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Archive for the ‘Philadelphia’ Category

Chinese Lantern Festival Lights Up Franklin Square

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When the Chinese Lantern Festival came to Norfolk, Virginia, my sister and her family reported back that the display was amazing and not to be missed when it comes to Philadelphia. On opening night, the display was spectacular, illuminating over seven acres of Franklin Square!

Artists create the lanterns using cloth and heavy wire, creating a mosaic-like effect. In addition to light shining through the cloth, thousands of LCD lights outline some of the designs. Against the night sky, the colors looked brilliant.  Wheels whirled along one of the pathways, and a two-hundred foot dragon glowed with yellow and red.

The festival marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year, typically held around the beginning of February but postponed in Philly to April for friendlier weather outcomes.

Not to be missed: a ride on the carousel . . .  for all ages! Spinning around while riding the horses, viewing the kaleidoscope of colors, truly a magical moment.

Springtime at Morris Arboretum: KyoDaiko Drummers and Trees Wearing Sweaters

Percussion in the Park

IMG_3728Enchanted by the beautiful gardens of the Morris Arboretum on a early September afternoon a year ago, I returned to visit again, this time on spring day in April. This weekend the arboretum celebrated their annual Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival.  As part of the celebration, KyoDaiko, a community-based taiko drumming group, presented a stunning visual and sound performance. I admired their synchronized movements as they beat the drums in unison. According to Wikipedia, taiko drumming goes back to the 6th century; the Japanese used the drum for communication, theatrical performances and religious events.

Yarnbombing!

That’s what they’ve called it when trees, bridges and gazebos are covered with crocheted yarn. Melissa Maddonni Haims is the local fiber artist who wrapped up the limbs and structures, mostly from recycled materials. Well, I think I’ve seen everything now after finding trees adorned in sweaters.

Fish and Fowl

Gurgling streams flowed into peaceful ponds where swans paddled gracefully and ducks splashed around in the water or in one case, take a nap on the nearby wall. In the fernery, carp swam in the shallows of a rock garden.

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The arboretum has 92 acres to wander and each vista offers something interesting to study. Stepped into a grotto, passed through the rose garden and explored a woodland path–a warm spring afternoon at the Morris gardens has stayed with me for days.

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Photo Ramble: Filter Square Neighborhood, Philadelphia

To Meander: following a winding course: a meandering lane. Proceeding in a convoluted or undirected fashion.

The Philadelphia Photo League sponsored “Meandering with Mike K” street photo walk. Members met at the Good Karma Cafe at 331 S 22 Street to get coffered up before heading out on our late afternoon trek. Below is the street scene along 22nd and Good Karma’s back patio.

Filter Square is located in the area west of Center City, bordered by the Schuylkill River. Mike, who presented commentary and helpful photo suggestions, led us down Rittenhouse Street and Delancey Place, where we admired and photographed the Victorian architecture.

We then paused as we passed through Filter Square, a quaint residential neighborhood park built more than a century ago. Surrounded by mature trees stands the park’s central feature, a Victorian-era fountain surrounded by an iron railing and a ring of white flowers. Children chalked on the sidewalks and neighbors chatted on the benches as we photographed the goat and other animal sculptures.

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From this neighborhood, we walked several blocks to the Schuylkill River Park, where the skyline of Philadelphia poked above the trees, and as Mike put it to give us the opportunity, “to take the golden hour skyscraper shot.”

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We finished our meander on the Schuylkill Banks boardwalk, which I followed back to 30th Street Station to catch my train. What a delight to visit this section of Philly, finding so many places to photograph and to just enjoy being in this picturesque city.

