Yesterday, I got home from around 6:15 pm, after spending some time with a friend who is going through a sad break up. I felt a little tired and a little restless. I thought about going for a run, but my foot was still a little tender from last week’s spraining incident, and I didn’t want to push it. But I had an urge to be out, so I walked onto the sidewalk, to take some pictures of buildings for the Philly Metroblog “Where are we?” contest and to wander around my city.
I used to do this all the time, just head out with no destination and see where my whims and the streetlights would take me. I headed down Chestnut Street, noticing the details of the buildings more intensely than usual, trying to find interesting things to take pictures of. Dusk was coming on, so my first few pictures came out bright and lit with those slanty, warm rays of sun that dash through the buildings before slipping away to make room for the evening, but the rest are kind of dark and shockingly morose.
I meandered for an hour, not engaging but observing, enjoying Center City on what is probably one of the last few warm Sunday evenings of the year. I found myself walking down Camac, a little alley that is meticulously neat and still paved with cobblestones. There, on Camac, is the Philadelphia Sketch Club, an institution that my paternal grandmother (Bunny) belonged to in her youth. She was an artist, and would take the train into town from her parents’ home in Germantown to meet her friends to draw, to chat, and then to walk around to the corner to drink tea out of glasses in silver holders at the Russian Inn. My maternal great-grandmother had started the Russian Inn in 1919, as a means of supporting her family after her husband (a violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra) died from the flu. She died several years later, leaving the Inn and three young children behind. Her sister took over the Inn, while her husband’s sister took over the children. The sister, my great-aunt Sue, ran the Inn with a deeply instilled sense of drama (1233 Locust Street) until 1968. (Over the desk where I sit writing this hangs the original sign that swung from hooks over the front door of the Inn). At the time that Bunny was sitting with her artist friends, drinking in the sweet tea and the bohemia of the Inn, my maternal grandmother was the cashier at the restaurant. These two young women, both single and childless at the time, who spoke to each other in the polite, distant words required of a cash transaction, had no idea that their paths would cross again, intimately and deeply, 35 years later.
I stood for a while on Camac, soaking in memories and experiences that I did not live but have imagined with my heart and mind, and then headed home. I approached Rittenhouse Square, and from a distance, recognized a shape. It was my friend Matt, who I worked with at my last job. I always enjoy running into people, because I take it as a sign that I am on the right track, at the correct place at the perfect moment, to be granted the gift of a little sychronicity. Plus it was just fun to see him and catch up a little.
After that it was home and into bed. Pretty much, a perfect evening.
Hey Meece, I actually saw you Sunday evening as you were walking on Chestnut Street. I was biking back from Tower Records, and I saw someone looking up and taking pictures of buildings. When I got closer, I realized it was you. I was going to give you a heads up, but I was running late and you looked like you were “in the Zone”… So I decided I’d give you a heads up later.
Amazing the things you can find on just a walk around the city.
My friends and I sometimes do that. We’ll land in Philly ready for a day out in the city! But we wouldn’t know where to go so we’ll just start walking. When we end up on a corner with a red light, we’ll let the light decide for us. If its green, we’ll continue walking straight. If its red, we’ll turn. We’ll do that and pretty much it becomes second nature – we won’t even notice where we end up. We find the best places like this. Although…it could be a bit dangerous so we always are careful. Kind of.
Russian Inn. My wider family (Kirshbaum & Cohen) held an annual Christmas Party there for many years (mainly in the 1950’s and early ’60’s). I have fond memories of the place. What was the name of the founder? Also your great-aunt Sue’s last name? Thanks, Ron