A town called Philadelphia

7 04 2011

Philadelphia is the most underrated city I know.

Whenever my European friends plan their monumental trips across America, they mention their highlights with visible pride: San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, New York. For some strange reason, the city of brotherly love, home of the pretzel and the greatest ice hockey team to populate the NHL as well as the actual birthplace of the United States of America is hardly ever on the itineraries of allegedly interested European travelers.

The original is here, folks!

Philly is often simply overlooked, left on the right hand side of I-95, the gleaming skyscrapers of Liberty Place off in the distance, as these travelers breeze down the highway from the Big Apple to our nation’s capital. And that is a real shame.

(Irony if ironies: The highway is in New Jersey, the nation’s toxic waste dump.)

There’s a lot to criticize about my hometown, but then again, what city is perfect? I know of none. Philly has a kind of unpretentious air about it, sitting in the shadow of NYCs bright lights and smog off to the north. It’s much smaller than Manhattan, but still has a healthy, diverse cultural scene and is a center for higher education. For those so inclined, there is an active and colorful Gayborhood, a Chinatown (with a big gate), and an Italian Market area in South Philly. And of course, the sports teams, which include the aforementioned Stanley Cup champions, some World Series winners and I think probably the one or the other Superbowl champ, too. (But I’d have to check on that to make sure.)

A friend of mine is a professional photographer here. He grew up in the area, and decided not to leave. He is phenomenally successful and does not know what to do with all the cash he is raking in. An artist of his caliber and business acumen would tend to move on after a while. But he stayed. And his logic was simple: “Either I stay in Philadelphia and I’m a really big fish in this pond, or I go to New York and be a guppy.”

It’s a gritty but friendly town. In the past couple of days I have reacquainted myself with the city I left long ago, and which I didn’t even know really well back then. It’s been a real journey of discovery, of joy. I walked everywhere I felt like going on a whim… by my count, 160 blocks in two and a half days. Aside from the history, which is fascinating, the tree-lined streets of Center City wrapped me in a feeling of comfort and normalcy. The regularness of it all is what’s special.

I never stopped being an unofficial ambassador for Philadelphia, but these days I am more so. Every time some professional European traveler tells me s/he is going for an all-American tour, I try to put the place on her/his maps. Unfortunately, not many of them listen to me. I’m not sure what it would take to get them to pay attention.

Though dwarfed by the gleaming office towers that have grown up around him in the past two decades, William Penn still stands tall atop of City Hall at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets. It’s good to see him up there. Enough to make me feel whole again.

Master of all he surveys.



4 responses

7 04 2011
Ironic Mom

And none of those cities you mention have I seen. Sigh. Someday, we’ll do an American city together.

After all, we’ve done Paris, Bonn, Cologne, Heidelberg, Manama, Bangkok, Winnipeg, Kingston.

Soon, inshallah.

Happy Travels!

7 04 2011
Evelynn Starr

Hey, and don’t forget Orange, VA in that list!

8 04 2011

You are so right. Philadelphia is a great city. Most people travel to cross off check lists, do you actually want these kind of visitors in your beloved hometown?:)

9 04 2011
Evelynn Starr

Hm. Maybe not. You’re right. I just want the ones who will appreciate the place.

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