Monday, November 1, 2010

The Time Travelers

This weekend we took a trip in a time machine. Actually, we visited my son and daughter-in-law at their new digs in Philadelphia to help them paint and clean-up. The house is a vertical brownstone-style structure with four levels. It sits on Lombard Street in the beautiful Washington Square section of town, and reminds me so much of my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. The row houses are very similar to the ones I grew up in, maybe a little fancier.

What I love about the area is that it is a real neighborhood. Residential homes are mixed in with restaurants, stores and parks. People actually walk from place to place. It almost has a European feel with cobblestone streets, flower boxes in the windows, and beautiful ironwork gates and doors. The population looks like a mix of old timers who were born in and will die in the neighborhood, business people who want to live near where they work, tourists who come to see the Liberty Bell, young Yuppie couples with little Yuppie kids, and ethnic folk of all kinds living together. Too many neighborhoods like this one fell to urban blight, but you get the feeling that won't happen here.

A short walk away is the Italian market where familiar foods can be found fresh. These are not the mega stores that you need a map to get around in, but mom and pop operations that have been in the same families for generations. Men sit outside on sidewalks or under trees playing cards, drinking coffee and solving the problems of the world, while never missing a pretty girl that may walk by. We had dinner at a BYO trattoria called Giorgio's on Pine (located on Pine Street). The place was cozy, the food great and the owner very solicitous.

The local church is really two churches that combine to serve the parish, St. Paul's, and around the corner, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, the oldest Catholic-Italian church in America. St. Paul's was also built with contributions primarily from Italian parishioners, as the benefactor plaque in the lobby shows...mostly last names ending in vowels. The interior of the church was filled with statues, many with Italian connections like St. Rocco who, though born in France, spent some years in Italy. The statue of Saint Rocco, patron saint of plague victims, is considered unique among theologians because of his pose; it depicts him with his left hand pointing to an open sore on his left leg. Few images of saints expose any afflictions or handicaps.

Real neighborhoods are hard to find any more. So many of us live in the suburbs where neighbors don't know one another, and people who walk the streets are eyed suspiciously from behind closed curtains. I remember walking down my block and knowing at least two-thirds of the people by name, and they me. People swept and hosed off their sidewalks, and would nod hello to anyone who passed. Sitting on stoops and trading gossip was raised to an art form. The local barber knew how you wanted your hair cut, the butcher would save you a nice cut of meat he knew you liked, and the bartender would be readying your drink before your behind hit the bar stool.

If you miss this kind of neighborhood, take a time machine trip to South Philly and revel in it like I did.


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1 comment:

The Whiner said...

Sounds like a fabulous place...can't wait to visit!