The birthplace of modern democracy.
Philadelphia was designed with the pedestrian in mind.
There are statues everywhere and fountains dot the city’s main promenade, The Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Parkway runs diagonally across the grid streets from Town Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (site / wiki). My host, Nancy, works at the museum, and she offered to show me around. She gave me a quick overview of the different galleries and then dropped me off in the medieval armor and weapons section.
They have a special exhibition of Japanese artwork on display right now named Kano.
It’s interesting to compare what the Japanese artists emphasize in their paintings and sketches verses what I’m used to seeing out of European artists. The people in the Japanese paintings have very little emotion and their body language is similar from person to person- standing, sitting, bowing. The viewer is intended to focus on the scene as a whole “This is what it looked like when Emperor Antoku married his wife“. European paintings show figures up close to the viewer with emotions of anguish or surprise, and their body language is different from person to person with figures lounging, crouched, or leaned into conversation with one another. The viewer is intended to focus on the different individuals and their varied emotional states. “This is what it looked like when the mother learned her daughter died by plague”
In contrast to that, the animals and landscaping of the Kano exhibit have rich individuality to them. It’s never simply two ducks in a pond – It’s one duck twisting its neck around to clean its feathers, and its companion is eating lake bottom algae with its head underwater and its butt in the air. It’s never just a patch of trees on a cliff – it’s two saplings with their branches intertwined beneath a scraggly pine grasping a boulder with its exposed roots.
When speaking on scenery, the Japanese took pains to show the personality of each critter, stick, and stone, whereas European and American artists seem to use them for ambiance.
My favorite piece of artwork the museum had on display was the interior of a temple that was saved from demolition in China.
The main room of the temple was bought, disassembled, shipped, and reassembled in the museum. I don’t understand how they made it fit so perfectly, but it did. One second I was in a typical white walled museum room with glass display cases, and in the next room over was this great hall with authentic walls, columns, ceiling and massive supporting beams. The air held a woody resin smell, and the lighting was so low I didn’t notice the guard against the opposite wall until I was two feet from him. Walking into that room transported me. A 26 year old American to China, 1300 AD.
The next day I had a walk around the city.
I saw the Liberty Bell and watched some break dancing street performers. That afternoon I took a jog along the Schuylkill River Trail, making sure to finish my run on top of the grand staircase leading into the Philadelphia Museum of Art, AKA the steps that Rocky Balboa trained on. Why not, right?
Thanks again Nancy! I had a blast.