Sunday, March 10, 2013

We Are Sailing...

I love texting.  As much as I prefer to save the word “love” for sentient beings, texting is one of those human inventions that deserves the sentiment, like inspiring fiction, life-saving vaccines and chocolate.

While John and I were away in Philadelphia last week, the periodic vibration of my phone let me know that Wonderful Jennifer, Cleo’s sitter, had texted an update and a picture of our girl, happy and healthy.  It meant that I could miss her marginally less, knowing she was having a good time without us.  Because Jennifer works at my school, Cleo was surrounded all week by people she knows and trusts.  Her best friend visited daily and her Auntie Kim took her for regular adventures in the outdoor wilderness area.  

We got a picture of her roughhousing in the student center...

snuggling in her temporary office...

and practicing her high-fives...  

We also got a picture of Cleo’s brother, Marvin, guarding the front deck...

and another after someone inexplicably nabbed him and gave him a bath.  

Jennifer, hearing him out on the deck meowing pitifully, opened the door to a desperate, sodden and bodywash-scented cat.  We all had to admit, though, that he certainly was nice and soft after he dried.

As for John and me, we had a great time in the City of Brotherly Love.  While I conferenced, he had hours of guitar time interrupted only by the hotel maids coming to clean the room.  When my sessions were over, we traipsed around the wintery streets in the dark.  I kept looking for something I recognized in this city of my birth.  Okay, sure, City Hall with the statue of William Penn at the top.  And the PSFS sign is still there, always a landmark when we drove from our house in the suburbs into the city for a show at the Walnut Street Theater.  Other than that, I recognized no landmarks.  Zippity.  Nada.  Rien.  I kept seeing street names that were familiar—Race, Arch, Filbert, Chestnut—but nothing around them rang a bell (Liberty or otherwise). 

It was two moments of epiphany and acceptance that allowed me to relax and enjoy being a tourist.  The first happened when John pointed out the taxi window at the Rodin Museum.  Fifteen years ago, during our last trip to Philadelphia, we had toured that museum.  Everything around it was different.  New buildings had sprung up to fill formerly empty spaces.  I leaned forward to the Sikh cab driver.  “This city has really changed in the last fifteen years!” His heavily accented reply: “Oh, my, yes!  It has changed in the last seven, since I started driving this cab.”  Well that made me feel better.  No wonder I didn’t recognize anything.

Then we went to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  Let’s just say, it’s not new, yet I had never been there.  Ever.  My father was an adjunct professor in the U of P Medical School, for crying out loud.  He probably could have gotten in for free.  My mother dreamed of a degree in anthropology.  Why had they never taken me there?  I wondered if my sisters had gone.  After all, they got the ballet and riding lessons that I never got.  As we stood in the stunningly beautiful circular vaulted chamber that holds the museum’s collection of Buddhist statues and artwork, I turned to John.  “What was up with my parents when I was a teenager?  Were they just kind of done with being parents?  Why did they never bring me here?”

On reflection, of course, I know where they were.  They were trying to live their lives, to earn enough of a living to put their daughters through private school and college, to take us on vacations we’d cherish and grow from, to make sense of a rapidly changing world that held in it assassinations, wars, protests and civil unrest.  They were, as we all are, simply trying to do their best.  They were hoping to live their lives in such a way that they would be loved and valued.  And who ever thinks of doing touristy things in their own town? 

It was then, standing in the U of P museum on my fifty-fifth birthday, that I truly recognized that I am not, and really never was, a Philadelphian.  I have to admit that, until my visit fifteen years ago, I didn’t know that Philadelphia is on the Delaware River.  The Schuylkill River, sure.  That one I knew; I saw it every time we drove into the city.  I was raised outside of Philly.  I navigated the Main Line often: Rosemont, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Strafford.  Even these towns I might not recognize anymore.  There is no sense of home there.  I’ve lived in California for more than half my life.  This is where I belong.

All that reflection had to come later, though, because as we stood in the museum, we both had the sudden, visceral (literally) recognition that we were feeling truly awful.  Philadelphia has some outstanding restaurants—El Vez, Cuba Libre!, several in the Reading Terminal Market.  Avoid the King of Tandoor.  Thanks to it, we spent the second half of my birthday in the hotel room, close to the, shall we say, facilities.  John ordered us a scrumptious birthday dinner from room service: a banana and a cold English muffin each.  It didn’t matter—right in that moment, I was sitting beside my best friend and true love, and the next morning we’d be getting up early to fly home.  To California and to our puppy girl.


  1. Oh yikes, I'm so sorry to hear about your gastric distress on your birthday. But glad to hear everything else.

  2. Not to worry! I had a fabulous delayed birthday dinner on Friday. Sometimes a dream deferred is even better than the original!

  3. What a treat to "tour" Philadelphia with you, and to remember exploring it with Fred well over 15 years ago. I do remember the Rodin museum from my Philadelphia summer with Aunt Dee, too. Wonderful pictures of the little girl doggie, and that long-suffering Marvin cat. Thank you for sharing and thankful to hear you recovered from your discomfort.