noticed and catalogued all these thoughts and feelings ... and walked on. There was nothing for me there that day. Perhaps some other day.*

Me (God, what socks), Martha and Dad (what a leisure suit!) on the same spot,
4 July 1976. What a 70's moment!

* While I was in Philly, I read an advertisement in the New York Times Book Review for a new book entitled Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution. I started reading it yesterday. In his introduction, the author, Nathaniel Philbrick, writes about the man who served as secretary of the Continental Congress for 15 years who wrote a memoir about his experience. Some years later, this man destroyed his yet-unpublished manuscript, feeling that the myth that had arisen around the Revolution was too powerful and too well accepted to allow for the truth of what had actually happened. "Let the world admire the supposed wisdom and valor of our great men," he wrote. "Perhaps they may adopt the qualities that have been ascribed to them, and thus good may be done. I shall not undeceive future generations." Perhaps, I thought as I read this, there was yet room for a resurrection of my love of American history.

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