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Saturday, October 6, 2012

City Beat, ICON Magazine, October 2012


Near the wrap up of the Budweiser-sponsored “Made in America” concert MC’d by star rapper, JAY-Z, I got a heads up from people in the Art Museum area: “Hey, you should what’s happening here. There are people relieving themselves in the streets and on parked cars. The cops are riding by but aren’t doing anything about it. I’ve never seen anything like this.” The speaker in this case was not an old lady angry at young people having fun, but a sophisticated young woman quite active in the city’s social networking scene. Since rap is not top on our list, we avoided the concert, but another reason we stayed home is because the idea of being in the middle of thousands of people is shaky at best. Parkway concerts are notorious for cattle-herding congestion, noise, and elbow clashing confusion, but add beer and rap to the mix and you have, well, a port potty dilemma. Budweiser, the so called King of Beer, has a bargain basement rating among beer consoeurs. One of that beer’s legendary trademarks is how quickly it runs through the body. Add a thousand human lips to the Budweiser tap and you have a problem. A million port potties wouldn’t be enough in a case like this. Of course, there was no mention of the Art Museum area’s yellow plague in the local press post- concert. That might be described as a white wash, sans pee stains of course.

In Center City, it used to be that sidewalk cafés were located only in special areas. Near a public square for instance, like Rittenhouse, or on a very wide street where there’s lots of leg and vehicle room. Not anymore. Today they are more likely to be in highly inappropriate places like next to a firehouse or parallel an alleyway with dumpsters. The foodie philosophy seems to suggest that a sidewalk café automatically ups the appeal of any new eatery, be it humble Jamaican sugar shack or a Stephen Starr show place. Not all that long ago, the Center City foodie instinct was much more balanced than it is today. It was a time when writers, artists and students went to luncheonettes and diners, not slicked over $40.00 a plate Martini places masquerading as diners. They were authentic diners with real homespun waitresses who had personality, not the mostly zombie “I’m really a career actress or actor, NOT a waitress” attitude that’s all too common today. We confess that having to look at hundreds of people stuffing their faces every time we walk through town has given us a new respect for food disorders like bulimia, anorexia and fasting, Karen Carpenter, where are you?
Still, we like a good European style restaurant-café as much as much as any other city dweller, yet when we sat down to enjoy ourselves at Washington Square West’s Le Pain Quotidien recently, we could only concentrate on the pain—yes, the pain.
At Le Pain Quotidien we ordered salad-plates, never suspecting that the “salads” where not salads per se but more like hors d’oeuvres plates you might serve at a cocktail reception. What were we thinking when we ordered so much Hummus and bread? Okay, chalk that one up to inattention, but when we asked for coffee and tea and were given cereal bowls as a replacement for mugs or a cup and saucer, we said “Enough!” While we may like Fruit Loops as much as next as the next Pathway shopper, when it comes to drinking tea, we don’t want to be relegated to Dickens character status that would have us holding our bowls out and clamoring, “More, dear sir, more!” There are some traditions worth sticking to and the cup and saucer is one of them.

Championship swimmers like Michael Phelps or Mark Spitz would have trouble swimming in the Delaware River. That’s because of the currents. Olympic strokes or gold medals will not keep you afloat when the river’s dangerous currents suck you under and make you disappear. That’s why the Delaware can only be appreciated superficially via boating, sailing, or watching the ebb and flow of the tides from someplace like Fishtown’s Penn Treaty Park. We did the sailing part one warm August afternoon when the Liberty Sailing Club (303 N. Front Street) had one of their rare open house events for potential new members. Commodore Nancy Becerino invited us to sit down, share a donut, and fill out an intake form, after which we were then invited to take a 30 minute sail on the river with a two man crew and a nice couple from Manayunk, Amanda and Rory. If this conjures up images of the Kennedy Hyannis Port compound, you wouldn’t be far off. Sailing is invigorating, especially when you have a knowledgeable skipper (we did). Sailing, however, is not for people who don’t like to be touched or get too close to people. The up and down ripple wave effect from passing boats (namely speed boaters on zigzag suicide missions), or quick yanks at the rudder, can thrust you into your neighbor’s lap. As it was, each of us got our turn at the rudder while careful to watch our heads as the enormous sail swayed sideways like the pendulum of a great clock. We were up near Pettys Island when the wind stopped blowing completely, and when we became-- if only for fifteen minutes--like lost characters in a Lena Wertmuller film. We watched as the crew attempted to pull-start the little power motor, in anticipation of what would happen next until at least the little motor that could, did, and we were speeding happily towards the Ben Franklin Bridge. The little mishap gave us an hour on the river, enough time for Amanda and Rory to begin thinking about getting engaged, or at least that’s what they told us back at the clubhouse, when we went for our second donut.

Call it a naïve Hayley Mills moment, but when we stopped in to hear the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture (ICAA) George Vanderbilt-Biltmore estate lecture at the Union League recently, we wrongly assumed that the League had become—in this, the first part of the 21st Century-- an egalitarian post-partisan club. While it’s true that women, Independents and Democrats are now allowed to join the League, that hasn’t changed the club’s core makeup, which continues to be orthodox right wing Republican. The Union League’s political bias hit us full face a couple years ago when we went to hear a lecture on Abraham Lincoln. While we loved the talk, the dinner afterwards in the League dining turned to worms when the talk became political. The retrograde banter had the effect of a thunder clap, forcing us to look everywhere-- even in the folds of our napkins-- for a progressive voice. Sadly, all we found then were cowering political moderates burying their heads in their vegetables.

We thought of the Union League again when we saw actor Daniel Beaty perform at Drexel’s Mandell Theater in a one man play titled, “Emergency.” “Emergency” is the story of what happens when a slave ship arrives in present day New York harbor. Beaty's characters-- from urban street walkers, cross dressers and angry black activist types calling for reparations for slavery-- played to a full house of mostly African Americans. Beaty, among other things, is an actor, writer, and poet whose oratory skills kept us on the edge of our seats, something I suspect that the sponsors of the event-- The Brothers Network, a Philly-based racial justice organization of diverse African American men—knew it would do all along. At the post-show reception at La Petite Dauphine, 22nd and Walnut (where they don’t serve coffee in cereal bowls), we chatted the night away, and thanked Brothers Network Gregory Walker for a fabulous evening.

While most things French tend to be a class act, this isn’t always the case. At August’s (imported from France) Diner En Blanc event, for instance, where 1,300 guests dressed in white were to meet at a secret location with picnic baskets and folding chairs, we thought we were in for an epic night. Diners were told to call a secret number to get the location of the dinner. We had no trouble dressing in white, even if white makes most people look like a line cook at Little Pete’s or a hospital sanitation worker. While waiting to get the secret location (Logan Circle) near the Clothespin at City Hall, we spotted a procession of people in white lugging folding chairs and picnic baskets. It became clear to us at this juncture that the event was not for us, especially since nobody told us to bring food and chairs. What to do? We threw away our white hankies and headed for a nice Thai restaurant in Chinatown, DJ Bruce and hand held sparklers notwithstanding.

Call him the Man in the Bubble, but Butch Cadora has been chosen over 500 plus other applicants by Bo Concept (17th and Chestnut Street) to live in the Bo Concept window for six days, ending October 4th. Bo Concept tried this in New York City last year and that experiment wound up being a feature in The New York Times. Cadora is allowed out 2 hours a day to go home and shower
We were blown away by the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective (PAC) production of August Strindberg’s Creditors at the Franklin Inn Club recently, so much so that we have since become diehard fans of Philadelphia actress Krista Apple ( Can an Apple be the apple of your eye?