I had a spurt of energy for a total of about two days in January and visited all sorts of Philly sites, including the Philadelphia Mint. Clearly that spurt of energy ended before I could blog about any of those things in a timely manner, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late: you can still write about what happened in January, because lifestyle blogging is whatever you want it to be.
The Philadelphia Mint is a great place to visit if you have the time on a weekday. Touring the facility is free, you get to see money being made, and it’s a great opportunity to daydream about diving into a pool of money just like Scrooge McDuck.
There are no pictures allowed on the tour, but the above Ducktales pic* is fairly representative if I remember rightly.
I got to look down on the factory floor from above and see coins shooting out of machines and stuff. And if that explanation seems a little vague and non-scientific to you, then you should totally visit yourself. There are interactive exhibits all along the corridor as you look down on the factory, and they explain exactly what it is that you’re looking at and what precisely the machines are doing. I obviously don’t remember any of those explanations now, but no matter.
The point is, just like the O’Jays said, money, money, money, money… MONEY. Go see for yourself how it’s made!
* Picture from here.
Over the weekend I discovered something wonderful, and that something was attending Phantom of the Opera all by myself.
To backtrack, Death’s Head has willingly and enthusiastically attended other musicals with me. We’ve also gone to the opera together, the ballet, and multiple random local concerts in scuzzy coffee shops in college. But DH saw Phantom of the Opera with his parents when he was ten and he has made it clear that he was not impressed (and also it was scary). The highlight for him was a packet of peanut butter M&Ms during intermission, but now that he’s an adult he can buy peanut butter M&Ms whenever he wants.
I managed, through the wonders of the internet, to scrounge up a free (thanks, Anonymous Facebook Friend!) ticket to the Philadelphia production of the Phantom, so I went solo and with enthusiasm.
I brought a book to read during the intermission, and I had an all-around super relaxing and pleasant time. No small talk! No pretending to have anything of substance to say about the quality of the music!
And also, matinees are the best. It was still light and warm when I got outside, and I sang happily under my breath for my short jaunt home. The PHAAAAA-ntom of the opera is here… Inside my mind!
We lived in a “new” twelve story building in Ufa’s city center. It was neither technically completed (luxuries like gas, telephone lines, hot water, working elevators, etc., were but a distant future dream) nor safe to live in, but it did have walls and a roof, so in our family we called it a wash. In fact, our building continued to be a construction site for about six months after we moved in, and this proved fortuitous in terms of making friends with the neighborhood kids.
All you had to do to get an “in” with the locals was to shimmy up the drain pipe of our building, climb on to the awning over the main entrance, and jump into the pile of construction sand below. [My brother is the one on the awning in the maroon t-shirt in the picture below.]
After each jump, one of us would fluff up the pile of sand to ensure relative safety. We took our chances with the shards of broken bricks, though. [I'm the one in the denim shirt, looking up at my mom taking a picture from our balcony.]
Sometimes, for a change of pace, we set fire to random trash. It was a pretty good way to live and make friends. Anyone want to climb things and set fire to stuff with me today?
I wouldn’t normally play this card, but since we’re now well into March and Philadelphia just got another round of snow yesterday, I’m doing this for my own good.
You guys, when I was a kid in Russia, it still looked like this in the early spring:
So yeah, Philadelphia is actually a tropical wonderland. Can’t you just be grateful for once in your selfish life?!
Our apartment in Philadelphia may be mini, but we do have high ceilings and plenty of wall space for pretty things. When we were home with my parents over the holidays, we noticed that they were heinously neglecting some of their lovely art, so we graciously offered to take some pieces off of their hands.
For example, this brass rubbing (above, left) from the grave of Nicholas Wadham, founder of Wadham College at Oxford. He was just sitting loosely in his frame, with no glass to protect him from the elements, and my parents were all casual about him and could barely even remember the story of how he came into the family. They were clearly not worthy.
Death’s Head and I were immediately smitten and did our research. Nicky, as we like to call him, first belonged to my grandmother. An artist friend of hers from Oak Harbor, Washington, spent three years in England doing brass rubbings of plaques from medieval tombs. This brass rubbing of old Nicky was done on English wallpaper because how do you make a brass rubbing even more awesome? You use wallpaper! That’s probably like the first thing they teach you in art school, or maybe the second, right after they tell you how to pronounce the words “gouache” and “chiaroscuro.” Anyway, these days the practice of brass rubbing is illegal, because it supposedly wears down the original, but it was not illegal in the sixties when this one of Nicky was done, and for that we are grateful.
