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Archive for the ‘Philadelphia’ Category

Mt Airy Contra, Dancing with your Neighbor

Henry Avenue Bridge

Returning to Mr. Airy, Philadelphia


Commodore Barry Club

Driving from the Western suburbs of Philadelphia, I negotiate through the treacherous, if not beautiful, Lincoln Drive to get to the dance hall. The impressive Henry Avenue Bridge, constructed in 1932, extends over the road and the Wissahickon Creek. The heavily wooded gorge form part of the Fairmount Park system, but I can’t take my eyes off the twisting road for a minute.

This was the route I took several years ago when I found myself at the corner of  Green Street and Carpenter Lane, looking for Big Blue Marble Bookstore where I signed up for a writing course. Little shops lined the streets inviting me to stop in to visit. I’m back on Carpenters Lane once again where the sprawling Commodore Barry Club, or Irish Center, occupies a corner. A spacious ballroom, one of the largest in the area, is the venue for the dancing.

The Music: Borrowed from the Celts and English with Appalachian Influences

On my first visit, what amazed was to see a live band setting up on the stage. Each week a different group performs, filling the hall with traditional fiddle tunes. Reels and jigs are the most common tunes played, but musicians also play the hornpipe, waltz and polka for variety. To learn more about these music forms, check out this page for details, as the differences require lengthy explanations. Accordions, harmonicas, flutes, bass fiddles, violas may accompany the traditional instruments, such as the fiddle, piano, and guitar.

Free Raisins

Free Raisins

For this evening, The Free Raisins, a band from Boston and self-described as “fusing New England roots with a modern groove,” performed with Audrey Knuth on fiddle, Jeff Kaufman on mandolin and trumpet, Amy Englesberg, on piano and accordion. I enjoyed their contra music interpretation with a rock beat, and I noticed that some of the dancers improvised swing-like twirls to their moves.

Rick MohrRick Mohr called the dance. According to CDSS Country Song and Dance Society, calling for contra dances “is a fine art and a science, with subtle skills that can take a lifetime to master.” The caller instructs the dancers, usually with a run-through first without the music. The caller continues to announce the moves until the dancers have learned the steps, which may include from six to twelve figures, and then repeats. Dancers use smooth walking steps for movement between figures. The “swing” requires some practice, holding the right hip at the center while pushing around with the left foot. At break time, volunteers instruct dancers on the nuances of the swing.

The Dance

One website described contra dancing this way,

Contra dancing is social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music.
The rest is just details.

On my first visit, I joined the beginner’s lesson, which started half-an-hour before the dance. I could explain all the contra dance terms, but for the most part it is possible to learn as you take part. One of the moves is called a “gypsy,” where you circle around your partner without touching but keeping eye contact. Maintaining steady eye contact, as least for me, was a bit unnerving because it felt like staring, but this is common practice and underlies the importance as a social dance and connecting with folks. I found I couldn’t keep the gypsy without smiling.

The gypsy stare also helps reduce dizziness. Yes, while dancing the swing, you can become quite dizzy, which happened to me the first couple times. Partners turn at different rates and if you are paired with a spirited dancer, by the time you land back at your place, the room can still be going round and round–and there’s not a lot of time to recover as you’ve got to be ready for the next move. What I noticed was that if I fixed my gaze, I experienced less dizziness. If I glanced outward at the room, it was whizzing by in a blur.

I came without a partner, and because policy underscores the social nature of the dance, I could still dance every number, if I wanted. Dancers are encouraged to find different partners, and dancing with same-sex partners is perfectly acceptable and may have no relevance to orientation.  In reality, you dance with everyone in the room as you cross over or change partners. Couples form long, parallel lines, starting from the stage and stand across from or “contra to” their partner. Traditionally, couples move up and down the line as the dance progresses. When arriving at the end, you pause with your partner, which gives you a welcome but brief rest before joining the dance again.

Three Hours of Dancing! 

contra dance lineSnacks and water provide rejuvenation during a twenty-minute break, which gives me some time to reflect on the experience. I noted diversity of age among the dancers, from children to college students to seniors. People come to the dance from all over the city and neighboring states of Delaware and New Jersey.

