Pop art in Philly, part 1

June 30, 2014 – Pop art, or art based on modern popular culture and mass media, is alive and well in Philadelphia. In this two-part series, we’ll explore some of the pop art sculptures around the city in its downtown district.

The Clothespin; location: 15th & Market Streets
This odd sculpture, commissioned to commemorate Philadelphia’s Bicentennial celebration in 1776, is the brainchild of artist Claes Oldenburg. I’m not sure what a clothespin and the 200th anniversary of American independence have in common, but legend claims that if you look at it from the right angle, you can see a “76” in the steel springs of the pin. I can clearly see the 6, but the 7 escapes me.

clothespin


LOVE Statue;  location: 16th Street & JFK Blvd.
Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue, created in 1970, is showcased in a few American cities. In Philly, the statue sits in JFK Plaza, appropriately nicknamed “Love Park” in honor of the pop art sculpture.

love statue


Your Move; location: Broad Street and JFK Blvd.

In the pop art world, even the most common items can be interesting.  Giant game pieces, including dominoes, Parcheesi pieces, Monopoly pieces and chessmen, can be found scattered about the Municipal Services Plaza, also known as “Game Piece Plaza”. “Your Move” is the work of artists Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis, and Roger White. The group assembled the pieces in 1996.

parcheesi piece

chess pieces

iron


Franklin’s Kite and Lightning Bolt; location: 6th & Race Streets

This stainless steel sculpture of a kite and a key by artist Isamu Noguchi was created in the 1950s in honor of Philly’s own Benjamin Franklin and his electricity research. Supposedly it sits at the same site where Franklin actually conducted the experiment.

kite
Next Monday, we’ll highlight the wonderful works of art in Philadelphia’s South Street area, known as Philadelphia’s Magic Garden.

Ten quotable movie lines to use in a pinch

downloadJune 27, 2014 – In the movie “Mary Poppins”, the character Bert explains to Jane and Michael Banks that “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is what to say when you don’t know what to say. Movie quotes are always appropriate in conversation, as well, and here are 10 of the best:

1. “Be careful out there among the English.” – The line from the movie “Witness” with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis is a classic in my world. The old Amish man, Eli Lapp, says it to his family members every time they venture off Amish land, and I often say it to my son whenever he leaves the house.

2. “Toto, I don’t believe we’re in Kansas anymore.” – Who hasn’t used this quote from “The Wizard of Oz”, the very one Dorothy murmurs as she steps out of her black and white world and into living color? It might be slightly overused – all the good ones are – but it’s the perfect thing to say whenever you’re out of your element.

3. “Surely, you can’t be serious.” – We have the comic classic “Airplane” and the deadpan delivery of Leslie Nielsen’s comeback, “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley,” to thank for this gem. “Airplane” is loaded with quotable lines that work well in many situations.

4. “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” – I’m not sure when this line would be appropriate, but I had to include it on the list because it is the most hilarious and dramatic of the bunch. Patrick Swayze, not really known for his stellar acting ability, delivers this cheesy line with perfection when he confronts Baby’s parents in the closing scene of “Dirty Dancing”.

5. “Show me the money!” – Admit it you’ve used this one from “Jerry Maguire” before. Life gives us plenty opportunities to make this claim just as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character did when he negotiates a big sports contract.

6. “You can’t handle the truth!” – Like #6 above, the same is true for this line from “A Few Good Men.” I’ll bet you can deliver it as well as Jack Nicholson did when Tom Cruise questioned him in the courtroom scene, too.

7. “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” – Too bad this Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara line from “Gone with the Wind” doesn’t have the same punch that it did in 1939 when it was scandalous! It’s still quite recognizable and useable, which is amazing for a 75-year-old movie line.

8. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” – Another oldie but goodie from the movie “Casablanca” that is well-known. Who doesn’t love it when Humphrey Bogart’s Rick whispers these words to Ingrid Bergman’s Elsa? Contrary to popular believe, the line, “Play it again, Sam,” was never used in the movie, but it deserves an honorable mention as another well-used line from this classic film because everyone thinks it was.

9. “Please sir, I want some more.” – This one is best said in a British accent if you can manage it, just like in the movie, “Oliver!” Master Twist, the brave boy that he is, speaks these words to the mean schoolmaster because he’s still hungry after the pittance given to him. One-way or another, we can all relate to not receiving enough of something.

