Monday, January 25, 2010

Varieties of the Philadelphia Experience

Dug out a Philly journal. Here's a snippet from my first summer there that gives an idea of Philadelphia's eclectic nature. I was living at 1225 Spruce Street at the time.

Friday, June 5th, 1992

May was mostly cool  and wet; today it's mostly the same. No complaints here.

Two days ago, not receiving an assignment from Kelly, I set out on a pilgrimage to the area of the Kelpius Commune on the Wild Ridge west of Wissahickon Creek. I left at about 1:15 and returned about 8:30 or 9:00. The hike out was 8-9 miles; I took the train back from Allen Lane Station, Mt. Airy.

What I did was this: with a fairly detailed map, I hiked up Franklin Blvd. where all the flags of countries were out in the mostly sunny day, a slight breeze making them flap, including the old Yugoslav flag,  the Czechoslovakian flag, also a strange red and gold flag with a pentangle. By the Art Museum, large tents were being put up on the sidewalks; every so often were temporary bleachers, for what event I don't know. (The Picasso Exhibit begins soon). Beyond the PMA I cut north through a lower middle class, mostly white neighborhood, ragged and slightly dilapidated, with few or no yards but occasional flowers in windows. This was angling north around 27th-29th Streets, moving toward the eastern fringe of Fairmount Park. When I hit Girard, I turned left to pick up 33rd. This was an even more dilapidated neigborhood, mostly poor and lower middle class black. I looked at the Hatfield House with its Corinthian portico, behind which sat a sqad car; walked across tall grass in a short cut to 33rd going north. This was a creepy little walk until crossing the bridge over the railroad tracks (by which I later returned on SEPTA regional rail).

Across the bridge, a crazy woman was playing matador to oncoming traffic; a truck driver jumped out and cussed her out. "Just keep on walking, white boy," she directed at me, as I passed by on the east side of the street. I stuck to this side of the Schuylkill in order to see with my own eyes the First Schwenkfelder Church on Cumberland and 30th. [Picks up June 10, 1992]. Over to the church, a frame building with addition, painted white, with a wooden belfry. A simple church, possibly late 1800s, in a mostly black neighborhood. For about half a block north of the church, all was well, but beyond that, entropy and decay, as if the power of the church could extend only so far.

Up up & away, over the Schuylkill and sharp right turn on a broken pavement bike trail. Bikes every five minutes.

With the help of a map, I found the area of the hermits, although who knows how they really lived, over time. Supposedly in rude huts and in caves. There are all sorts of ridiculous stories about them. I checked out Sachse over the weekend, apparently he wrote a work expressly on the hermits, but then even he's a little nutty. I couldn't find the old monastery, east of the Wissahickon, coming on a horse farm and a pack of snarling dogs instead. Tim Mixter lives near this spot in West Mount Airy. I emerged from the trail further up and walked all the way up to Chestnut Hill, then back down to Allen Lane Station, where I picked up a train for Market East, and ended with a pint of Guinness at the Irish pub on Walnut East, before returning home.

This was the first serious excursion out since I've been here, on foot. Driving the Japanese film crew around opened things up, going to Ephrata Cloister and Wilkes-Barre.  Sat. I took the subway down to Roosevelt Park and, walking through a gathering of maybe 2,000 Southeast Asians, reached the Swedish Historical Museum where about fifty Swedes celebrated Midsummer's Day. They had a May Pole, colorful ribbons in the light blue and yellow known to Swedes everywhere, and cheap baked goods. I got a candleholder and walked up Broad Street past the Naval Hospital, an imposing Art Deco structure that looks like the Dark Tower of Sauron.

Today's Rune: Protection.


Charles Gramlich said...

I can see you walking along with a candle holder. I've often thought I could be a hermit fairly easily.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I grew up in what is now called Mt. Airy-then it was called West Oak Lane.

the walking man said...

Yep Philadelphia was/is a hell of lot different than most other cities of the east.

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jodi said...

Erik, I would have been attracted to those cave people like a moth to a flame!! What a cool adventure..