A Farewell to Philadelphia
We rolled out of Philly around 2pm, slightly hung over from the Devils Den and a visit from the Irishman we’d not seen for two years. The green truck was packed from bed to ceiling the side mirrors our only rearview as we jiggled down the plentiful pot holes of Philadelphia’s neglected streets. Our coffees spit from the sip holes while I shot some last photos of the city scape and my husband cursed the traffic one last time. Although I was happy to be returning to California, I could not help morning this eclectic city that I was leaving behind.
It had been two years since we’d left the hills of wine country with its fresh produce and organic people, to live in the heart of Philly’s Italian section. Our one bedroom apartment on the second floor with views of power lines in one window and center city in the other became home. It was an adjustment having keys to unlock three doors to our place—but there had been recent murders in the area and I quickly became grateful for the protection. This was my first time living in a city. Trash lined streets, cigarette smoke, and the constant rattling of cars and buses filled any silence that dared to exist. This was my new abode—I embraced it-- ready to find and appreciate a new way of life.
The Italian market, only a few blocks away with its frenzied throngs, was my first discovery. People screaming over Jersey tomatoes, babies bundled in blankets, old people examining potatoes haggling over prices, this was a quintessential open market. Dangling in windows were enormous legs of cheese, salami, or ropes of sausage and fresh pasta cut to order from linguine to lasagna style was right next door. A bustle of cultures brushed shoulders under the watchful eye of Frank Rizzo’s enormous mural; the Italian mayor who long ago left his fist on Philly. He was loved and hated by all.
If you needed herbs, you went to the Spice Store, which for forty-three years was/is owned by the persnickety Hilda, a German woman who loved to smoke. For a dollar a bag I ‘d buy oregano, turmeric, Vietnamese cinnamon, hot curry spices, and any other cultural spice I wanted to try. The wooden floors squeaked as people mulled around finding what they needed. I became obsessed with trying to make Hilda laugh but she was committed to being grumpy and rude. When I told her I was leaving the city, she smirked, “you’re not tough enough.”
The cobble stone streets of Old City were something else I would miss. I fell in love with the historic stones that our forefathers once rode their horses over. I ogled at giant maples whose soil is a burial ground for those who fought for my freedom died as slaves and soldiers but now shades me from the summer sun. The place where the declaration of independence was signed and dreams of democracy fueled peoples hope for freedom. I watched busloads of tourists and children on field trips scurry to keep up with the tour guide dressed in period clothes talking about Betsy Ross and Ben Franklin.
After work it was a walk on the Schuylkill or off to the Wishing Well or some other neighborhood bar for a glass of wine, beer, and some fried pickles or scrapple (don’t ask what’s in it). Philly food was no frills comfort and during the freezing winter months stocky soups boiled in every kitchen. The Schuylkill River with a paved bike path that ran all the way to Manayunk was as close to a nature fix as I could get—regardless that the water could peel your skin off. The ducks didn’t seem to mind so neither did I.
But what I miss the most, is the Philly folks with their crass manners and hideous nasal accents. They are real, no beating around politeness crap, they are loyal and speak from their hearts. They are sports lunatics—all of them, men, women, young mothers, and walker cruising elders. If you feel down they’ll make you laugh, life sucks but we are all in it together sort of attitude. Philadelphians celebrate weekly at their pubs and annually with parades that are second to none. The Mummers and Thanksgiving parades are televised for their extravagant costumes and diverse music. Philly folk know who they are, they often live and die in the very houses they were born. I envy their commitment to a city that despite all of its flaws is overwhelmingly loved. Farewell Philadelphia—I will keep you close to my heart and promise to keep watching the Fliers battle on the ice, no matter where I land.
Causes Karen Devaney Supports
Eve Ensler and any organization that deals with issues supporting women and children and the advancement of their education.