Because Sunshine is Free…

Greetings!

My sincerest apologies for the recent lack of content- I was traveling over spring break and then ended up with strep throat (that I’m almost sure I picked up from breathing that recycled airplane air). The good news is that I’m back and that the weather here in Philly is absolutely gorgeous. This means that I get to suggest two of my favorite activities in the world that are 100% free and guaranteed to make you feel more culturally stimulated and more connected to the city.

1) Wander. Between the biting cold and vicious winds, being outside for more than 45 seconds can be physically painful during the winter (well, maybe not so much this winter, but you know what I mean). Now that the sun is shining and things have begun to bloom, there’s no better time to explore Philadelphia. Take the subway to a stop you’ve never been to before (read as: take a subway South to somewhere you’ve never been before) and see what you find. Some of my favorite spots in town are ones that I’ve encountered by chance, whether they’re coffee shops, restaurants, or thrift stores. Tackle a different neighborhood every time- Old City (will never be prettier than it is during the Spring), South Philly (is more than just South Street), Rittenhouse Square etc. Whatever you’ve been “meaning to check out” but haven’t gotten around to- get to it now! (The best part about this is that you can grab a friend, a group, or just your iPod, and don’t need to worry about looking weird one way or the other).

2) Wissahickon Park. Despite my deep love for the city, I’m often torn by my comparable love for the outdoors. Wissahickon Park is a 1,800-acre wooded gorge that features excellent running trails, spots for grilling, a creek (yes, you can play in it), a path (for the romantic walkers among us), and a bunch of really old statues and buildings hidden throughout it. I’ve been going to Wissahickon to trail run (and rock climb, and bike ride) with my Dad since I was a wee child, and it’s easily one of my favorite places in the area. Nowhere else do I feel so encompassed by nature, and so disconnected from the outside world. Added bonus: there are highway/road bridges that run over certain parts so even though you get a nice juxtaposition of gratified infrastructure to accompany the trees, that’s pretty much the only “outside world” interference that you’ll get. I enter my favorite trails in Manayunk, which is an easy bus ride away from campus.

The moral of the story is that sunshine is free, and there’s nothing us college kids love more than free stuff, so take advantage of it.

Note: (If exploring isn’t your thing, never fear, I’ll have a specific, destination-oriented PEX activity for you later this weekend).

Time Stands Still

On Saturday, February 25, at 7:25pm, my friend Leah and I got onto the regional rail from Temple University toward Doylestown to see a play. 30 minutes later, we got off at Ambler station. Had we not taken a wrong turn first, it would have only taken us  2 minutes to reach our destination, Act 2 Playhouse.

We went inside and were immediately handed the two tickets that had been left for me at will call. We were about ten minutes late, but the show had started promptly and everyone was already seated and engaged as we were shown to our row. The theater seats 130, and it was sold out (mostly with adults over 40). Instead of making us climb over everyone, the entire row scooted down so that we could have the end seats and didn’t even glare. I was already impressed.

After shuffling around getting my coat and over-stuffed bag situated, I finally focused on the stage, and was sucked in almost immediately. First of all, the set was awesome. Set up like the inside of an apartment that was decorated by grown-up hipsters (who, instead of thinking they’re too cool to care about material objects actually don’t care and just happened to end up with an assortment of furniture from Ikea and the Middle East). My favorite touch was that the kitchen sink had running water. (The “rain” that actually left the window panes wet was a close second).

Time Stands Still is a Broadway play that is making its Philadelphia debut at Act II Playhouse before moving on to the People’s Light and Theater Company in Malvern later this Spring.

The story follows a middle-aged couple who were brought together by their shared experience as journalists in war zones. After the woman is almost blown to pieces in the Middle East and the man has a meltdown after seeing other people blown to pieces one too many times, they are forced to re-evaluate their careers and decide if documenting suffering is what will ultimately make them happiest, or if they want a more conventional life. I won’t give it away, but I will say that the story is woven together beautifully, and that the mixture of anger, angst, tenderness, and humor feels effortless and makes the two hours fly by.