10. “The new phone book is here. The new phone book is here!” – Steve Martin’s “The Jerk” is another one of those movies filled with quotable lines. Even though people don’t use phone books anymore in this technological age, this is still one of the best used by Martin’s character, who finds out he was adopted and is on a quest to discover who he really is.

Nobody does it better

imagesJune 25, 2014 – Happy birthday to singer/songwriter Carly Simon, who turns 69 today.

The daughter of Simon & Schuster founder Richard Simon is one of the most prolific artists of our time, with her career spanning 50 years. In 1964, she began performing as a folk duo with her sister Lucy. Ever since, she’s found a way to entertain with her own style.

Throughout her career, Carly has shared her talent with people of all ages, writing books for children, and an opera, along with the popular songs that have kept her on the music charts for decades, providing the soundtrack for my life. I adore most of the songs in her mammoth collection, but lately, I am drawn to the music she’s created with other artists, where she highlights her amazing harmonies.

Here she is singing with David Crosby and Jimmy Web at a 2000 “Tribute to Brian Wilson”, singing “In My Room”. Crosby and Web aren’t too shabby either.

To learn more about Carly and her amazing career, I highly recommend two great books. The first “More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon”, was written by music journalist Stephen Davis. It is an unauthorized biography, and Carly has stated that Davis does not have his facts straight, but I found it to be an interesting read.

The second book, written by Sheila Weller, is “Girls Like Us: Carol King, Joni  Mitchell, Carly Simon – And the Journey of a Generation”, was written with Simon’s cooperation, plus it includes compelling stories about my second favorite female singer/songwriter, Joni Mitchell.

Another milestone in Beatles’ history

imagesJune 20, 2014 — As if we needed another reason to feel old comes the news that The Beatles’ film — and my favorite of all of their films — “A Hard Day’s Night” celebrates its 50th anniversary in a few weeks.

Here’s an article from “The New York Post” naming 10 things you probably didn’t know about the film. And they’re right. I didn’t know them. Not even one.

If you’re a fan, watch for the film to appear in select theaters, and to be released on Blue Ray in honor of the milestone.

While I enjoy the entire Beatles’ catalog, I especially adore this time period when they seemed innocent and carefree. The Fab Four also proved they could act, too.

If you haven’t seen this comic gem, plan to see it on the big screen if it comes to your area. I’ve seen it more times than I can count on television, but 10 years ago, in honor of its 40th anniversary, I experienced in a theater for the first time, and it gave me a different perspective. Definitely worth the price.

Orange is the New Black: Torturing myself one episode at a time

orange_is_the_new_black_musicJune 18, 2014 – Any fans of “Orange is the New Black” out there?

I am more than half way through the second season and I am still not sure if I like the show. I’m leaning towards no, I don’t care for it, but something keeps me watching.

I felt the same during the first season, and pushed through to the end anyway, certain that I wouldn’t waste my time with the second season. Yet, when Netflix released it in early June, I gave in a few days after its debut, telling myself I’ll just watch one episode to see what happened after the cliffhanger. Just like M&Ms (I don’t particularly care for them either), one led to another, and then another, and so on.

The series, about a seemingly normal woman in her early thirties from an upper middle class background, who is sentenced to a year and a half in a federal prison for a drug-related crime she committed almost ten years prior, is praised by many. The series writer, Jenji Kohan, is the same writer who created “Weeds” for Showtime, and the premise is compelling. What’s not to like?

Still, I despise the feeling of dread I have at the end of each episode. I watch slowly because binging would throw me over the edge, and affect my dreams. I need time to forget what I experienced before I move on to the next episode.

That doesn’t sound like something you want to watch on television, does it? My harsh opinion has nothing to do with the acting. These characters have fine actors playing them. It doesn’t have anything to do with the writing, either. Kohan is a solid writer, and I enjoy her other work. My biggest gripe, besides finding it depressing, is that it’s difficult for me to watch women aggressively attack each other like they were … gasp! … men.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t seem as bad when male characters act violently on television and in the movies. Could it be it’s what we expect from them? I’m all for equal opportunity, even in prison. I suppose anyone who is locked up like an animal may act the same way, male or female. It says a lot about human nature, but I expect more from women.

