Independence HallMichelle and I just got back from visiting Philadelphia for our first time. Michelle’s parents were in between two conferences they were attending and hatched the idea of the family getting together in Philadelphia where Michelle’s brother, Dominic, is now living.  Last Christmas we were given a promissory note for three nights stay and three dinners July 15-18. We had a blast spending time with the family, seeing the city, and enjoying our meals.

Michelle and I drove to Philadelphia on Tuesday and, although we got stuck in traffic both south of and in DC, we picked up Michelle’s parents, Jim and Louise, at the Philadelphia airport. Frances, Michelle’s sister, met us there and, after checking in, enjoyed the first of our happy hours at the Embassy Suites. We enjoyed the local lager, Yuengling, which bills itself as America’s oldest brewery. That first evening Dominic met us and guided us to Dante & Luigi’s, an Italian restaurant with a distinguished old world feel. The dinners were excellent and, although I think the staff was probably glad to have not seated anyone immediately near us, we all had a good time.

Because our hotel was at Eighteenth and Arch streets, we were centrally located to a number of sites in Philadelphia we wanted to visit. Wednesday morning Frances, Michelle, and I headed off to the historic district and the waterfront, spending most of our time at Independence National Historic Park. I have remarked to many people that while growing up and going to school in California we still studied the same national mythology encompassing the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and other foundational events, even though we lacked any tangible reminders of such. That is not to say we did not have old history in California, as San Diego is home to the first Spanish mission in Alta California (1769) and the location of many battles of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Being in Philadelphia, however, allowed us to both be reminded of the standard story of American history as well as to make it tangible. Liberty Bell We started our tour at the Liberty Bell and I was pleased to see the exhibition highlight not so much the bell’s importance in American independence but its role in the ongoing myth-making of American nationalism and, in so doing, remains a challenge to we who proclaim life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights and yet so often fall short of securing as much for not only those in our own country but even promote the opposite through our foreign and economic policies. We had a good tour through Independence Hall, housing the first Supreme Court, the Assembly Hall where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed (in 1776 and 1787 respectively). Adjacent buildings were restored and housed an original printing of the Declaration of Independence, working drafts of the Constitution from George Washington, and much more. In keeping with the motif of the day, we had lunch and traditional brews at City Tavern, where the likes of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin downed pints and plotted the overthrow of English rule. We then strolled around the historic neighborhood which felt much more like a small country town than the then largest city and first capital of the United States.

After a brief spin through the Reading Terminal Market, we rendezvoused with Jim and Louise, who had visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to enjoy our happy hour before heading off to pick up Dominic at work. Frances and I then drove Dominic to Phillips, a Philly cheesesteak shop in a pretty ghetto part of South Philadelphia. We brought the steaks back to Dominic’s studio where everyone else joined us, including Dominic’s girlfriend, Liz, who had driven up from DC. And even through Anita was not there, as she has started her junior year abroad in Africa, her wooting spirit was not forgotten (or unassailed). To escape the heat of eight people in Dominic’s third-floor studio, we climbed out the window onto the roof and watched kids playing basketball on the adjacent school courts, drank, and chatted.

LoveThursday morning Michelle and I once again joined Jim and Louise for our excellent breakfast before we headed off to take in some views around Philadelphia and visit several Philadelphia museums. We started with a stroll along Benjamin Franklin Parkway and a visit to the Rodin Museum. Afterward we hiked through town out to University City, ending up at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. A gem attraction, I was particularly excited by their special exhibits, Survival: Examining the Body of Evidence (a study of evolution and how it relates to the shape, function, diseases, and cultural impact of the human body), treasures from nearly 5000-year old royal tombs in Ur (in conjunction with the Iraqi National Museum), an exhibition of Amarna (the brief royal capital of Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt, and site where the 13th century BCE Amarna letters were found, providing the first documented occurrence of the ‘Apiru/Hebrews) in addition to the standing exhibits on ancient civilizations and North American cultures. Although I could have used more time to have thoroughly savored the museum, we needed to meet up with Frances at the eclectic White Dog Cafe, known to Frances through food advocacy groups. After meeting up with Jim, Louise, Dominic, and Liz, returned from their tour of Liz’s alma mater, Villanova, we walked around the University of Pennsylvania before heading back to our hotel to get cleaned up and cooled down for dinner.