After drinking three or four glasses of water, I’m back on the floor scouting out someone for my next partner. I especially enjoy the flourishes that some of the experienced dancers add to the steps, usually involving the woman twirling around once before settling into her spot. With new dancers, it’s great to help them out and encourage them if there’s a misstep or two, which adds a bit of humor to the experience in a shared fumbling moment. The dancing is so energetic, I think to myself, “Oh, I’ll never be able to dance the next one, and yet, I am back on the floor looking for that next partner.

Video: September 10, 2015 . . .a friend remarked to me after watching the video, “Dancing looks complicated, I could never remember all those moves!” Experienced participants prompt the newcomers, and they’re ready to dance!

If you like exercise tied with meeting new people and enjoying live music, find a contra dance venue in your area. If you live in Philadelphia, check out the Mt. Airy Contra Dance schedule. See you there!

Many thanks to the Mt. Airy Contra Board for their support for this blog post.


Photo Challenge: 1,000 Trillion Connections

Almost everyone in Philadelphia is familiar with the walk-through papier-mâché heart that has been a centerpiece display at the Franklin Institute for over fifty years. Inspired by that iconic heart, the Institute constructed the Neural Climb, an 18-foot-tall climbing structure, accompanied by sound and psychedelic lighting. The exhibit creates for children an opportunity to explore a web of interconnecting tubes, helping them to understanding the neuron signaling of our brain.

We are born with about 100 billion neurons, already with 50 trillion connections! In the first few months of life, synapses multiply, and by three years old, the toddler has made about 1,000 trillion connections.

Understanding these large numbers is probably more than we can comprehend, but like the child in the neural climb, we know our brains are amazing connectors.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Connected

Photo Walk through Port Richmond, Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Photo League sponsored a photo walk, “Meandering with Mike, Port Richmond Edition”; a quote describing the stroll enticed me to sign up:

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

“Proceeding in a convoluted fashion,” what an exciting way to learn about that section of the city! Port Richmond lies about a mile north of center city Philadelphia between the neighborhoods of Fishtown and Bridesboro. Along with Kensington and Olde Richmond, these towns are collectively known as the River Wards as the Delaware River flows along their eastern borders.


Philadelphia from the Delaware River, across from River Wards

As we strolled through the neighborhoods, we came across this mural, which embodies iconic Americana images: flag, dog walking, baseball, church, children on bicycles, scenes we viewed as we wandered through the lanes of the city. My eye was drawn to the image of a clipper ship in the left corner because of my fondness for sailing vessels.


I checked The Port and City of Philadelphia, published 1912,  and found the following photograph:

Star Clipper Newsletter

Just south of Lehigh Avenue, Cramps & Sons opened a shipbuilding business in 1830 and was still operating 70 years later. In the 1850s the shipyard built clipper ships and later transitioned to steam-driven ships of the 1870s.

Trains and Tracks Define a Neighborhood

In May of 2015 Port Richmond made international news for the fatal derailment of an Amtrak train. In 1942 another train derailment on the curved section of tracks killed 79 and injured 117. In April of 2014 a minor train derailment of cars carrying acetone caused a major traffic jam. On the following day, protesters marched outside of Philadelphia Energy Systems demanding safety checks that would protect the community. For residents, stories of train derailment and leaky tank cars tell an important part of the history of the area.

Train tracks cut right through the center of this neighborhood. Huge embankments support the tracks. Tunnels that connect the two sides of the town are longer than several football fields. We entered one of the dark underpasses, which felt like a “no man’s land” of steel and concrete. Trash littered the sidewalk and street. The remains of a television set were scattered over the curb, as if someone had tossed it from a vehicle. Most of us took pictures of the shattered TV, but I’m not sure why. On the other side of the underpass, I climbed up one of the embankments for a picture of the black tank cars coupled together.

Photographers Invade the Port

I was lucky to hitch a ride to our destination with fellow photographer Annette. From Route 95, we got off at Exit 23 after City Hall. We drove down the main thoroughfare, Lehigh Avenue, only to be perplexed by the parking situation. On the right side of the road, the parking slots were angled in the opposite direction! We had to circle around a second time before we noticed the sign that read: Back into the parking spots.

We found our leader, Mike Klusek, and fellow photographers at the Green Rock Tavern, a small neighborhood corner pub that has retained the original bar counter and tin ceiling. Bottles of spirits were shelved in mirrored cabinets. A chalkboard listed the menu items for the day, and regulars sat on the stools, conversing with the bartender.

