"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, October 28, 2016

Urban Village

Victorian House Graphic from The Woodlands Website

If you're off to Philadelphia this morning,
And wish to prove the truth of what I say,
I pledge my word you'll find the pleasant land behind
Unaltered since Red Jacket rode that way.
Still the pine-woods scent the noon; still the catbird sings his
Still autumn sets the maple-forest blazing;
Still the grape-vine through the dusk flings her soul-compelling
Still the fire-flies in the corn make night amazing!
They are there, there, there with Earth immortal
( Citizens, I give you friendly warning ). .
The things that truly last when men and times have passed,
They are all in Pennsylvania this morning!

concluding stanza from the poem
"Philadelphia" by Rudyard Kipling

I never tire of writing about our days in Philadelphia (1993 - 2004), both good times and bad (well, never all that bad). One of my long - ago literary friends happened across a couple of these posts and left a quizzical comment -- "I don't know how you put such a nostalgic spin on it -- that made me think about some things that I've been meaning to put into words for a long time.

Living in West Philly was a mixed blessing. It was so unlike anywhere else I had ever lived before -- Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana. Yes, it's true, we moved right into a beautiful historic home, but on a tough corner where it was not unusual -- day or night -- to find men you didn't know sitting randomly on your porch swing for a smoke, peeing on your flowers, digging up your evergreens (for resale), doing drugs on your back steps and leaving their crack vials behind, breaking into your car or your house, stealing your purse or your kids' bikes or the mail out of your mailbox. We witnessed house fires, domestic abuse in the streets, and some one - on - one foot chases.

But, no, we were never beat up, aside from the times my son was pushed over at school and called "white boy." Sadly, other neighbors were robbed at knife - point, mugged, apprehended and asked to surrender their bikes on the way home from work. It was challenging but also exhilarating because of the many positive trade - offs -- great neighbors, public transportation, communal gardens; lots of schools, shows, and museums -- all in walking distance.

The human density could be stressful but was also an enriching reminder of how far the spectrum of possibility can be stretched when the choices are multiplied. Over the years, our area improved, yet one by one many of us re-located to the midwest or upstate -- retaining our nostalgic spin, however unrealistic. As one of my best quote sources (that's you Cate!) wrote just the other day, " . . . thinking of West Philly, it really wasn't the Shambala we think it was, but it was so nice that we were in such good presence with each other."

Philadelphia: place we called home. Turns out the big city was actually more like Mayberry RFD than any of the small - to medium - to rural towns I'd lived in before. Why? Because the neighbors were neighborly. Why? Because we shared a common vision and needed each other to make that life come true. It took a village.

Such a beautiful view of our neighborhood,
looking from the third - floor down to 48th Street!
[Click for earlier views: 1994 & 2000]

Additional Comments From Friends & Neighbors

Cate: So very true. Now living in beautiful Perfectville, Ohio. I know all my neighbors, but have yet to have one in for coffee. So Midwest -- keep those fences up.

Joyce: The block has changed quite a bit from 2004. I frequently say I feel I live in heaven. There is still the occasional incident on the block, but they are rare. I may be the only one still using a Club, out of habit. Several neighbors find excuses to get together for breakfast on the deck or porch, a holiday meal, even game night. We take each other to our colonoscopies, recommend orthopedists for our hip replacements. The Baltimore Avenue Coop (Mariposa) is in a stunning new space a block west and open to all, meaning there is truly a place nearby to purchase most foods; new eateries appear, gardens are still tended, the Curio Theater is a hit in Calvary. I, and I think many others love the 800 block of S. 48th St.

Lisa: Great post, just spent the weekend with Robert Rosenthal, and we were re-hashing some of the good and challenging times living in West Philly.The good news is that there are many good people still there and it has become a Mecca for young people. My niece now lives there and loves it! I think the crack era was particularly hard. I am still inspired by the diversity there. All of America needs to learn how to be neighbors and citizens again.

Emily: Thanks Kitti. Your words help me remember some of the more urban moments. It was wonderful being a mom of young children together. We all looked out for each other and helped out so much. It's been a few years, still I want to thank you for being so open, helpful, and welcoming back then. Keep on blogging.

Many thanks to Tony, Cate, Joyce, Lisa, and Emily for their
heartfelt responses, leading to the assemblage of this blog post.

And to Ben & Cathleen for the photos
from their recent trip to the old hometown.

Gerry's old office window at the Wharton School

Staying at The Gables Bed & Breakfast

Rube Goldberg Ball Machine at the Airport

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, November 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

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