Well, had a great weekend in Philly. What a great city it is – you don’t find many cities in the US which are pedestrian-friendly – but Center City is just that. Full of colonial and Independence era history. Spent some time at Independence Hall and the building that was Congress for 10 years before the capital moved to Washington. Never quite know (as a Brit and fairly unreconstituted imperialist – ok, look, that was a JOKE – OK?) what to make of the American Revolution. I suppose I’m inclined to agree with Sellar & Yeatman in 1066 & All That that this was on the whole a ‘bad thing’ – especially because it led to America becoming ‘top nation’ after which ‘history came to a stop’. But still – I’m definitely not an America-phobe like far too many Europeans. And it was fun to sit in the original House of Representatives (see photo) and consider what a revolutionary act it was (in and of itself) for George Washington to step down from and hand over the Presidency in that very room. What head of state had ever done that before in human history as the result of a (more or less) democratic decision? In that very room, he stepped aside to give way to the newly elected President Adams as he prepared to leave the House, despite Adams objections. ‘No’, said Washington, ‘After you, Mr President’. This episode inevitably contributes to the Washington myth of course, like him telling no lies, but it is obviously irrefutable that he stepped down. And for all his achievements in life, this was surely his most lasting legacy – would that it were followed by countless leaders in Africa and across the world. (If you happen to be reading this, Your Excellency, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, then please take note.)
Anyway – it was a great experience of tangible history. Saw the Liberty Bell as well – couldn’t quite get as excited about that, despite the passionate devotion it inspires. After all, it wasn’t exactly rung at independence, so what’s the big deal? Ho hum. Nice bell though, despite the crack.
Was taken out to lunch by my awesome American godparents, and experienced a more contemporary curiosity: THE RED-HATTED LADIES. Had never come across such a thing – it seemed like a classic American thing for Ladies who Lunch – albeit quite an unusual one in that they have quite a rigid dress code – red hats and purple suits … but they seem to do fun things. It is all based on Jenny Joseph’s classic poem called WARNING, about a woman who warns her friends that after a certain age she’ll let her hair down and forget all of society’s more rigid constraints:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandles, and say we’ve no money for butter
Well, here it is – a society for women who want to do just that. Anyway this lot seemed to like my accent and so allowed me to take a photo. All quite jolly. CLICK HERE to find out more, and especially if you need to track down a local chapter to join.
Would have loved to stay in Philly but had to press on. Apart from fun and jolliness, two final things stuck in my mind from the weekend.
- bionic showers – maybe i’m deprived or something and this is something that everyone has – but i was very excited to be able to use a shower that has two different sets of jet sprays: the obvious overhead spray (standard) and the less obvious but very exciting horizontal spray aimed straight for one’s stomach (not so standard, as far as i know). It was fantastic – so strong that i was almost propelled against the back wall of the shower – but it made me wish that all showers were like this.
- sensitive rivets – or rather X-ray machines that are sensitive to rivets. All the anxieties of my previous posting about US customs seemed to prove justified. My coming through the X-ray security machines set various bleeps bleeping and lights lighting, despite the fact that i had removed watch, money, shoes, pens, phone, keys, belt, jacket etc etc – i was questioned about whether or not i had surgical implants or metal bones etc. I obviously immediately felt unsure (my instinctive presumption of personal guilt on full cylinders again), though felt that i really ought to remember this sort of thing happening to me. After being seriously frisked and checked, it turned out that the culprits were the rivets on my jeans. It had never happened to me before so i only had to assume that the machines in Philadelphia airport were especially sensitive (poor things).