The streets of Philadelphia, part 2

March 17, 2014 – Last week, I displayed photos of the streets in the Rittenhouse and Fairmount neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Today, we will venture southeast, to the old city neighborhood and Elfreth’s Alley, which completes our journey in the center city area.

Old City
Old City, a neighborhood where our forefathers walked before us, is home to the historical past of the United States. East from center city towards Front Street are the quaint side streets of the Old City neighborhood where mom and pop shops reign, and residents live in the same colonial houses that once were home to the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

In the early days of the U.S., Bread Street between Second and Third Streets, was the area of the city where the flour was delivered and breads and pastries were baked for the city. Today, it houses two blocks of loft apartments for rent. The sign below shows some of the lofts’ amenities, but there is one that has been removed as you can see in the photo. Wouldn’t it have been better to pay for a new sign? It makes me wonder what they took away.

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A view down Bread Street.

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On Arch Street, between Second and Third Streets sits the home of Betsy Ross, who is designed the American flag.

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You could argue that our forefathers were unimaginative when naming the streets in the city. Or, they were just literal. Like Bread Street above, where the flour was stored, Christ Church, oldest church in the area, sits off Second Street on Church Street.

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A view down Church Street.

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The City Tavern opened in 1773, and served the likes of John Adams, Paul Revere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the city’s most famous resident, Benjamin Franklin. It sits on Second Street between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.

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The small street that runs beside the City Tavern doesn’t officially have a name, but I’ll bet it was once known as Tavern Street.

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The Elfreth’s Alley Area
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest residential street in the U.S. Its name came from Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th century glass blower and merchant who lived there. The area was diverse; during the American Revolution, both patriots and loyalists lived on the street.

Nearly 3,000 residents have lived on this one block street since its beginning in 1702. Elfreth Alley is located off Second Street, between Race and Arch Streets.

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Stepping onto Elfreth Alley takes you back in time, unless there is a large truck in the middle of the road.

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The horse posts in front of each colorful home lend to its authenticity.

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Next Monday, we’ll continue with part three of the series, and visit University City, home to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, and Powelton Village.

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Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

downloadMovie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 14, 2014 – I have looked forward to this movie ever since I giggled through the preview for it a few months ago. My excitement was so high in fact that I began to worry if it could never live up to my hype.

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” tells the charming, funny, and often quirky story of employees and guests at a European hotel in a fictional country in the early 1930s. As with Anderson’s other films, it casts usual suspects, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman, along with the welcome addition of Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, and several surprises. Make no mistake about it though, its Fiennes film.

Anderson told Fiennes that when he wrote the part, he had thought of him. Fiennes does not typically play comic roles, so I am not sure whether it was luck or insight on Anderson’s part. Either way, Fiennes is brilliant as Gustave, the hotel concierge accused of murder. Gustave is a character similar to the witty Inspector Clouseau created by Peter Sellers for the “Pink Panther” series. Fiennes doesn’t copy Seller’s or Clouseau’s style per se, but rather captures their comic timing.

The story is nostalgic, and filled with intrigue, adventure, romance, and unexpected friendship. It’s quite European, rich with history and discontent with what is about to happen to the continent as World War II approaches. Yet the serious undertone doesn’t take away from its comic genius. It’s also visually appealing, with colorful art deco images throughout. Anderson’s work is known for its stunning detail.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a fun caper that grabs you from the beginning and keeps you thoroughly entertained throughout its 100 minutes. I’d recommend it for anyone who likes an outside of the box comedy, although I remember the elderly ladies walking out of “Moonrise Kingdom” complaining that they just didn’t get it, so Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone. The release is early in the year, which often lends to being forgotten during awards season, but this may be the one that earns him the Oscar.

Banning the ‘B’ word

downloadMarch 12, 2014 – If we’re going to ban a word, several cringe worthy choices come to mind before the word ‘bossy’.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s quest to give girls more confidence and help them gain leadership skills is a noble one, and I applaud her for the effort. I fully support any intelligent campaign that empowers young girls to strive for their best. However, when I read that she and her female power team plan to achieve this goal by asking the public to ban the word ‘bossy’ and sign an online petition agreeing not to use it, they lost me.

Sandberg believes that many young girls (and grown women) are afraid to voice their opinions because they fear the label bossy. Has bossy become a word associated only with the female population like the other ‘B’ word? Does this ban mean words like pushy, overbearing, and forceful are next on the chopping block?

When was the last time you heard the word bossy used, anyway? I don’t frequent school yards, where it’s often used according to Sandberg, nor do I have daughters. However, I was once one of those awkward girls who lacked confidence (sometimes I still do), yet I find it difficult to believe using the word is that common, or banning it would make a difference.

A ban isn’t likely to empower young girls to overcome their fear, but teaching them to face adversity and continue to pursue their goals should someone call them a negative name, may help them succeed.

The campaign encourages everyone to sign the pledge at banbossy.com. I’m not sure if only those who use the word and agree to stop should sign, or if all signatures are welcome. I think I’ll let this one pass.

The streets of Philadelphia, part 1

March 10, 2014 – Philadelphia, the east coast’s second largest city, is a locality of unique neighborhoods. In a six-part photo series, we’ll visit some of these neighborhoods and showcase what my favorite city has to offer. First up, the Rittenhouse and Fairmount neighborhoods.

Rittenhouse
Rittenhouse, named for Philadelphia astronomer and clock maker David Rittenhouse in 1825, was home to Philadelphia’s aristocracy, and it remains swanky today with pricey townhouses and high-rise luxury apartments. Some are memorized by the high-rise that overlooks Rittenhouse Square; for me it’s the quaint side streets that make the area distinctive.

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Addison Street is my favorite in the area, and was recently described by the Huffington Post as the prettiest street in the Northeast section of the U.S.