Cameras ready, we strolled down the wide sidewalk to the PortSide Art Center, decorated in a brightly-colored underwater sea motif with fish and other creatures created from glass. We walked under the Lehigh Viaduct and along the working class neighborhoods of neatly kept row houses, some with marble steps. Each home reflected their owner’s preferences for patriotic fervor, political statements or just flower boxes. Flowers and hedges filled the back yard landscapes. Irish and Polish taverns and eateries stood on corner locations, and grand churches occupied center blocks.

Folks were friendly toward our band of photographers, sometimes approaching us with questions or comments, and were agreeable to being snapped in a photograph.


A History of Immigration: Polish and Lithuanian Heritage

When immigration was at its peak in Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century, Polish people settled in Port Richmond. They built Saint Adalbert Church that reflects the Polish Cathedral architecture, heavy in ornamentation from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Immigrants from Poland continue to make this neighborhood their home.

We stopped in a Polish grocery store, and I bought Chruschiki, traditional, fried cookies. A number of restaurants and stores in the area of Allegheny Avenue cater to the Polish-American community. The Krakus Market on Richmond Street offers a large choice of Polish foods, including a variety of kielbasy, Polish newspapers and pastries. I bought several bottles of mustard made in Poland.

Lithuanians, who have historically been linked with the Polish nation, hold their festivals and dances as well as catered affairs for the community, at the Lithuanian Dance Hall, now the home of the Theatre Company of Port Richmond, a community theater company.

Two More Stops

An ornate wrought iron archway decorated the entrance to Campbell’s Square, a shady park where children played ball and folks walked their dogs. Special community events take place in the plaza, and Polish American String Band, award-winner in the annual Mummers Day Parade, holds regular concerts for the residents. The community is proud of their park and have created a Facebook page, announcing how volunteers can participate in cleanups and garden work, a true measure of the commitment to their neighborhood.


We stopped in Port Richmond Books, which houses a 200,000 collection of books, newspapers, magazines and records. The store occupies a century-old former movie theater. They have renovated the façade but it is still possible to see the original footprint of the theater.

After our walk, we returned to the Green Rock Tavern for dinner: home-made potato and cheese pierogi with a side of sauerkraut, delicious especially after a long walk!

I hope to visit to Port Richmond again, to sample more of the home-cooked Polish food and to explore along the Delaware river, especially the Port Richmond trail.


Skyline of Philadelphia peeks over Port Richmond. Photo credit: Annette Newman,

Many thanks to Mike for his informative history of the area and photographic suggestions.


Port Richmond: A Taste of Poland
Town by Town: Port Richmond is Getting Younger
Port Richmond’s Sidewalks May Be Clean, But The Air Is Dirty

Sculling on the Schuylkill, A New Adventure and Skill

Did you ever say to yourself, “You’ve got to be young to do that,” and you might have been twenty-something looking at kids jumping on a trampoline? I’ve made up my mind, I’m not going to tell myself I’m too old for a new adventure. Research confirms that learning a mentally demanding skill will improve our thinking processes, especially if we move out of our comfort zone.

A recent bicycle ride along Kelly Drive lingered in my memory as I thought back to that warm afternoon cycling along the river while watching the rowers slide along the water. So when I looked at the courses offered at Mt. Airy Learning Tree, one of the classes, Row the Schuylkill, enticed me to sign up.

How many of us have wondered what it must be like to glide effortlessly along the Schuylkill River in a rowing shell? This course will provide one of the vest vantage point in the city to watch seasons change in Philadelphia.

I tried to ignore my hesitation. I’ve had a hip replaced the other is, well, giving me some feedback now. Regardless, I signed up and returned to the gym for some exercise on the rowing machine.

The Schuylkill River flows through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, one of the largest city parks in the country. The Philadelphia city scape sets a dramatic backdrop to the river with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Waterworks buildings and the famous boat house row.

Our launching dock is upriver from the architectural landmarks, and from that vantage, trees follow the river on both sides. Only the sound of traffic speeding along the Kelly Drive thoroughfare reminds me that we are in the city. The evening sun is setting and the water takes on the colors of the fading sky. In the distance, a brown stone bridge arches over the river.

