Category Archives: Philadelphia

Livin’ La Vida Frida

Our museum weekend in Philadelphia last December was so much fun that we decided to do it again. The occasion? My 35th birthday. And what better way to celebrate midlife creeping up on you than to view paintings of a unibrowed bisexual Communist hugging monkeys and parrots? No, seriously…do you know of something better?

What I like about Frida’s work is its honesty. I never viewed her self portraits as narcissistic. Instead, I saw them as brave and pregnant with contradiction. Vibrant colors depicting immense sorrow. Loss and life. Anna liked the monkeys and parrots, and then took in some 19th century Impressionism followed by some mid-20th century Modernism. She appreciated the Impressionists’ embrace of Nature and their rejection of the Industrial Revolution, but she found the Modernists’ sense of understatement pretentious. I mean, c’mon…blocks of red, blue, and yellow? “That’s soooo preschool,” Anna said to me, and I had to agree. My kid made that picture like a year ago.

The Philadelphia Art Museum wasn’t the only museum we visited last weekend. We also went to the Franklin Institute, which featured a Star Wars exhibit. Long lines of pasty middle-aged, pot-bellied, white guys with their little kids who looked like they never saw sunlight snaked throughout the museum. We joined them. And I’m glad we did. Ever since I was eight years old, I had always wanted to canoodle with a Storm Trooper. Not sure who was in the suit in this shot, but does it matter? And Mike got to hold a big gun, so it was like it was his birthday too.

Letting Freedom Ring

Every time we take a short trip, a little jaunt to someplace familiar and close by, Mike and I always remark “we should do this more often,” and then we never do, which is strange, because it’s a relatively inexpensive and easy thing to do. It took third-party advice to get us out the door and on the road–a quest to relax and simply hang out as a family. So we went to Philadelphia for about 30 hours and had a blast.

I don’t know why I underestimate these little trips. I’m always looking at travel packages and thinking afar, whether it’s Jamaica, the Galapagos Islands, or Belgium, and in the process, I am missing the charm that’s right under my nose. My last visit to downtown Philly and the Liberty Bell was in 1988. Colonial Philadelphia hadn’t changed, but I had. It’s remarkable how different a city can feel after time has both softened and hardened you. What felt like a living history lesson at age 15 now felt warm and embracing almost two decades later.

We enjoyed a carriage ride through town and got to see where Ben Franklin’s son opened his insurance company; we learned about how paranoid Philadelphians were about fire (rightly so!) and how building with brick was a municipal requirement; we also learned that Kevin Bacon’s dad basically hand-built modern Philadelphia; we saw a Renoir exhibit and learned how the Industrial Revolution influenced painters’ fear that they had to capture Nature on canvas before it was eviscerated by machines. And last, but certainly not least, I got to drink out of a pewter cup.

So it doesn’t take much money, time, or gas to escape. Why that lesson continues to escape me, I’ll never know.