As a journalism student, the heated discussions about the true merit of journalistic work hit home for me in a profound way. My favorite scene in the show, however, was the dinner party discussion about whether seeing a play about world issues and educating oneself is a valuable use of time. It was as though the writers were winking at the audience the entire time, saying, “you’re not off the hook, here- it’s not just the characters who are going to have to think about the tough questions- you’re in this too”.

The acting was well executed and the leads, Susan McKey and Kevin Kelly, looked vaguely reminiscent of Amy Pohler and Jason Bateman, which was entertaining in and of itself.

Overall, I thought the show was very well done, and definitely worth the trip to Ambler. Though my friend and I ended up making our train back to Temple, we were crunched for time at the end of the show, so I would definitely recommend getting tickets for a matinee showing and then making an afternoon of hanging out in Ambler (which is adorable).

Act 2 Playhouse offers discounts in your PEX passport, and Time Stands Still is only running until March 11, so buy your tickets now and go see the show over spring break!

Philadelphia Arts Alliance

Where: The Philadelphia Arts Alliance is located at 251 South 18th Street, aka right across from Rittenhouse Square Park. It’s a quick walk from the Broad Street Line, and particularly beautiful at this time of the year when Christmas decorations are just starting to go up.

Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for students, FREE with your PEX passport.

When: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 am- 5pm (I went at around 1:30 on a Thursday)

Who (would like it): This particular exhibit is great for all types of people. Because it’s interactive and fantastical, it was a hit with the kids who we saw there (adorable), as well as each of the people in my group, whose art experience ranged from full-blown Tyler student to a friend who was just open to trying something new.

What: The current exhibit showing at the PAA is called “Let Me Tell You About A Dream I Had,” an installation created by Miss Rockaway Armada that embodies the adage that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. PAA is all about innovative contemporary art that inspires “dynamic interaction between audiences and artists,” which this exhibit definitely accomplishes. The best way that I can describe it is to tell you to picture that obligatory scene in every movie where someone does acid and ends up at a crazy bohemian circus (when I said this to my friends they didn’t seem to get it, so maybe this only happens in the movies I watch- if so, click the link and see what I’m talking about). It’s a multi-media art environment, so you can touch things, play around, watch a movie, listen to music, go behind the creepy curtain etc. The PAA is basically a really large, beautiful house, with lots of open space that has been transformed into another world.

How (I felt about it): If you couldn’t tell from the descriptions above, I fell head-over-heels in love with this exhibit. Of all the art installations I’ve seen in my life, this one ties for first place (with Black Acid Co-Op by Deitch). Maybe I just have a thing for Please-Touch-Museum-On-A-Drug-Trip experiences, but based on the reactions of my friends, I know I’m not making up how phenomenal this is. The materials are all ordinary things that come together to be something extraordinary. It’s only here until December 30, so get there ASAP.

A quote from one of the exhibit rooms:

“Papa Beutrino: He chased his dreams and was never paralyzed by fear of what may lay in the path ahead. His boldness and bravery inspired me and many from our crew. Crossing the Atlantic on a raft made of scraps was only one of his great feats. He just did his thing.

The Love Letters Tour

What is the Love Letters tour?

I’m glad you asked! It’s 50 rooftop murals that tell the story of a man who was madly in love with a SEPTA worker, who refused to talk to him after he was sent to jail for graffiti writing. In order to get her attention, he attempted to speak to her through a series of murals along her route on the L-train.

This series was done in collaboration with Stephen Powers (a graffiti writer originally from Philly who now makes his living as an artist in NYC).

The cost is $10 with your PEX passport, which may seem steep but is well worth it for the experience. Of all the PEX activities I’ve attended since I was hired here, this ranks in my top three. I’m a sucker for art, culture, graffiti, and romantic gestures, so this one hit all my soft spots.

Hints:

I definitely recommend bringing a companion for this one, since the romantic nature of some of the murals could be a little depressing if you’re by yourself. The tour moves quickly and many of the murals are hard to see, so bring a camera but don’t be attached to the idea that you’ll be able to document the entire journey. Also, avoid drinking too much before you go, as bathrooms will not be easily accessible during the 90-minute tour (a lesson I learned the hard way).