I’ve never spent time in prison, yet the show is believable (and racist) depicting white women having heir own “neighborhood” in the big house, and the same for Hispanic women, and black women, who’s area is known as “the ghetto”. There’s plenty of interaction between races, but when it comes to sleeping, bathing, and eating, each race stays with their own. The prison guards are also portrayed poorly, as is the assistant warden, who is as corrupt as they come, accepting government funds to upgrade the prison, yet spending the money on her own needs so she can live in luxury. I’m sure it can happen. It is, however, cliché, and seems to be written like that only to make the female criminals look less guilty, and create a conundrum about who really belongs in prison.

Bottom line, it’s simply not entertaining to watch women act like barbarians. At least not to me. If anyone who reads this enjoys the show, please comment and tell me why. I’m curious.

So, why do I continue to watch? I’m not sure. It is a question I’ll have to tackle on another day. I’m pretty sure that after this season though, I won’t watch it again. Well, maybe just one episode if there is a cliffhanger.

The lavender fields are blooming in Bucks County

June 16, 2014 – You don’t have to go all the way to the Provence region in France to experience the beauty of lavender fields. Those who live near Bucks County, Pa., can take in the wonderful fragrance at Peace Valley Lavender Farm and Carousel Lavender Farm, both located near New Hope. Here are a few photos of each farm, and some fun facts about this amazing plant.

peace valley sign

Lavender was used 2500 years ago in the mummification process in Ancient Egypt. It is also said that Cleopatra used a perfume infused with lavender to seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
It is said that Cleopatra used a perfume infused with lavender to seduce Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Queen Victoria used to require that her furniture be polished with a lavender-based solution, and she also sipped tea infused with lavender to settle her stomach and ease her headaches.
Queen Victoria used to require that her furniture be polished with a lavender-based solution, and she also sipped tea infused with lavender to settle her stomach.
peace valley shop 2
Lavender has the following properties: antibacterial, antidepressant, analgesic, and antiseptic. During London’s great plague, people would tie bunches of lavender to their wrists to fight infection and bacteria.

carosel sign

The lavender bud is covered in tiny hairs that contain the essential oils.
The lavender bud is covered in tiny hairs that contain the essential oils.
Back in the Elizabethan times, when baths weren’t common practice, lavender was used to perfume clothes and bed linen.
Back in the Elizabethan times, when baths weren’t common practice, lavender was used to perfume clothes and bed linen.
In French classrooms teachers used to crush lavender to calm disruptive and nervous students.
In French classrooms teachers used to crush lavender to calm disruptive and nervous students.

 

Yo Philly, thanks for everything

curtis-2012June 16, 2014Hot town, summer in the…suburbs? 

It doesn’t have the same ring to it as the actual lyrics from the 1960s classic “Summer in the City”, “where the back of my neck is getting dirty and gritty,” but it is my new reality.

I bid adieu to center city Philadelphia today, as my office moves to Wayne, Pa. over the weekend. Monday morning I’ll report to the new digs a little sadder for the longer commute and cookie-cutter office park with no character. I’ve been spoiled (and fortunate) to have worked in Old City these past three years, and I know it.

I worked in the burbs for years before I accepted the my current position in 2011, so I know the drill. You need a car to go anywhere, and the view is nothing but tall office buildings that seem to go on forever.

When I accepted my current position, I remember being a little leery about working in the city again, something I hadn’t done since my early 20s. Turns out, I loved it and the surroundings (Independence Hall and The Constitution Center are across the street to the east, with Washington Square to the South, and Jewelers’ Row to the west). These and other landmarks inspired me to create the blog series, “A lunchtime tourist in her own city”, and a novel entitled “Daughters of the Hall”, about the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I guarantee you that idea wouldn’t have come to me if I didn’t walk past Independence Hall every day.

I’ll miss the lunchtime walks, running to do a quick errand without a car, the photography opportunities, and the people watching. It doesn’t come any better than sitting on a bench in Washington Square and observing human nature as it walks by you.

I’ll miss all of the historic landmarks and gardens, the cobblestone streets, and the sight of a horse-drawn carriage moseying down Chestnut Street in the middle of rush hour. That always provides for a few colorful remarks from drivers anxious to get home.

I’ll miss the building where I worked on the top floor, and the lovely Tiffany mural that sits in the lobby. The Curtis Building has such a unique history in the city, and is the former home of Curtis Publishing, the company that created and distributed “The Saturday Evening Post”, “Ladies Home Journal”, and various other popular magazines. It also housed The Philadelphia Inquirer in its heyday. The building has a place in the hearts of some of my family members, as well. My mother worked for Curtis Publishing back in the 1950s, and my cousin, one of my dearest friends, and my ex-husband (while we were married) worked in the building at ARA Food Services, which is now known as Aramark. The building was recently sold, and new owners plan to convert the office space from vacating tenants to luxury apartments and restaurants.