IMG_8088Arriving early for my first class, I pause at the edge of the river. What surprises me most is the number of boats on the water–it’s actually crowded with sculls, dragon boats and the small motored vessels transporting coaches next to their teams. Students load and unload along the docks, lifting their sculls over their heads as they return to shore.

Examining the scull on the shoreline, I see an entirely different perspective than watching the boat in the river. The sculls are surprisingly long for just four rowers, the quad size. I thought to myself, how do we ever maneuver such a long craft, let alone sit in that narrow well? Paddlers use two oars in a scull, one in each hand. I thought this is going to take some coördination.


Whatever doubts I had about my first analysis, were soon dispelled by our instructor and coach, Brannon Johnson. With a decade of experience and as a four-year Division I collegiate athlete at the University of Texas, Brannon made beginners feel at ease with her lighthearted approach and detailed instructions. Although I have to say, I was very envious of the experienced group, who just got to hop into the scull and immediately paddle down river. Neubees had to learn a few skills and strategies first.

The first challenge: getting into the boat without falling into the water. Brannon demonstrates how to step in the boat with one foot (an actual diagram of a foot is imprinted there, it’s that important to step correctly.) I envisioned myself stepping on the boat while one foot on the shore and doing a split. I moved my leg over quickly. I noticed when the other rowers rocked the boat just a little, it seems that it could be easily tipped.

Sculling beginning

Want to go fast like the other guys!

Kado holds the tether so that prevents the novice from floating down steam out of control.

Kado holds the tether so that prevents the novice from floating down steam out of control.

On the second lesson, I had the first chance to row in the quad. After managing to get safely in the boat, Brannon patiently repeats the instructions: square and feather. You hold the oars squared when pulling in the water and feather (when face is flat) while returning the oar to the stroke position. What I had the most trouble with is not pressing down on the oars. Pressing down while stroking means the oar is not in the water but rather flying unhappily in the air. Even while feathering, the oar is supposed to stay close to the water. I have slight dyslexic tendencies, so the order of things can sometimes be difficult. I somehow confused the square with the feather and interchanged them from time to time. Yikes! Kado, one of the assistants provides extra guidance on the single scull.

Brannon reports that we all did very well as nobody landed in the water, which did happen during the one of the other classes. Does make a good photo opportunity, she noted.

Lesson three is the most fun so far as we actually row down the river. Rowing demands concentration. I wanted to admire the scenery and gaze at the water; but when I tried that, I found that I became out of sync with my fellow rowers. Sculling demands a cadence, matching the movements of the others. While bending the knees, the seat rolls forward and then rolls back while pulling the oar through the water. I had to remember to place the left hand over right, and since left and right are interchangeable due to my dyslexia, I had to keep my brain focused on that position. Scullers face backwards; in the larger crafts coxswains monitor the direction.

During class four, I return to the quad with two experienced rowers on board, making the skill more demanding as the cadence became faster and consistent. As in the last time, I focus all my concentration on the stroking, repeating to myself the steps as we glide up the river and under the bridge. Rosie, our coach, advises rowers on our techniques. At one point, I “catch a crab,” which means that an oar gets caught awkwardly in the water. Rosie gets me back on track and into the cadence again. My muscles feel the effect of the exercise, but I have graduated to higher skill level!

Lowering Quad

Lowering the Quad

The evening weather continues warm and beautiful for lesson five. Children load off and on paddle boats lined up along the dock. Under the guidance of Brannon, I practice stroking in the single scull.

During the last lesson, Brannon offers to take me out on the launch in the interest of promoting the sport on social media, since I mentioned that I was a blogger and would like to take video footage. Altogether we have two singles, one double and two quads out on the river, and we experience another beautiful evening on the water for our final session.

Check out on Facebook BLJ Community Rowing, “a program that is welcoming to all who want to try (or already love) the sport of rowing.” So if you have thought about learning a new skill, whether rowing or anything else, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.
~ Chinese Proverb

Bicycling the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, Philadelphia

This past June my sister and I biked along the trail that runs parallel to the Schuylkill River, and we returned on a warm October afternoon to head in the opposite direction and try out the new addition to the path, the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. Officials opened the new leg of the path just several weeks ago.