Death’s Head touched up the paint on the frame (my late grandfather made the frame himself, so it was important to us to keep it) and installed the glass.
The other piece of art we nabbed is this painting (to the right of Nicky) of a winter landscape. My parents bought this piece from a local artist when we first moved to Ufa, Russia (the artist has gone on to become fairly successful, I believe). It’s a well-traveled piece – from Ufa to Moscow to Portland, Oregon and then to Philadelphia. We shipped this painting, frame and all, from Portland to Philadelphia after the holidays, and when it arrived the glass had shattered all over the place (it was totally our fault – we were ridiculously cavalier about protecting the corners with cardboard and packing tape). But some new glass did the trick, and I’m pretty pleased with the result.
Ugh, you guys. Can you tell that I haven’t gotten out much this winter? I just read over this post and I’m sorry but it’s just so boring. I do love the art in our apartment but let’s agree that describing art is pretty much just as bad as blog posts about what I ate for lunch, dreams, or, worse, dreams about what I ate for lunch. Spring can’t come soon enough!
Pennsylvania Hospital opened its doors in 1755, and the original building not only still stands, but is still in use. I passed it multiple times before I remembered to Google it, and then I learned that the building is available for touring.
The front-and-center main entrance to the building is always closed, and that lovely little garden in front of the building is always bereft of visitors, so I somehow assumed that it was permanently off-limits.
For a guided tour you have to plan ahead more than I did, but the friendly front desk lady said that I was welcome to wander at my leisure. I did buy the $4 guide from the gift shop, and it was pretty useful, so do that.
To visit the historic building, you have to enter through the main hospital entrance on 8th Street. I felt a little inappropriate with my camera slung conspicuously around my neck at the welcome desk, as doctors, nurses, and patients swarmed around me, but no one seemed repulsed by my tourist presence or anything.
The hallway that connects the new building with the historic one is adorned with a painting of Christ healing the sick. It’s the handiwork of Benjamin West in 1815 and pretty on the nose for a hospital setting.
Entering the historic building from the new hospital, the first thing you see is this fire engine from 1803. This was a proud acquisition for the hospital, and legend has it that the Board of Managers tested the engine at the beginning of every Board meeting. In my imagination they tested it by first setting fire to their meeting agendas, because pyromania is funny in my imagination (but not in reality, mind. Do NOT go around setting meeting agendas on fire!).
I didn’t linger too long in any one spot of the main floor of the Pine Building, mostly because the place was swarming with doctors and their swishing white coats. It wasn’t totally clear which areas were fair game and which areas were, you know, offices where medical diagnoses were being made. I quickly scuttled off in search of history and privacy and the library on the second floor was a great place to start.
I didn’t anticipate the library being empty, and it felt so magical (and even a little rule-breaky) to be in there all by myself.
It was also pleasantly cool, because old books deserve a state-of-the-art air conditioning system that the rest of the old hospital apparently does not.
And that’s not a judgment on my part – I don’t quite believe that books should have better treatment than hospital patients, but it’s a close call.
I lived in fear of someone walking in on me in the library and telling me that I was not important enough to be in there, so I soon bolted in search of something new.
This time I went up to the top floor.
I snuck into the old operating theater (I was allowed to be there, again, but since no one was around it felt somehow illicit), and immediately thought of Junior Mints, because I am a product of the nineties and there is no room for new information in my brain as it is filled almost entirely with Seinfeld quotes.
This is the nation’s oldest surgical amphitheater, and, according to pretty much everybody, you did not want to be operated on here.
Not because Pennsylvania Hospital wasn’t at the forefront of medical science, but more because, you know, getting cut open in front of strangers is kind of a drag.
DH told me that these kinds of surgical amphitheaters, before the age of anesthesia, were often placed on top floors because it mean that the screams of the patients usually didn’t reach the streets.
If people were screaming that loudly up there, then I’m doubly certain that I would not have wanted to be spectating in the very same room.
In fact, there are myriad reasons why I’m glad I never got to spectate or be operated on under such circumstances.
But, I will give the operating room this: it’s pretty and ornate. I expected more of a scene straight out of Dexter: just whatever the olden days’ version of Saran Wrap was.
So, I took the Pennsylvania Hospital tour back in the beginning of January and am just now getting around to writing about it. This winter has been a brutal one, and I’ve been using all my energies to survive and watch Netflix series. But today temperatures are back above freezing, and maybe there really is hope. I have more to tell you about Philadelphia adventures and knitting and dog snuggles. Stay tuned, O neglected ones!