Most of all, I’ll miss Laz Parking staff in the Curtis garage who parked my car each morning, and brought it to me at the end of the day with a broad smile. By far, these fellows are the best garage staff in the city. No matter how busy it got, they were always pleasant, friendly, and funny.

It’s been great, Philly, but as of Monday morning, I belong to Montgomery County again. Thanks for the good times.

Movie review: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

angriest-man-in-brooklyn-movieJune 11, 2014 – The cast talented – Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, Peter Dinklage, and Melissa Leo; the compelling premise – A man visits a doctor and is mistakenly told he has 90 minutes to live; and the screenplay based on the acclaimed Israeli film “The 92 minutes of Mr. Baum”. It all adds up to an enjoyable film. Or, at least it should.

I wanted to like “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” a lot more than I did. It lured me in at first, and lost me about halfway through, but I stayed with it for the 83 minutes run time. That’s seven minutes less than Mr. Altman was given before he expired, so except for a few flashbacks, the story unfolds in real-time.

The best thing about this film is the stellar cast. Only Robin Williams could play the role of a man given his death sentence with his cartoon facial expressions. They work well in this story. And who doesn’t love Peter Dinklage these days? He is fine in the film, but his character looks ordinary next to his fan favorite character, Tyrion Lanister in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Rounding out the cast is Mila Kunis, who gave a solid performance, but one that may have been just as good with any number of actresses, and Melissa Leo, another HBO alumni (Treme), who is at the top of her game in every role she takes.

Williams plays Mr. Altman, a miserable man who has lost all hope with everything in his life. His overworked doctor (Kunis), a woman with severe anger issues herself, mistakenly gives him the bad news that he has 90 minutes to live because she is pushed over the edge by his insistence on a number, and possibly due to her drug habit (she pops pills as quickly as she sees patients).

From the looks of it, everyone is angry in Brooklyn, so to label Mr. Altman the angriest is saying something. His wife (Leo) is angry, and is having an affair with their neighbor, and his son (Hamish Linklater) is angry, too and hasn’t spoken to his father in two years. Even the extras on the streets appear to be angry. Altman’s brother (Dinklage) is the only well-adjusted person in the story, and his scenes were refreshing because they provided a nice change of pace.

Was the film a comedy or a drama? I’m not sure where it fits. What is odder, however, is that it has two voice-over narrators in the story (Altman and the doctor), both who are the angriest of characters. The screen writer should heed the advice given to all new writers; don’t switch the points of view too often, or you will confuse and loose the reader. In this case, it was more annoying than confusing, but as the viewer, it did take me out of the moment when they switched.

Still, I didn’t hate the film, and found a few redeeming qualities. It is somewhat unique in the world of action movies and sequels, despite how easy it was to predict the ending. It played like a parable, a story you would tell to teach a moral lesson, and at times, perhaps it became too preachy. My first clue that the film wasn’t a masterpiece should have been that Comcast advertised it On Demand, “Same Day as Theaters”, a status no film would get if it was expected to be a blockbuster. But I’ve taken chances with these releases before and was happy with the results.

That being said, the film will most likely appear on cable within the next few months at no extra charge, so if you plan to see this one, you may want to wait until then.

The grounds of Highlands Mansion

June 9, 2014 — Highlands Mansion and Gardens, Fort Washington, Pa.

1
Minutes outside of Philadelphia’s city limits sits Fort Washington, home to several historic properties that date back to the early days of America. Highlands Mansion and Gardens is one of them.
2
The property was first owned Morris family; Anthony Morris built the house in 1794 to provide his family with a refuge from the yellow fever epidemics sweeping Philadelphia.
3
The grounds are open to the public, and the property sits at the corner of Skippack Pike and Sheaff Road.
4
After completing the property, Morris suffered extreme financial difficulties and in 1808 was forced to sell to Daniel Hitner, who then sold who to Philadelphia wine merchant, George Sheaff in 1813.
5
In 1917, two years after the death of the last Sheaff heir, the property was sold to Caroline Sinkler, a native South Carolinian with strong ties to Philadelphia.
6
In 1975, The Highlands Historical Society formed to preserve and restore the property.
7
Today, the main house is a popular location for weddings. The venue sits up to 150 people.