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Bernie Sanders for President: Rally in Philadelphia

I jumped back into politics placing a reservation to attend the Bernie Sanders Rally in Philadelphia on April 6. I’m very much a pragmatic thinker. As much as I would like to overhaul the American economic system, replacing corporations with worker-owned collectives, I can support a candidate who strongly endorses unions and a living wage.  Bernie’s positions on income inequality, living wage, medicare for all, tuition-free college are issues I strongly support. Bernie cannot, however, change the broken economic system alone.  It is up to the citizenry to create that sweeping change. We must be invested in our democracy by participating in ways that guarantee that every citizen has a voice.

The Rally

I returned to my graduate school Alma Mater, Temple University, for the rally. When I arrived at the Liacorous Center a little after 5, the line, ten deep, snaked along the sidewalk, weaving through the side streets for ten blocks. I thought I’d never get in, seeing that many people; and the doors had already been open so more folks were already inside. By 6 o’clock I entered through the security check, the Secret Service, inspecting coats and bags. My necklace alerted the wand, but the guard finally let me pass through. We waited until 8:30 for Bernie to speak because it took so long for people to get through security and get seated.  I didn’t think the arena would fill, but it did, all but some seats on the balcony. I estimated 5,000 but turns out more like 10,000 were present.

The crowd, mostly students and young people under 35, were friendly and well-mannered. No one was pushing or shoving in line, and most were engaged in happy conversation. Someone was carrying a sign, Free Hugs, and Philly Jesus showed up, giving his blessings. I sat down on an aisle seat for good visibility. The young man sitting next to me introduced himself, and we had a conversation about Pennsylvania politics. I met everyone around me, and turns out we were all alums of Shippensburg! I heard stories of underemployment and low wages, even for college graduates.

When Bernie walked to the podium deafening cheers erupted. As Bernie spoke the audience responded with enthusiastic cheers or boos, depending on the subject, i.e., living wage or mention of Trump.

Pennsylvania Primary, April 26

The Pennsylvania primary will take place on April 26. Political history in the United State will be made if we elect a progressive candidate for President such as Bernie Sanders.

 

 

Democracy Spring: The Philadelphia Story

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On the lawn in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, a crowd gathered to support and to send off 150 activists, who plan to walk the 140 miles to Washington, D.C., launching a civil disobedience campaign, Democracy Spring. The goal of the march: “Congress must act now to end the corruption of money in politics and ensure free and fair elections.”

The enthusiastic crowd responded to a series of speakers and performances that called on elected officials to support their initiative, an equal voice for everyone. The rally is Washington is set for April 11 at the Capitol Building and organizers have said that thousands have pledged to sit-in for seven days. Over 100 organizations have signed on in support of Democracy Spring.

Overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which has resulted in big-money interests buying elections, corrupting the political process, is fundamental to keeping democracy sound.

Zydeco: Philly’s Mardi Gras Party 2016

12657450_10207781476689215_1548317181980620869_oUntil a few months ago, I never even heard of Zydeco. A friend suggested that since I’ve been exploring the dance scene, that I might try Zydeco.  First, I had to find out–what is Zydeco? Zydeco originated in southwest Louisiana in the Creole culture. Creole folks descend from various nationalities including Haitian, Native American, French and Spanish immigrants. The music usually has a fast tempo, and the main instrument is the accordion accompanied by a washboard, guitars, violins and drums. Elements of R&B, rock, soul and other music genres have worked their way into Zydeco performances.  According to Wikipedia, Zydeco is similar to Cajun music but has has a harder, faster sound that features a rhythm that shifts accents to weak beats.

I’m certainly no expert on the music, but seems that the music has a recognizable sound, and the beat is so strong that it is hard to resist moving to the music.

At the Friday night Mardi Gras Party, the evening started with a dance lesson, which is typical for the Allons Dansor venues. I usually show up early for the dance lesson, as it is a great way to get moving, to review the steps and to meet the newcomers. The steps are easy, and by dancing as a group, no need to feel self-conscious. Eventually, the gender lines form partnerships to practice the closed position.  Partners switch out when the instructor introduces a new step.

A short video shows the introductory steps and then the dancing with live music from Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble.