Although Dominic had originally planned for us to eat at a Georgian restaurant (that is Georgia as in the former Soviet state in the Caucuses, the region on which Dominic does research and quite possibly the best cuisine in existence), that restaurant closed down so by some good graces we ended up at Divan Turkish Kitchen, where we all had excellent food and Michelle declared That may be the best meal I have ever had! As is pretty common in Philadelphia, Divan’s is a BYOB establishment, so I enjoyed carrying the 1.5L bottle over my shoulder as we once again traipsed through South Philadelphia to comments from those whom we passed by that it looked like we were off to a good party. We once again retired to Dominc’s place for drinks and conversation but, due to exhaustion from having walked a great deal the day, the persisting heat, and the enjoyable volume of Scotch I’d consumed, I pretty shortly dozed off.

Friday morning Michelle and I were again on our own as Frances went to a conference and all the others headed out to York, where Liz’s family lives, in order to go on a tour of the Wolfgang Candy chocolate plant and see York. Delegates' Hall, National Constitution Center Michelle and I went to the National Constitution Center, as we had not had time to visit that during our day in Independence National Historic Park. A private museum that started off with a flashy show about how the Constitution came to be succeeded in what Lonely Planet described as accomplishing the impossible: making the United States Constitution sexy and interesting for a general audience. The round museum has the words of the Constitution and all amendments written out high above the displays which themselves trace the entire history of the United States vis-a-vis the development of constitutional law. Interactive exhibits throughout had us thinking (and playing) with both historical and contemporary issues. We ended with the some goofy pictures in the Delegates’ Hall. The rest of the time we visited several historic Philadelphia churches and the Jewish museum, the Fireman’s Hall, and made another stop at the Reading Terminal Market before picking up Frances to drive out to York.

We all had dinner with Liz’s mom, sister, and the latter’s boyfriend before playing Mario Cart on their Wii for several hours. Eventually everyone else headed back to Philadelphia while Michelle and I stayed with Liz’s mom, who graciously let us do so as we were planning to visit Amish country before returning to North Carolina. Saturday morning we went into Lancaster where we visited the Central Market, the Heritage Center Museum (where we got our introduction to Amish lifeways), and the original Catholic church of Lancaster as we thought it the church where some friends of ours were married but instead got trapped in some sort of scavenger hunt.

Ephrata Cloister From Lancaster we went to the Ephrata Cloister, a religious community founded by Conrad Beissel in 1732. His community of over 300 celibate men and women with even more allied married householders in the area was a fascinating combination of monastic ideals within the reform tradition of eighteenth century Anabaptist Brethren (similar origin as the Amish and Mennonite). They lived a simple life, donning habits and eating sparse meals; prayed collectively at morning, evening, and night though aspiring to the eremetic way-of-life; worked and owned property in common; and practiced various crafts and trades (including book making and Frakturschriften calligraphy) to make the community self-supporting. As someone drawn to monastic life, it gives me pause to consider how a Brethren tradition, so divergent from the Catholic and Orthodox churches that have preserved the monastic way of life could also independently give rise to a monastic tradition that is both similar to Catholic monasticism and yet different in significant and telling ways.

Turning to the Amish and Mennonites with whom most of us are at least more aware if not in fact familiar with, we headed off to Amish Country, passing through Landis Valley, Bird-in-Hand, and Intercourse. In Intercourse we stopped at the Amish Mennonite Information Center, Immergut for some amazing pretzels, and some furniture stores as we’re on the hunt for rocking chairs for our front porch.

We had a thankfully uneventful drive from PA back south though a few downpours south of Richmond had many people pulling over on the side of the road. All our animals seem to be in good shape, the chicks and lambs are growing, and though we’re glad to see them again, our trip was so wonderful and the anxieties of lab and work looming have us wanting to once again be on vacation.

4 thoughts on “Philadelphia

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