Trip Report: United States, Part 3

Philadelphia

Just a couple days in Philadelphia to meetup with Moses, Ben, Rocky, Dr. Barnes, family and friends

Everyone goes to the Eiffel Tower. Everyone goes to Times Square and snaps blurry pics of their family in front of the video screens and neon. Everyone goes to Disneyland, Big Ben, the Brandenburg Gates. For me, the pleasure of traveling is finding the unexpected, usually out-of-the-way place or experience that turns into a long memory. I’ve had more than my share of these over the last few years: a foggy, otherworldly Swedish archipelago at 5a.m., a friendly hole-in-the-wall pub in an Amsterdam alley, an impromptu road trip from Malaga to Madrid, a massive, crumbling glacier in Norway.

Philadelphia gave us an early morning wander into a bustling Reading Terminal Market and a chance encounter with Mr. Moses Smucker. The big, friendly man with a big hat and a big beard struck up conversation with Facty, quickly discovered our whole Ireland story and reached for his mobile phone. Before she knew it, she was on the phone with a some friend or other of Moses’, discussing his occasional trips to Dublin. Moses is one of those people – someone who goes from stranger to old friend in mere minutes. Much like a favorite uncle of mine. Much like a poker blogging friend you may know…

We took our leave of Moses and his delicious fried egg sandwiches and headed off to get the requisite dose of U.S. history. It is Philadelphia, after all. Perhaps it was the cold weather, but Independence Hall featured a stiff tour guide and a dull crowd. The Liberty Bell was poorly lit. Christ Church was just ok. Betsy Ross’ house would have been a dud, but for the living history actress who saved things right at the end. All in all, I was underwhelmed and grumpy. A random photo walk and lunch helped, after which we found Ben Franklin’s museum. While I think a lot of the “founding father” reverence is nonsense hyperbole, Franklin is one of the few figures from this era that inspires genuine awe. An actual renaissance man. This, combined with the vintage late 60s museum displays (fonts, trimline phones) raised spirits and capped the day.

After dinner and catching up with my long lost cousin and her family, we met up for drinks with Mr.CantHang and friends at McGillin’s Olde Ale House. A sleepy night by Al’s standards, but it was great to catch up and it dredged up many fond memories of Decembers past at the MGM and Caesar’s Palace poker rooms. Hope to get back to one of those gathering soon.

Next morning was back to business, into a taxi and out to the Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion. Barnes made his fortune in gonorrhea (what?) and spent it building his own personal museum – filling it with Renoirs, Cezannes and Matisses, which he stipulated in his will were never to move. Long legal battles predictably ensued as the Foundation looks to move downtown, next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Barnes is a key figure in Facty’s research and dissertation. I was less than thrilled with their photography policy.

A far better photography policy was to be found at that same Philadelphia Museum of Art. A very nice Pistoletto exhibit and the Duchamp pieces in the permanent collection were among the highlights. We did climb the Rocky steps, but there is no evidence of posing.

With no time to spare, it was back to the hotel for bags and off to catch the train to New York City for blizzards, liberty, Rothko, Hello Kitty and more photos….