Spirited Nights

Halloween and Mardi Gras have elements in common: religious origins, costumes, masks, revelry. Halloween has its origins in the festival of Samhain when the Celts would light bonfires to mark the beginning of the winter after the harvest time. On All Hallows Eve, as it is during Mardi Gras, the boundaries between worlds of reality and fantasy blur, and supposedly otherworldly spirits roam the earth.

This joyful music from the swamps of Louisiana can be played for a sultry slow dance. The word Zydeco derived from mispronouncing the French phrase: “Les haricots ne sont pas sales,” translated as, “the snap beans aren’t salty” and means, “I don’t have any spicy news for you.”  The video, however, does offer spicy news of such a slow dance on a Halloween night. Music by The Bayou Brothers!

Symbo

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Philadelphia Honored as a World Heritage City

Moon over Philadelphia

November 6, 2015

On this day, Philadelphia became the first city in the United States to be designated as a World Heritage City. Philly has joined 266 cities with this honor, including Paris, Florence, Prague and St. Petersburg.  The City of Brotherly Love, so named by William Penn, who used the Greek words for love (phileo) and brother (adelphos), has earned its nickname: abolitionists, animal rights and Aids activism and origins of ACLU. Philadelphians are active protestors.

Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods and each has their own charm. An exploration into any one of the city’s 18 districts, visitors can find ethnic food, bike paths, hiking trails, historical streets and buildings, entertainment facilities, parks, sport’s arenas, cultural events and eclectic shopping. The visitor will not have to travel far to find a mural to admire.

In celebration of this wonderful accomplishment of our city, I’ve posted my favorite photographs of our hometown.

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Forbidden Drive Photo Credit J. R. Blackwell

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From the sailing ship, Amistad, on the Delaware River

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Sculling on the Schuylkill River

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Benjamin Franklin Bridge

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View along South Street

 

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Dilworth Plaza in front of City Hall in the Summertime

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Water Works on the Schuylkill River

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Boathouse Row

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Side Street off of Filter Square

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Penn’s Landing

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Waterfall at Schuylkill River

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Schuylkill River Park

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One of the 3,000 Murals across the City

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View from the Market-Frankfort El

Love’s Legacy on the Elevated Line, Mural Arts Tour, Philadelphia

Years ago, I rode the Market/Frankfort Elevated Line into the city for my summer job, when the General Electric Company occupied a building on Walnut Street and 30th Street. So I thought that this tour would remind me of that time, but the city had renovated all the stations, and some of the familiar sites along the route had disappeared. As I looked through my reflection in the window, I wondered about all the passengers stepping on and off the train. Where are they now? Much has happened over those years, and I never could have predicted that I would return to ride the el on The Love Letter Mural Tour. Is my camera out of focus or is it the distortion of tears, as these moments pass away as quickly as those many years. I look to the murals for inspiration.

Over 3,000 murals occupy places in the Philadelphia landscape. The mural program began in 1986 as a anti-graffiti initiative. I’ve written several posts that have referenced some of these murals: Art Imitating Life and Using Art to Create Scenes. A popular project in the mural series is Steve Powers’ A Love Letter For You.  Fifty rooftop murals follow the Market Street corridor from 45th to 63rd Streets. In these love letters to his girlfriend, the artist expresses a tender reconciliation, while also showing his appreciation for his neighborhoods in West Philadelphia. In Powers’ own words,

Love Letter is “a letter for one, with meaning for all” and speaks to all residents who have loved and for those who long for a way to express that love to the world around them. He considers the project “my chance to put something on these rooftops that people would care about.”

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and PBS have all featured stories on the Love Letter Tour.

The tour began at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which is both a school and a museum, and describes its mission as, “promoting the transformative power of art and art making.” I felt as if I had crash landed there upon seeing this scene in the adjacent alley way, Lenfest Plaza.

