Sometimes it takes being in this beautiful city for a spell to realize why it is that I love it. At a distance, it is easy to remember the grit, the sass, the mischief, the wicked snow storms, the dirty slush, the black ice, the snow the color of piss, the humid and sleepless nights, the city paranoia, etc. It is much harder to remember loveliness. In the past few days, I have been reminded of that, even in the especially terrible summer heat.
Perhaps it was Friday that started this delight. I took the train from Narberth in to 49th Street Station and walked from there to 49th and Baltimore to have breakfast at the Cedar Park Cafe with a dear friend. As I arrived an hour early, I had plenty of time to kill, and as I wrote, on occasion, I would lift my head to take in a little people watching. There was an incredible waitress there, covered in tattoos. I so wanted her to tell me their stories as they were incredibly beautiful. Her devotion to the art was noteworthy. Behind the counter and serving others were other characters, each, it seemed, with an artistic flair, a sweetness, a roughness, an enigmatic allure. Dynamic place. After my friend arrived and the brilliant conversation that ensued then, I toured the neighborhood a bit. I got my nails done nearby at one of the million corner nail places you can find here. I’d never had my toes and hands done at the same time. Brilliant care. Since I had hours left, I then had my hair done at the Dominican place. I left the place with straight silk that moved in the wind, sure to stay that way for a while. And then I was off to Vietnam Cafe to pass the time as I waited for friends. Pho on a hot day? It’s my Vietnamese comfort food. I hadn’t been to Vietnam Cafe since I turned 29. In the past few days, it was mentioned by several who had joined me that day for dinner. I knew I had to go back and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. With great food and a meeting with more friends to catch up, I was just radiating happiness.
Later that same day, I met another friend for a Phillies game. High in the stands, we could see every play. While the score was disappointing at the end of the day (5 to 0, Braves), still it was a powerful experience. After the game, the young were already raging at the Xfinity Center across the street. A drummer had just set up his hit to pound out a rhythm while disappointed fans filed down to the subway. On the train, bodies pressed into one another, literally dripping sweat from the heat, magnified beneath the ground in a tight car without air-conditioning. Even that, gross as it was, was transfixing. How sweat traverses down the trails of the skin to the knobby point of elbow, collects, and then lets itself go with all its power to pummel itself into the ground, there meeting with the sweat of others! I find myself imagining a potion of humanity inadvertently being made.
At the Suburban Station, my friend and I passed the time waiting for our train at the local Irish Pub, Tir Na Nog. Again, great conversation in the cooling night. If all days and nights were like these, I imagine that Philadelphia would call me home …
But inexplicably, from one person or another, I will hear a critique about my life, something along the lines of moving to much, that there’s nothing worthy out there, or that I am strange, even crazy, for traveling as much as I do. The life that I love is suddenly transformed from being enamored of the great diversity of our world, the possibilities as immense as the sky, into a penny to be trampled on a dirty street.
I always come home for a spell, as I do love this city, and dear family and friends are here, but I do not know if I will ever stay. Sometimes, even those same people I love and who love me or even strangers on the street will challenge me, saying things like why would you ever leave, as if there was nothing outside of the borders of Philadelphia. One place still seems like a cage to me. Perhaps one day I will be happy with the caged environment … but I imagine my life differently.
Someday, I would like to marry. I would like to have children. I grew up with family holidays, but we lived in the same house all of my childhood. I went to the same elementary school for 8 years and went to only one high school. I had the same doctors for most of my life. I knew my environs well. I grew up surrounded by family and friends. The constants within my life now really stem from my friendships, which in some cases are as long as 25 years. My most recent significant friendships are of the last year, coming from moving to California, but if I were to guess at the average length of my friendships, I would have to say over a decade. Even a wanderer has some constancy.
When I think about my married life or life with children, I think that I will still be traveling, that we will be nomads of a sort, perhaps with a home base in an urban locale, but still, there will be summer travels. Maybe we might live in France for 3 months. I might get a sabbatical and funding to live in Palestine for a year to study Arabic and teacher education. Needless to say, I should probably invest in travel baby gear. 🙂 In addition to my own immediate circle down the line, God willing, I would love to do family holidays with friends. Let’s go to India, significant others and children in tow. Let’s explore the world, powerfully so.
Philadelphia is gorgeous. There are secrets down cobble stone streets, along wooded paths, written in the bricks of the schools, etc. But there is so much out there to explore as well. I am happy for this opportunity to learn more about my city, a city which fills me with pride.
I wonder, does Philadelphia claim me as I claim it?