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Monday, February 06, 2006

Reality Bound

Amongst the many interesting discoveries we made this weekend during our too, too brief vacation to Philadelphia, perhaps my favorite is that the automatic sliding doors that bookend the corridors of Amtrak trains do not re-open themselves should you find yourself caught in the gap when they decide it is time to close. This is not some elevator: this is a train, by God. Instead, though you be laden with baggage and too few hands, you are compelled somehow to find some spare extremity with which to hit the large black "Open" pad. I can attest that shouting "Shazaam!" does not work. Rather later than necessary I noticed that each door has two such pads: one at elbow height, and another at ankle height; so the coach designers have clearly thought the problem through. The thick-necked conductor, too, who collected our tickets was clearly of the Ernest Borgnine Academy of Railroad Bulls, holding visibly repressed the urge to beat our vagrant skulls to mush with his trusty sap. Perhaps oddly, I find this very reassuring: for I can now say with some conviction - not, I admit, necessarily in truth - that all across the anglophone world, railways are imperiously unhelpful; from the design of their carriages and stations (escalators Up at 30th Street, but not Down) to the sullen glower of their staff. That train to Philadelphia could have been the 8.13 to Weston-Super-Mare, though the two be thousands of miles apart. This was my first venture onto an american railroad: here in Los Angeles the list of prohibitions placed upon the traveler are longer even that those at the beach, and I will not set foot upon their poxy trains if I can at all help it.

The city itself was a revelation - it is gorgeous, and filled with delights for the casual tourist. City Hall with its gigantic statue of William Penn - which, until quite recently, had to be taller than any surrounding building - built in that Parisian style that reminded me immediately of the Paris opera house for some reason (an impressionist memory that, if ever there were); and next door the exquisite Freemasons' Temple, surprisingly loud for a secret society. My poor feet, though, are blistered to high heav'n with all the walking. We spent much of Saturday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, hiding from the rain. We did not, needless to say, attempt to run the "Rocky" steps but there were - I swear - around a dozen people doing exactly that when we arrived. My only complaint of the museum itself is that the lighting in some sections was a little too intrusive, often obscuring the paintings with reflected lamp glare, but really the only museum or gallery I've found to have that beat is the Getty here in Los Angeles. What I loved about it was that through every doorway or opening could be seen some painting or exhibit, positioned as though the doorways themselves were used to frame them. This could be a standard trick across the museum world, but for the life of me I cannot say I've ever noticed it anywhere else, though I very quickly did there? I think perhaps my favorite painting was Rubens' "Prometheus Bound", if for no other reason than I have seen this in many a book, and for a rather shocking detail never before noticed by this tittering schoolboy eye? But there were many others that simply struck me, the way that some paintings just do, to stand and stare and gawp and wallow. One other curious detail - the labelling. In most cases the labels would record Title, then Artist, then Blurb: except in the American section, where the labelling read Artist, then Blurb, but with Title added almost as an afterthought to the Artist line, that I had often to look hard to discover what a painting was called?

Would we go back? Absolutely - although there are other cities and places on our list that we must visit first.

Could we live there? Well... My wife, bless her, is filled with the sun-kissed native Southern Californian's romance for Rain and Weather of all sorts; but as I've tried on so many occasions to persuade her, this is a abstract longing that is not to be confused with reality. But I could tell her of hateful rain and biting wind till I was blue in the face, it wouldn't have the tiniest impact of a couple of minutes in the real thing. So No, after all that, we won't be moving anywhere cold and rainy. Praise Be.


Now we're back, and back to the grind. I cannot promise any further posts, nor even regular visits to your own sites: the project I am engaged upon has a tiny team developing brand-new technology, and it is all consuming I'm afraid. Still: it has been very nice this popping-out to the Outside World.

1 Comments:

Blogger Cowtown Pattie said...

I have never been to Philly, but I love museums! Sounds like you had a good time, weather and all.

Good luck on your project. Sounds quite men-in-blackish*grin*

Men-in-kiltish?

6:58 PM  

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