We bicycled past the view of Boathouse Row and around the back of the Philadelphia Art Museum and alongside of Waterworks before coming to the over-the-water extension. A viewing area above the walkway at Locust Street gave us a vantage point to take photographs up and down the river.  On a Tuesday afternoon, there wasn’t much pedestrian traffic so the four-block ride to the end at the South Street Bridge in West Philadelphia took about ten minutes. Along the trail the boardwalk widens with benches so we could pause and view the cityscapes.

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The walkway serves as a practical walking path from 30th Street Station to the Art Museum. Normally, I would take the subway from 30th Street and get off at 22nd Street, and then walk to the Art Museum. Now the walkway conveniently connects those locations while enjoying the beauty of the Schuylkill River.

Morris Arboretum and the Summer Garden Railroad

Swan Pond

Swan Pond

For over a year, I’d been planning an outing to the Morris Arboretum, and finally after a late start, drove down PA 476 to the northwest corner of Philadelphia to the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of the 92-acre garden. Ignoring the heat at around 90 degrees, the high humidity and thunder clouds threatening in the distance, I considered these positive circumstances–no crowds!

The gardens were set high on a hilltop, providing lovely views of the surrounding forest landscape. The gardens, modeled after the English park style, featured wide paths that wound past a swan pond, rustic cabin, stone buildings and sculpture exhibit. Sounds of water trickling along the creek offered a soothing and cooling atmosphere in the summer heat.

Much of the park is shaded, and I kept to those paths that offered relief from the direct sun. I strolled along the 450-foot raised walkway, built from recycled metal and wood, and which soars to 50 feet at the highest point through the treetops. Rope netting hung like hammocks where visitors could just lay back and gaze at canopy overhead. A gigantic bird nest made from tree branches provided benches to sit and ponder the three large blue “eggs” resting in the center.

The Garden Railway

My fascination with trains is what really brought me to this garden. G-scale trains and trolley cars run along a quarter-mile of track through a magical garden setting. The entire display, including all the buildings, are constructed from natural materials, everything from bark to seeds. Rivers and waterfalls flow through the miniature town, which includes replicas of famous Philadelphia landmarks such as Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House. Each building was a masterpiece, with intricate detailing in the doors and windows. The whimsical chicken train glided along to accompanying music, what else but the chicken song, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile even carried a bottle of mustard. I lingered for quite a while in the railroad garden, as the miniature recreation offered so much to enjoy.

A thunder-storm rumbled through the hills, driving me back to my car. With many other gardens to visit–the rock wall, rose and water gardens and Japanese Overlook–I know I will return, perhaps during the holidays, when evergreens, holly boughs and twinkle lights decorate the train scape.

Philly’s First Anarchist Book Fair

Anarchist Bookfair poster

No one can seem to recall if there has ever been an anarchist book fair in Philadelphia, but no matter, because on August 23, dozens of vendors and organizations came together at the Rotunda to offer a selection of literature for the discerning minds of progressive activists.

If you are new to anarchism, you might believe that anarchists are a bunch of bomb-throwing lunatics. Please park all your preconceptions at the door.

If anarchy is not about gratuitous violence, a view perpetuated to discount this group on the political fringe, then what is it? Yes, some have resorted to violence but no worse than violence brought on by “legitimate parties,” say, militarized police, for example. One group, anarcho-pacifists, completely reject the use of violence. Anarchy is a theoretical social state in which there is no governing body of persons, but everyone has absolute liberty.  Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was sometimes seen as a philosophical anarchist who believed that, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

Chomsky at Swarthmore College, November 2013

Chomsky at Swarthmore College,

Anarcho-syndicalism best explains my political philosophy where workers’ solidarity, direct action and workers’ self-management form the basis for encouraging workers to free themselves from the hierarchical systems of bosses and managers. In the ideal economic system, workers control the means of production and manage all aspects of their company. Workers make decisions collectively. Today Noam Chomsky, intellectual, MIT professor and author of over 100 books, is one of the most famous anarcho-syndicalists. If you have ever felt that your boss or your company was ineffective, bullying or stingy with wages, you might just be an anarcho-syndicalist.