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Jordan Griska created this sculpture in 2011 from a Navy combat airplane; and as if finding a plane nose-dived into the sidewalk is not surprising enough, inside the cockpit a greenhouse supports a garden.

The museum was equally fascinating, with many interesting displays and exhibits, which was an added a bonus to the start of the tour.

IMG_2108We were fortunate to have as our guide, Harry Kyriakodis, a historian who has written several books on Philadelphia history including Philadelphia’s Lost Waterfront, Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward and The Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Harry is a founding member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides.

Harry related the history of how and why the murals were created by Powers, who began his career as a graffiti artist and eventually earned a Fulbright scholarship. After handing each tour participant a token for their ride on the  Market/Frankford line, we walked to the 15th Street el stop.

Ride with a View

 

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One percent of the construction cost of the station had to be spent on an artistic representation.

Harry pointed out the murals as we sped through the Philly neighborhoods. We stopped at several of station platforms to study the paintings. One of the first murals we viewed was this one along the side of a brick building:

I had a dream

Ah, dare to dream

What makes these series of murals so compelling is that they arise from tattered rooftops, with crumbling chimneys, rotating vent fans, noisy air-conditioners and rusty gutters as companions. The contexts make the murals even more endearing, affirming that love can spring from the most mundane of locations. Despite these rooftop distractions, the messages are clear.

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Standing on the platform

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A wish

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Seems so

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That would be amazing

Powers and his team created the murals by painting directly on the walls without the protective cloth that is used on most of the city’s murals, which means that the paint is slowly fading. For now, these messages offer to the el riders the inspiration of love that reconciled and lasted. That’s all I needed to know.

In Remembrance of Megan

Megan

Megan McFadden

March 9, 1981-August 29, 2015

IMG_1803When someone so young passes from this earth, the shock reverberates for days, weeks and months, as it seems impossible that Megan will no longer be with us.

As Megan came into my life, I watched her as a year went by, and I saw how she was working through the difficulties of her past to move forward into a new day. We thought this new beginning would be bringing her success with her art. 

We will miss you, Megan. We’re so sorry.

Her Father’s Eulogy

When you have a drug-addicted child or sibling, you live in dread of the phone call that tells you she has overdosed and died in some abandoned house. My son Jim, her best friend, and I got that call on August 29th about Megan.

Rather than mourn over Megan’s tragic death at 34, let’s celebrate what was wonderful about her. She was a sweet, beautiful, and funny little girl. She had an adorable little speech impediment until she had it fixed at therapy in first grade. We had a squirrel that visited us on the deck of our apartment almost daily. We asked her for a good name for him. She said, “Mistoow Sqwool.” From that good day on, he was Mr. Squirrel, “Mistoow Sqwool” to Megan.

Megan was all her life a gifted artist and was passionate about it and lived for it. She was enrolled in school to pursue and enrich her passion, but was taken from us just before she was to begin.

She left a great legacy with her son Michael, who has brought great joy to every person he’s known in his 13 years. Good job, Megs.

The only consolation that we, her family, friends, and all the people who knew her, was that she was a person of great worth. What we can take from her death so young, is the knowledge that her pain and struggles are over, and the belief that she will find the peace with her heavenly Father that she was unable to find in this life.

Pro-Act Recovery Walk, Philadelphia, September 19, 2015

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Philadelphia Photo League

Philadelphia Photo League Photographers, Konrad Jones, Mike Browna, Spencer Lewis

Several weeks after Megan’s passing, I received a notice from the Philadelphia Photo League about an upcoming event, the Pro-Act Recovery Walk. In 2012 a group of area photographer/activists, who were committed to social change through documentary photography, established a mission to assist civic organizations to affect change through photography. Photo League members have photographed the Recovery Walk in past years and shared their photographs with the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization–Achieving Community Together. By participating in this year’s photography project, I hope that I might help in some small way to document the event.

