After the Wreck of Amtrak 188

“How good this week to be reminded how beautiful and alive Philadelphia becomes this time of year.”

Yesterday, driving home from Jersey, John and I stopped by the neighborhood where the Amtrak wreck happened here in Philadelphia. Naturally the cops wouldn’t let us close, but we could see a huge crane arriving on the rail line to move away the damaged cars. Such a sad, neglected area of the city that is. Everyone in the media calls it Port Richmond, but John tells me that little neighborhood is really Harrowgate, centered on the church there, St. Joan of Arc, now closed (that’s how Catholics measure boundaries in this city–by its churches). Harrowgate’s cut off on its own by the El and the NE corridor, sort of like Devil’s Pocket in South Philly. (See the pic below; Harrowgate is circled in yellow). Harrowgate isn’t just weeds and cracked sidewalks, it’s also roofs falling down, houses boarded up–more than the usual grit and grim. But it’s about community, too. Poor blacks and whites and hispanics talking on stoops, their kids playing in streets still roped off by yellow Do Not Enter tape. I understand many of the people in Harrowgate helped the victims right after the wreck. National media didn’t report this, but local media did. The city should use this moment to do something good for that little neighborhood. I think the people deserve it. If you read the Inquirer story, below, you’ll find their lives are in stark contrast to the more-monied people on the train.

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This afternoon John and I went two blocks over to the Italian Market to buy food for dinner. That didn’t quite happen. The Italian Market Festival was going on. Every year there’s a Procession of the Saints and the streets fill up with Italians welcoming home relatives, as well as big crowds of the Mexicans and Asians who have arrived here more recently. Black folks, too. And Indians, and foreign tourists. Friendly hipsters with lumbersexual beards and serious neck tattoos. Lesbian couples groovin’ to the DJ playing The Electric Slide. Where else but the Italian Market Festival can you get an old-fashioned sausage and peppers alongside new culinary mashup like a chicken tikka quesadilla? Or rum drinks sipped from real pineapples? Or artisanal honey flavored with chocolate and habaneros?

The Festival is huge this year, larger than I think I’ve ever seen it, stretching up to Fitzwater and down to Federal, with dancing areas and music stages at the intersection of each block. I’d expected to see political candidates glad-handing the crowd in advance of Tuesday’s primaries, but no. Started in ’71, the Festival predates Rocky Balboa and ties in with First Holy Communion at St. Mary Magdalen De Pazzi, where the Procession of the Saints begins after church on Sunday. There’s no longer il palo della cuccagna, the climbing of the greased pole, which once stood 25 feet and was topped with prizes of money and slabs of meat. Yet still the festival is about food, food, food. And music. And laughter. And drinking with friends.

As the rain held off, everything seemed an extra delight. Who cared about the oppressive humidity in the air? In Molly’s Books & Records I watched a family of French audiophiles delight in snapping up a hundred bucks of vintage American vinyl. In the bar John and I sometimes frequent for Bloody-Mary-and-eggs-Benedict brunches, I talked to a young Bucks county blonde about which Philly neighborhood she should move into now that she’s considering her first big city apartment. Down past Washington Avenue, where cheese shops and fruit stands give way to taquerias, John and I dodged cellphone marketers and wobbling beer drinkers. A Mexican woman mixing tequila drinks in the heat shot me a drowsy smile when our eyes caught.

John made me laugh and he made me dance. How good this week to be reminded how beautiful and alive Philadelphia becomes this time of year. I love this city even when it breaks my heart.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/The_wreck_of_Train_No_188.html

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