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The colonial townhouses are authentic. You can almost picture Ben Franklin strolling down the block.

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After a harsh winter, the 60 degree temperatures were a treat on Saturday. Still, the snow hangs on, which makes me believe it will still be here in June.

Fairmount
William Penn named this neighborhood right outside of center city for its “Fair Mount”, or high location view of the Schuylkill River. The neighborhood has an interesting history; it was mainly middle class through the years, and then  succumbed to urban blight by the 1970s. Today, after surviving urban re-gentrification like many of Philly’s neighborhoods near center city, it has become trendy with its exclusive bars and restaurants, and expensive apartments and townhouses.

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Green Street is one of the most charming streets in Fairmount.

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The houses for sale make me wish I had an extra $350,000 or more to spare.

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The evergreen plants on Green Street offer a little taste of spring year round.

In part two next Monday, we’ll feature Elfreth’s Alley and Old City to complete the center city area.

It’s National Cereal Day. What’s in your bowl?

downloadMarch 7, 2014 – Cereal is the ultimate comfort food. I associate its crunchy goodness with childhood, Saturday morning cartoons, and fighting with my sister and brother over who gets to read the cereal box.

The health benefits are debatable – for every whole grain variety there are probably five or more others considered pure junk food – but Will Keith Kellogg, the founder of The Kellogg Company in 1897 touted it as the ultimate health food, and he lived to age 91.

Kellogg believed his cereal was a healthier choice than the bacon, eggs, and caffeine Americans consumed, although it wasn’t easy convincing the public at first. In the 1940s, thanks to the addition of sugar and market savvy executives creating cartoon mascots, cereal began to appeal to children, the ultimate consumer, beginning a food trend that remains strong today.

Now, cereal companies face another battle, and it’s not about the unhealthy amounts of high fructose corn syrup that appear in each serving. The media revealed that Cheerios, one of the most popular cereals on the market, contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or material that has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. The public outcry made General Mills rethink that policy, and now Cheerios are produced without the genetic material. A petition, with nearly 200,000 signatures is circulating on Facebook to insist General Mills remove GMOs from all of their cereals, including Chex, Honey Nut Cheerios, Golden Grahams, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Lucky Charms.

Kellogg’s and Post will likely wait and see what happens with General Mills before they make a change. Post is poised to act first and offer a GMO-free version of their popular Grape Nuts cereal. Apparently, it’s an easier process for cereals with fewer and actual whole grain ingredients rather than the variety with lots of sugar, and artificial colors and flavors.

More than 49 percent of Americans begin their day with a bowl of cereal, and 2.7 billion boxes are sold in the U.S. every year. That is enough boxes to wrap around the earth 13 times. I’m not sure if those sales stats mean not enough consumers are concerned with the addition of GMOs, or they are uninformed because the food companies are not required to include GMO information on the packaging.

GMOs and other artificial ingredients aside, it is National Cereal Day, which makes me want a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats. Here is a look at Rankers list of the best breakfast cereals of all time: http://www.ranker.com/crowdranked-list/the-best-breakfast-cereals-of-all-time.

TCM’s 20th anniversary road show celebration

casablancaMarch 5, 2014 – Turner Classic Movies (TCM) celebrates its 20th anniversary this April. In honor of the milestone, they have put together a series of events across the country, which included a free screening of “Casablanca” in Philadelphia and 19 other cities last night.

Despite the frigid east coast temperatures, I stood in line at the Ritz East with my ticket, looking forward to seeing one of my favorites. Black and white plays out especially well on the big screen.

Released in November 1942, Casablanca tells the story of an American bar owner (Humphrey Bogart) in Morocco during the early days of World War II, the woman who broke his heart (Ingrid Bergman), and the Captain (Claude Rains), who is slightly corrupt, yet tries to keep the peace in the unoccupied region. Eerily, the release coincided with the actual invasion of North Africa by German soldiers.

The Bogie/Bergman classic has given us some of the best lines ever. Among them, “We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you kid,” “Round up the usual suspects”, and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”. Even its theme song, “As Time Goes By”, of the “Play it again, Sam variety” is iconic, which is impressive for a 72-year-old film.

The film looked different on the big screen, and although I have probably seen it a dozen times, it almost felt like I was seeing it through fresh eyes, which made me wish for an alternative ending. Alas, Ilsa leaves unwillingly with Victor Laszlo after a tearful goodbye to her true love, Rick Blaine. At the time, the ending surprised most people. A conventional ending, or one that was regarded as sentimental was the norm. Ilsa and Rick were the true lovers in the story, and a Hollywood ending would have put them together. Instead, the writers took a risk, and had Ilsa leave with Victor. It was real, it was heartbreaking, and it worked.

If it had ended differently, Bogart never would have uttered the classic line at the very end of the film when he walks away with Captain Renault (Rains). “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Exploring Eastern State Penitentiary

March 3, 2014 – About a mile or so away from the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art sits Eastern State Penitentiary.

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The building opened on October 25, 1829, and was considered the world’s first prison designed for true penitence.

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Many of America’s most notorious criminals spent time in one of the cellblocks here, including Al Capone.

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The prison officially closed its doors in 1970, although it was briefly used to keep city inmates in 1971 after a riot at nearby Holmesburg Prison.

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Today it operates as a museum and historic site, offering year-round tours. The photo above gives you a prisoner’s view of a closed cell door.

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The crowds were few at the early hour on Saturday morning, which gave the cellblocks I strolled through alone a true eerie, abandoned feel.

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After viewing the shower room, I have a new appreciation for my one and a half baths.

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Hidden throughout the cellblocks I found many nooks and crannies like this one, although I’m not sure what purpose they served.

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The peeling paint almost looks like pieces of glass on an unfinished mural.