Saturday, June 28, 2008

East Coast Highlights, Part One

Just got back from nine days on the East Coast; a conference in Philadelphia, a couple of day's at my sister and brother in law's house in South Jersey, and three glorious days in NYC. Here are some of the best parts:

Family! I got to check out my nephew Jay's first post-collegiate place of his own in the lovely Fairmount neighborhood of Philly. Aww.

A couple days later, there was a barbecue in Mark and Kathy's bucolic back yard in South Jersey, which brought together two of my three siblings. My brother Mark's (there are two Marks in the family) kids are brilliant and funny. Isaiah is one of few third graders who watch JFK's Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech on YouTube for fun.

Dinner with Jay and colleagues at La Viola near Rittenhouse Square. Philadelphia has a number of BYOB Italian places, and this one was loud, old-fashioned and delicious (I had the gnocchi.) Too bad I had to buy the vino at the dreary state liquor stores they have in PA, where signs admonish the customers not to give booze to their kids.

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. I love ruins, and this one was even more fascinating than I expected. Once upon a time (in the early 1800s, to be exact), Quakers thought that if people reflected on their crimes in utter solitude, it would be a good thing. They built this penitentiary, which involved a lot of solitary confinement in cells that were both gloomy and celestial, due to small skylights that were designed to create an "eye of god" effect. The prison, which is a lovely ruin now, was one of the most influential pieces of architecture of its day; hundreds of prisons in Europe and Latin America were modeled on it. Of course, placing people in utter solitude turned out to be a bad idea: it often drove people insane. If you ever get a chance to go, be sure to do the audio tour, which is voiced by Steve Buscemi.

A trip to the Jersey Shore. When I was a child, my grandparents, who we called mom-mom and pop-pop, lived at the Jersey Shore. Pop-pop, who died when I was very small, was a loving and humorous man. Mom-mom was a grim and hardworking woman, who I loved dearly, and who lived with us when she was nearing the end of her life.

The time I spent at the shore each summer provided a counterpoint to life at home with my parents. While not extravagant, mom-mom and pop-pop were seriously committed to the business of providing a good time for their grandchildren. I remember sticky buns fresh from the bakery, stacks of colorful beach towels, and glasses with cartoon characters on them. Everything seemed just a little bit expensive, unlike at home, where we drank nonfat dry milk mixed with regular, and carried frayed bath towels to the municipal pool. Sadly, mom-mom and pop-pop's little beach house has been torn down now, and replaced with a tacky monster home.

My sister Kathy and I relived some fond memories by taking a trip to the shore. Sadly, it was too cool and rainy to lay on the beach in the sun, overhearing conversations conducted in South Jersey accents and Bruce singing Jersey Girl on the radio. Instead, after a few happy hours spent outlet shopping in Atlantic City, we took a walk on the Ventnor boardwalk. The smell of the ocean was like Proust's madeleine to me.


Margie in Oakland said...

Was their house in Atlantic City? We used to go to the Jersey Shore as well..., right near Atlantic City but non-city kind of beachy place with tons of board walks, sand and sun. Great memories.

linda said...

It was in Longport. And my Uncle Tom lived in Ventnor. Ah, the shore.

Kim said...

Looks like you had a great trip and, boy, is your nephew handsome!