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Monday, January 5, 2015

ICON City Beat Column January 2015

                ICON January City Beat 2015

  Is Philadelphia the City of Kleptomaniacs? Consider historic Strawberry Mansion, which has seen a lot of foot traffic since 1789, when it was built by Judge William Lewis.  Since 1930, The Committee of 1926 has safeguarded the mansion’s antiques and fine art, including the collection of dolls from the 1926 Sesquecennitial. But where there are collectibles, there are thieves. During one Philadelphia Museum of Art-sponsored tour an antique sugar snipper went missing from the dining room (some say this happened because the tour guide neglected to walk behind exiting visitors). On another tour, somebody pocketed a sterling silver soup latel after which the mansion got smart and fish-wired all the silverware to the dining room table. Earlier this year after a local preservation group held an event there a number of items came up missing: a brass letter holder with a shell design that had been used as a paper towel holder in the bathroom, extra rolls of toilet paper and a bowl filled with artificial strawberries.  Is there a link between historic preservation, a love for old buildings and the kleptomania gene?         

Growing up in an Irish family is not for the weak of heart. In John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar at the Suzanne Roberts Theater we found ourselves in rural Ireland watching the Muldoon’s and Reilly’s duke it out. Shanley, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning author of 23 plays performed in 17 countries, grew up with a mother who claimed that she was “not affectionate.”  (In interviews, Shanley often refers to his mother as “a pill”). Many of Shanley’s plays are from family experiences, most notably “Doubt,” inspired by a relative’s experience with a priest convicted of child molestation. Outside Mullingar is the story of a man and woman who need years of prep time before declaring their love for one another. ‘Slow recognition’ like this was evident when we attended a recent Irish themed panel discussion at the Pennsylvania Historical Society. When many in the lecture hall grumbled because they couldn’t hear the panelists, rather than complain they left the hall early (and politely) for the post-talk reception. Perhaps shy Irish of this caliber need a high voltage shot of Jewish Yenta Forwardness, a Dame Edna shouting, “We can’t hear in the back! Speak up!”        

When we met celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck several years ago in Atlantic City, there was so much fanfare you’d have thought that an ex-President was in the room. As fellow journalists clamored to devour Mr. Puck’s latest creation—Flat Iron Steak with Peppercorn Sauce and Blue Cheese Butter—we found little difference between Puck’s creation and a “normal” Beef Kebob found in many Asian eateries. An equal comparison, in fact, might be how blogging has come to be seen as its own profession on an equal par with serious journalism, rather than as a sideline or adjunct pursuit. The city’s celebrity diva chef of the moment is Jose Garces. Garces has taken dining out to new heights: the pre-paid ticketed meal and so-called beverage-pairing, even though the latter seems nothing more than an excuse to raise prices. We prefer the classic standby: red with meat; white with fowl or fish or, better yet, whatever is affordable. An ex-chef once gave us his reasons to be wary about artsy food presentations: “The fancier the dish, the more hands and fingers have prodded, massaged, sculpted, squished, felt up, poked holes in, infused or otherwise violated your dinner. Hand and fingers, after all, have a history of (going in and out of) the darnedest places.”

We chatted with our friend Regina who went to Greensgrow Farms in Fishtown to shop for a Christmas tree. Greensgrow started out as a simple lettuce farm but has since grown into a multi-tiered organic food and farm industry with “mobile markets,” a nursery, and gift shop with T-shirts. Traditional no frills Lancaster County or even Iowa Farming is light years away from Greensgrove’s “transubstantiated” world where farming is an Agri-religion with esoteric antecedents like medicinal herbs, cultish followers and hydroponic lettuce machines. “I always felt a lot of snobbery there,” Regina confesses. “Their Christmas trees were $45.00, which seemed unusually high to me but I thought, well, maybe they are hydrophonic miracle trees with medicinal benefits.” In the end, Regina went into Port Richmond and bought an even better, forest grown (traditional) tree for twenty-two dollars.  


Café Twelve’s new ownership has much of its old gay clientele going to other cafes. Maybe it’s the influx of droll Drexel students who seem to be turning the place into a school cafeteria, or the “lap top” 12th Street gym bunnies who text for hours there that’s chasing away the former occupants.  
Growing Up Irish is Not for the Weak of Heart