 Books, Pamphlets, T-Shirts, Buttons


I stopped at most of the displays, buying a t-shirt from the Lehigh Valley I.W.W, another t-shirt from Bindlestiff Books and coffee from Red Emmas. Representatives from other organizations, such as Philly Antifa, NYC Anarchist Black Cross, Marcellus Shale Earth First! and the Wooden Shoe answered questions and suggested reading materials. Most booths gave out free materials.

Entrance to the fair was free and pizza and coffee provided, with donations accepted.


Refresher on Anarchist Economics

ASR-62Speakers presented talks throughout the morning and afternoon. I attended a lecture by Jon Bekken, who is on the editorial collective staff of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, an independent syndicalist magazine published since 1986. Jon gave an informative overview of anarchist economics, fielding questions from the audience.

The video offers a few excerpts from that discussion.

The book fair organizers hoped to challenge preconceived notions of anarchism and “move toward a world based on freedom and mutual aid.” With the number of vendors, the great turnout from the community and the workshops and discussions, I would say the fair had been a resounding success. The fair closed early so that participants could attend a vigil in Clark Park for Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, Missouri.

Ararchist Airship flies Over William Penn

Anarchist Airship flies Over William Penn


Biking Along Kelly Drive, Philadelphia

Fairmount Water Works and Boat House Row


On a glorious afternoon in May, my sister and I hopped on the train into center city for a visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We had no specific plans, but the beautiful day beckoned us to stay outdoors. We walked the perimeter of the museum, pausing along the pathways to view the city and scenes along the river. The famous boathouse row, housing social and rowing clubs, has stood on this site for over a century. Each building has its own unique character, with different architectural styles and colors.


We strolled down to the buildings that make up the Fairmount Water Works. Just weeks before, the Schuylkill River flooded the area leaving the buildings and furnishings waterlogged. Officials had the spaces cleaned, but more work had to be done before visitors could come through again. Philadelphia built the Fairmount Water Works between 1812 and 1872, and finally ceased operation in 1909. The Classical Revival exterior, which hides the industrial inter-workings, has made this site a tourist attraction, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Schuylkill River Trail

As we walked along the river, we came across Wheel Fun Rentals, which had a good choice of bikes, including cruisers, city and road bikes. Being the perfect day for a bike ride, we picked up a map and headed north on the River Trail that runs parallel to the Schuylkill River. The entire trail, about 10 miles in length, follows Kelly drive for about four miles. Kelly Drive was named for John B. Kelly, Jr., a triple Olympic Gold Medal winner in rowing; he was the father of Grace Kelly.  The bike path then loops with the MLK Drive bike path, crossing over the Falls Bridge. Bikers can also ride all the way to the Manayunk tow path and to Valley Forge.


Biking along the river was exhilarating as every scene that unfolded in front of us presented a view that I had not appreciated when driving past the river. We stopped and admired the gardens and statues. Just beyond the West Girard Bridge, a brown stone railroad bridge stretched across the river, its arches framing the distant landscape.


A bit of irony about the statue of John Kelly resting on a bed of bricks in the photograph above: in 1920 Kelly applied to race in the prestigious Diamond Sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta but authorities rejected his application because he was a bricklayer by trade, and the regulations at that time deemed that anyone who had been employed as laborer, artisan or mechanic could not be considered “amateur.”

The trail was well-maintained and flat, but we had to be careful negotiating around others on the path, which was busy with strolling families, runners and other bikers. The river supported traffic from the rowers and a few motor boats. Maps located the many sculptures in Fairmount Park. We stopped often along the way to take pictures or reflect on the view.

We hope to return to the trail to bike the entire loop and perhaps kayak to Bartram Gardens.


International Women’s Day: A Rally for $15/hr Minimum Wage

Philadelphia, 10th and Market Streets

Activists teamed up with retail and fast food workers to campaign for a $15 minimum wage by standing together at a rally on Market Street. I came into Philly to support this initiative because I participated in the Swarthmore College Living Wage and Democracy’s campaign to raise the base wage, and documented that effort here.  That campaign resulted in a wage increase for the lowest-paid employees at the College.

Many corporations that pay poverty wages compensate their CEO’s hundreds of times larger than their workers. For more information, check out this article, “466 Hours of Worker Overtime Equals One Hour of CEO Pay.”

Rally participants broke into groups to distribute red flowers to female workers at four different locations including McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King and CVS.  Most folks who passed by the demonstration responded positively, and drivers honked their horns in support.

