Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Cradle of Liberty

A friend's new car and a beautiful Saturday were two reasons to take a road-trip to Philadelphia. This beautiful city, the "City of Brotherly Love" is also called the Cradle of Liberty, because this is where our nation was formally established by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It was also the backdrop for the drafting of the nation's constitution, the inauguration of the first two presidents, and so much more. The Liberty Bell is here, and Valley Forge just a few miles away.
Our first stop was Independence Hall, where we toured the rooms where Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and all the others spent so much time forging the details of what would become the United States of America. The 18th century georgian building is now overshadowed by skyscrapers, but it remains a beautiful site nestled within the city, and is surrounded by other contemporaneous structures such as Carpenter's Hall, the Philosophical Hall, and houses where lived notable men of Philadelphia during the time of the Revolution. Across the way there is a visitor's center, where we visited the Liberty Bell, and we wandered all around, touring the various structures and soaking in the history. The day was gorgeous, and it felt good to be out walking, exploring, and discovering things about my country.

When we got hungry we headed downtown for Philly cheese steak sandwiches from a place called Joe's. Wandering through a flea market, plenty more historical streets, and a wedding just emerging from a church, we took our cheese steaks to the cemetery on the grounds of a very old church, and when we were done eating we went inside. It turned out to be St. Peter's, the church that George Washington used to go to whenever he was in Philadelphia. We sat in the pew where he sat, and learned a little bit about the history of the church. Later, we visited another church, at Valley Forge, about a half hour's drive outside of Philadelphia, famous as the place where Washington's army camped one terrible winter during the war. Once a place of bitter struggle for survival, Valley Forge now houses a museum with artifacts of the war, of native American, and of prehistoric life. There are also numerous memorials to the soldiers who lived and died there, as well as monuments to Washington, our first general and president.
One of those is a beautiful chapel, with gorgeous stained glass windows and tracery. I took a lot of pictures, including a shot of one of the windows, probably made in the 40s or 50s, when Americanization was still popularly seen as a wonderful thing. I think that nowadays, in the tide of political correctness, many might say that we ought not to enforce "American" values on others. But really, what are American values, or what ought they to be? Freedom, peace, civil rights, and opportunities for business, family, and personal growth. If sharing these values with other people is Americanization, then long live Americanization.

America has also received the reputation of being full of gluttons, which is an exaggeration, but may have some basis of truth, because when we were done wandering around Valley Forge, we headed back to Philadelphia to find some more cheese steaks! This time we decided to go where the Philadelphians go, and ended up at Pat's. The line was around the corner and down the street. Across the street, neon signs covered another cheese steak establishment called Geno's. It too had a line around the corner and down the street. Which one was better? Pat's had a historical marker next to it, erected by the city, declaring it to be the home of the original cheese steak. But the Philadelphia motorcycle cops were eating at Geno's. Hmmm... I guess it was all the neon that convinced us Pat's would be better. Surely the food could stand on its own, without shameless promotion. Pat's didn't have any neon--just a big mural with pictures of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and a sign that stated it was "King of Steaks." I'm sure Geno's is delicious, but Pat's was divine! Despite having a cheese steak for lunch, another cheese steak for dinner was amazing, with diet coke and fries to boot.
After that, the sun was setting, but there was more of Philadelphia to see. We wandered over to the City Hall, looked at giant sculptures of dominoes and Monopoly game pieces, and the Robert Indiana "Love" sculpture, among others. Downtown Philadelphia is like one big sculpture park, with amazing architectural specimens mixed in, like the Arthurian-looking Masonic Temple and amazing Art Deco department stores. As the sun set over the City of Brotherly Love, my friends and I grabbed some ice cream and headed home. Two days later, back in New York, my friend's car was stolen, and we were even more thankful that we had enjoyed one road trip while we could.

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