Morning has Broken

As I approached the staging area at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, the sky appeared gray and dark as the fog began lifting from the Ben Franklin Bridge. As the presenter led a prayer from the stage, the clouds opened to a magical reflection on the river. Sun beams streamed down to the water–it was as if the universe was blessing the gathering.

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Participants in their colorful t-shirts began gathering in front of the stage. The photographers took photos from the vantage of the stage, and then we split up to cover different aspects of the walk. I took a position at the start of the parade on the Chestnut Street Bridge under the balloon arch. As marchers began to stream under the arch, I began to video the walk. What amazed me was the diversity within the crowd: young and old, men and women, abled and disabled and all ethnicities represented.

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The participants kept coming, walking, cheering, as those standing on the sidelines clapped.  Group after group, representing organizations advocating for recovery, passed in front of me. These people have endured the challenges of addiction. Society could mediate these tragedies by implementing social policies that bring people out of addiction without stigma. To be immersed in this experience became a humbling moment, realizing that these warriors are ready to continue their fight for freedom from alcohol and drugs. Last year 600 people died from drug overdoses. It seems that a tainted batch took Megan as well as other victims, one evening in August.

Will we stand with the 25,000 Pro-Act crusaders? Our society failed Megan, we cannot fail again.

Links

Recovery Walks

Thousands march in support of and hope for addiction recovery

ProAct: Ambassadors for Recovery

Teresa Forcades Speaks on Women’s Ordination

Women’s Ordination Conference
 A Voice for Women’s Equality in the Catholic Church

“We have a church that’s misogynist and it’s representing the Gospel. We need freedom, equality, and the people’s capacities to participate in the conversation. I look forward to having this discussion in Philadelphia.” –Teresa Forcades

Teresa Forcades WOW

Teresa Forcades: History

As a supporter of anarcho-syndicalist movements, which advocate for democracy for the working classes in politics as well as the workplace, I’ve followed the news about the strikes against the Spanish government’s spending cuts, which create severe consequences for workers and their families. Following these events, I read about one of their leaders, Sister Teresa Forcades.For folks who have their doubts about capitalism, Teresa has launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations. I visited Spain in 2013, and on my first evening in Barcelona, I attended an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, a dialogue between Teresa and Lekshe Karma Tsomo, a California Tibetan nun, who share the same commitment: to promote social change based on inner transformation.

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A year ago I heard Teresa speak again, this time in my relative neighborhood, at Red Emma’s in Baltimore. Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative started in 2004, supports a bookstore, restaurant and community space and is “dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace.” The namesake of the cooperative, Emma Goldman, a political activist known for her promotion of anarchism, is another woman I admire for her progressive views on women’s rights, prison reform, racial equality and right to organize our workplaces.

While some may consider Teresa’s ideas radical, I think of them as being common sense, such as viewing capitalism as an unethical construct. Sometimes when I’m talking with people about the problems of capitalism, they agree but then say, “Well, that’s the way it is.” Teresa says it doesn’t have to be that way.

When I learned that Teresa was speaking at the WOW conference in Philadelphia, I immediately signed up to attend.

Women’s Ordination Conference, September 2015

WOW Protest

WOW Prayer Vigil at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

The WOW Conference represents forty years of advocacy for women to become full participants in the Church by allowing women’s ordination. I am a former Catholic and what drove me away from the Church was thinking about my daughter’s perceptions of how affirming Catholic practice contradicts a fundamental belief that women must be treated as equals. The Church’s embedded bigotry against women, which arises from historical chains of oppression, undermines women’s liberation.

Teresa flew into Philadelphia just before she spoke, as she had to stay in Spain for an important leadership event on Saturday. Teresa presented an inspiring talk, a few of the highlights in the video:

I met Teresa after her presentation, and we talked about the political situation in Catalonia and her candidacy. She asked about my son, John. Truly a remarkable experience to connect with a woman who is on the world stage advocating for her fellow citizens and for equality for women in the Church.

Links:

Teresa Forcades Facebook Page

The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

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