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Activists in Philadelphia Join Nationwide Protest of Low Minimum Wage

On International Women’s Day, Street Actions in Philly for Living Wage


Living Wage Lament

Rich folks have the money,
they also have control
poor folks have no money
we’re even in the hole.

We represent diversity
but we are not you’re cream
cause your diversity comes packaged
in a sales pitch lean and mean.

You keep you billon dollars
safely in the bank
no way in hell can touch it
for us who have no rank.

The future is what you talk ’bout
as if that’s all that matters,
you forget the present d’termines
who’ll remain in tatters.

We try and try to tell you
but you got blinders on.
for you can’t see or hear us
‘fraid you’re sense’s gone.

Those who toil and work
are different kind of folks
and never in a billion years
will you remove our yokes.

So it’s up to us to do it
for we must seek the prize
to get equal pay and benefits
and open people’ s eyes.

Mea Culpa: Breaking the Rules at the Art Museum

Once I thought about what I had inadvertently done, I stewed for days trying to decide whether I should write this particular blog post, admitting my mistake. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. Something internal drives the compulsion that I should never make a mistake, including following rules that benefit us all. I know, that’s sounds a bit obsessive, but telling of the level of my concern.

Back Story

One of my favorite artistic devices is the tromp-l’oeil, which is a French word meaning fooling of the eye. My introduction to this device came when I was a child and visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and gazed upon The Staircase Group by Charles Wilson Peale. As kids we always referred to it as the “painting with the step” and immediately knew the reference. Wooden colonial molding frames the painting; and an oak step, matching the color and textures of the painted steps, protrudes from the staircase at the bottom.

The painting must have made an impression as I’ve used trompe-l’oeil technique myself in some of my artwork.

Seed packets

Seed packets on a garden bench

Window Treatment

Adding a window without construction

You may have seen this device used by artists, such as Julian Beever, whose anamorphic illusions are created by a distortion that enhances a three-dimensional effect. When I read over his web page, he wrote that he worked as a street busker in various busy thoroughfares throughout Europe, practicing his 2-D techniques using pastels on sidewalks. When visiting Venice in 2008, I took this photograph. Now I wonder if this art was his.

Venice Painting

In another example, Eric Johnson, a Swedish photographer, installed a 3-D photograph in one of the main squares in Stockholm with his Mind the Step creation, which is a perfect lead-in to my misstep at the museum. On New Year’s Day I returned to the art museum, accompanying the Philadelphia Chorus, to take photographs and videos of their holiday concert. Between concerts, my son and I wandered through the galleries and came across the Staircase Group painting. Without thinking, I asked John to place his foot on the step with the idea that I would carry the illusion further in a photograph. Earlier I had asked a guard if the museum allowed non-flash photography, which is permitted.

Staircase Group2j

Reflection brings Anxiety and some Relief

When I returned home and began researching the painting, I then realized we had touched the piece, breaking the rule about refraining from touching artwork! I was horrified. What if everyone put their foot on the step? It would be ruined in no time at all. I sat in front of the computer, reading more about the painting. Had the illusion distracted me from the fact the step was actually part of the painting? According to several accounts of when the painting was first displayed, George Washington supposed tipped his hat to the boys on the staircase thinking they were really there. I read in Marcel Duchamp in Perspective by Joseph Masheck,

The main feature of Charles Wilson Peale’s Staircase Group . . . is the extreme, quasi-Dadaistic, illusionism by which the imaginative space of the picture invades the real space of the gallery: a real wooden step (now reconstructed, but originally planned) extends out from the bottom of the canvas . . . (p. 7)

Ah, was I saved by the fact that the step was reconstructed? Given that the museum places ribbons across chairs to remind visitor not to sit in the displays, I asked myself why they didn’t place a reminder note at the the step. In the book, Citizen Spectator: Art, Illusion, and Visual Perception in Early National  America, Wendy Bellion quotes a catalogue published in 1854 that recounted how viewers of the Staircase Group would place a foot on the first step. (p. 92). Well, that somewhat relieved my conscience that the urge to step was just about irresistible.

One of the web pages of the Philadelphia Museum of Art states, “let your creativity soar” but from now on, I will watch my step.

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