For departure information and other tours, visit the mural arts website.

Special thanks to the Mural Arts Program for comping me tickets and to the owner of the pharmacy next to the gas station outside of the 63rd street L-train stop who let me use his private bathroom.

Alone at Eastern State Penitentary

I’m going to preface this by saying that this would be an awesome date location. Since, however, I’m currently single and had no friends available to strong-arm into going with me, I ended up on an excursion to the very famous, very sinister, Eastern State Penitentiary all by my lonesome.

In case you weren’t aware, Eastern State pioneered the system of solitary confinement based on principles and penitence rather than punishment. Operational from 1828 until 1971, the prison is built like a castle, and is currently being kept as a “stable ruin,” such that it maintains its dilapidated charm while remaining structurally sound. Eastern State has housed numerous famous criminals, gangster Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton among them. The design for the building was chosen from a $100-prize contest and was the largest and most expensive public structure to date at the time of its construction.

The model for some 300+ other prisons worldwide, getting to tour the facility and actually sit inside of the cramped cells was an excellent motivator for me to avoid getting sent to prison. Equipped with a bed, a toilet and a skylight that was designed to allow prisoners to “let God shine through” as they thought about their crimes, these rooms are creepy, and require stepping over the doorway to enter, almost as if prisoners are in display boxes (without glass doors).

On my tour, I was given a headset and a map and was encouraged to explore the grounds. Going out of order, I found a number of cool sites. Art installations are incorporated throughout the prison, and provide interesting commentary and insight into prison life, how we view penitence, jail crimes etc. I had the pleasure of going on a five-minute mini-tour during which my guide showed me instances of grafiti or “inmate art” hidden in one of the cell blocks.

Of all the places I visited at Eastern State, the only one that truly made me shiver was the “hole” or punishment cell. When I walked in, I could feel suffering and suddenly found my heart feeling tight and my breath getting more shallow. I can’t quite describe what was so creepy about the experience, but I can tell you that I bolted out of there pretty quickly (did I mention that this is a great date location!?).

I definitely recommend this spot. The best ways to get there are either via trolley or bike (the latter if you can) which are both cheap and time-efficient. Also, Fairmount is a really cute area to hang out in- peppered with lunch spots and an adorable bookstore across the street from the prison, it’s possible to visit for an hour or a whole afternoon.

Moral of the story? Go there!

Note: I’m going back for Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State’s famously freaky Halloween tour. Anyone interested in joining me can contact me at vmarchiony@temple.edu. Also, I apologize that there’s no video to accompany this post. My beautiful flip cam ran out of battery ten seconds after I arrived. Story of my life.

National Constitution Center

Hey there, history fans- this one is for you.

If you make it through four years of college in Philadelphia and don’t make it to the National Constitution Center at least once, you have done something terribly wrong and should plan on moving to Canada because you clearly have no interest in your nation’s history. (How’s that for incentive?)

Aside from being a right of passage, (and being really easy to get to via subway) the NCC actually has some cool stuff. With a ton of permanent exhibits and feature exhibits, you’ll get a huge dose of history from all over the world (Diana and Napoleon are featured right next to George Washington) in what is likely the most engaging format you’ll come across.

Since the NCC is a huge deal, they get huge endowments, meaning that they have money to spend on things like enormous interactive exhibits, a movie theater, special events (and have you seen how gorgeous that building is?).  An added bonus to going soon is that Independence Mall is beautiful, and the perfect place for a picnic (coughdatecough).

Highlights (for me) going on right now include the “Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America” as well as Posters for the People: Art of the WPA”. Check out everything else the NCC has going on here.

Get your geek on, Temple.


Art Museum Part 2

I recently dragged my mom to round two of the Philadelphia Art Museum and I am sad to say that this excursion was significantly less impressive than my previous one. I went specifically to check out the “Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art” exhibit because it boasted work by my all-time favorite artist, Barbara Kruger.

