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at home he’s a tourist

maura @ 9:15 pm

Last month during Spring Break we spent a few days in Philadelphia. The public school break is during Easter/Passover and the university’s break is tied to the public school break, which means that the time off was really, really late in the semester this year. Everyone was kind of strung out by the time break rolled around. I had originally wanted to just take a couple of days off and stay home, but Jonathan convinced me that it’d be better if we left town. I’m glad he did, since it turns out that we really needed that time away.

I always tell people that I grew up in Philadelphia, which is mostly true: we lived in the city until I was about 9, and then in one of the very close suburbs until I was 12. We did a lot in the city even then — we had memberships to the zoo and Franklin Institute, spent time in Fairmount Park, etc. One of my favorite photos of me as a little kid is in the Azaela Garden in 1973 — my flowered bellbottoms are teh awesome. My mom grew up in Northeast Philly and my grandmother lived there (in the same row house) almost until she died in the late ’90s. We moved away when I was in junior high but then moved back East, to Delaware, which is where I went to high school. Delaware is boring so I often went up to Philadelphia on the weekends with my friends.

I was actually in Philly twice last month: at the beginning of the month for the national academic librarianship conference (I gave a poster!), then later for break. It’s very strange to go to Philadelphia now, esp. as a tourist. I have more or less accurate memories of much of the geography and architecture, and Center City is a big grid, even easier to navigate than Manhattan. But things have changed in the past 2+ decades of course: there are lots of newer, bigger buildings, Wanamaker’s is now Macy’s, etc. Some things are not where I remember them: I thought that the Academy of Music, where my paternal grandmother, mother, and I would go see the Nutcracker every year, was much further north, closer to City Hall.

For our minivacation we stayed in a hotel in Society Hill, just one block from the arty movie theater where I saw Last Temptation of Christ (complete with picketers!). Just north of that part of town is the formerly run-down now newly hip + arty Old City, where I don’t think I’ve ever spent much time. My memories of the historic areas around Independence Mall are most hazy — I remember countless school trips, but not really any specifics. As it happened Independence Hall is currently shrouded in scaffolding for renovations, but the two blocks to the east have lots of pretty colonial buildings and open green spaces that were lovely to walk through.

Despite staying in a hotel only a few blocks north, we did not spend any time on South Street, probably the site of my clearest memories (along with the art museum). When I thought I was all cool and arty in high school I spent lots of time wandering up and down South Street, looking at punk clothes I was too chicken to buy at Zipperhead, browsing for records and used books. I saw Athens, GA: Inside/Out at TLA in high school when it was still a movie theater, and the Sugarcubes there in college when it turned into a concert venue. Probably best that we didn’t stroll down there last month: everything changes, and a quick look w/Google street view confirms my suspicions of chain stores and new construction. Which is neither unusual (I’m looking at you, East Village) nor bad, necessarily.

I do regret not going down to Jim’s for a cheesesteak, though. And at least in 2009 when the Google streetview cars took pictures, the ants and zipper were still visible on the old Zipperhead building across the street, which I’m sure Gus would have thought was cool.

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2 comments on “at home he’s a tourist”

Caroline - Philly Tourism (24 May 2011 at 10:26 am)

Maura – it’s fun reading about your trip to your old hometown! Some things are radically different, others are always the same. You’ll have to come back and get that Jim’s steak.

Philadelphia Tourism

mauraweb!» archive » spring broken (14 April 2012 at 11:17 am)

[…] by the time the break happens, and everyone’s feeling a little frayed. This year wasn’t as late or frayed as last year, but we were all looking forward to a couple of days away. We’d planned to visit my family in […]

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