Though the exhibit was designed to cover all social-political issues in the last 40 years, it lacked a distinct message, which made the pieces feel disconnected and the “meanings” behind the images contrived. Without proper context, a portrait of a gay couple performing fellatio is less a powerful statement and more pornographic. If you’re not an obsessed Kruger fan like I am, I wouldn’t bother make the trip.

Other exhibits on display in the Tuttleman building are “The Peacock Male: Exuberance and Extremes in Masculine Dress” and “Collab: Four Decades of Giving Modern and Contemporary Design“. The former boasts an array of flamboyant articles of clothing ranging from beautiful ivory vests to Phillies tracksuits. The latter exhibit is kind of like going through a high-end Ikea showroom. Though it was an interesting visual experience, unless any of these exhibits fall under the umbrella of one of your specific passions, I would recommend satisfying your curiosity with photos in the gallery below.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens…

Are magical. Like, Narnia levels of magical. Located at 10th and South streets, the magic gardens represent the artistic authenticity that gives Philadelphia its signature feel. Impossible to walk past without noticing, the “gardens” are actually an outdoor labyrinth of elaborate mosaics designed by local artist Isaiah Zagar. His pieces can be found all over the city, but the gardens are entirely dedicated to his work. Comprised largely of “found” objects, the experience of visiting is overwhelming in its beauty.

The mosaic work is intricate and gorgeous- there’s no boring place to look. From bicycle tires to mirrors and tiles, I could probably visit every day and find something new to stare at. Open every day and at a discounted rate of $3 with your PEX passport, this is definitely one of my favorite PEX experience so far. A short walk from the broad street line, the gardens provide as many minutes of entertainment as you feel compelled to spend. When you’re finished, you’ll find yourself at the outer center of South st., one of the most interesting, fun and culturally vibrant places in town.

With so much winning in one experience, this is a Philly must-see.

Philly Loves Really Old Houses

Ah, historic Philadelphia, how I love thee. Unless they touch a particular nerd button in you, these landmarks in Philly probably won’t do much to get your heart racing with excitement. They are, however, a perfect afternoon stop when you’re wandering the city during the summer with a friend significant other. Free with your PEX passport, historic, beautiful, free, convenient, and free, you’ll feel smart and cultural, and it’ll only take about 20 minutes. Big win, right?

Physick House, 321 South 4th Street.

Built 1786.

Inhabited by Dr. Philip Syng Physick, the “Father of American Surgery” and family from 1815-1837. Dr. Physick was cool because he…

  • Stayed in the city during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793
  • Was one of the foremost lecturers of his time
  • Pioneered use of the stomach pump, autopsy, and numerous surgical instruments and operative techniques

Only free-standing federal townhouse remaining in Society Hill.

Contains a large garden that includes a winding path, grotto and classical sanctuary.

Period room displays as well as second-floor medical museum.

Open year-round. No reservations required (though it is recommended that you call ahead if you’re going on a Saturday)
Tours are given Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12-4 p.m., Sunday from 1-4 p.m.
*Other Philly landmarks (really old houses) in your passport are Powel House, Grumblethorpe and Waynesborough

Capucci Exhibit (Philadelphia Art Museum, 2)

Who: Roberto Capucci, Italian haute couture fashion designer

What: An enormous exhibit (the first in the U.S., might I add) dedicated to his 50+ year career as an international leader in fashion and design.

Why: Capucci is a notorious pioneer for fashion, and his clothing has evolved from wearable yet creative garments, into sculptural masterpieces of fabric that were never meant to be worn.

How (was it?): The exhibit itself was amazing, and the guided tour (headphones) provided fascinating information about his life and journey as an artist, as well as the social and political climate at the time. The evolution of his work really came to life when put in the context of what was going on in the world during each period.

The exhibit has officially closed, but I would urge you to check out Capucci’s work if fashion is your thing. Seeing how even amidst gorgeous haute couture pieces the styles of each decade were able to shine through was absolutely fascinating.

If you’re interested in a more “serious” fashion-oriented evaluation of the exhibit, check out the Drexel’s Design & Merchandising Blog post about it.