A Visit to Elfreth’s Alley

Years ago, I met a woman who, for a time, owned a house in Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley. She liked the house she lived in but said she never got used to total strangers peering in her front windows and knocking on her door at all hours.

As the nation’s oldest, continuously occupied residential street, Elfreth’s Alley is a tourist attraction. Not a manufactured tourist attraction. Elfreth’s Alley, located in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia is the real deal. The people who live there are not historical reenactors, and the houses are privately owned, not part of the National Park Service. I’ve always wanted to explore Elfreth’s Alley more closely, (I pass by it on the way to The Clay Studio), but I am reluctant to go snapping pictures of people’s houses without an invitation. And then the invitation came. A flea market of antiques and crafts to support the Elfreth’s Alley museum, complete with guided tours.

I was pressed for time that day and didn’t have a lot of time to stick around, but I did manage to take a lot of pictures.

Plenty to do after you’ve been to Elfreth’s Alley

A Walk to Northern Liberties from South Philadelphia

One of the best ways to see Philadelphia is to walk it. Here are some pictures I took on a stroll to Northern Liberties from my own neighborhood in South Philadelphia.

Fairmount Flea Market is Back

It was good to get outside last week, stretch my legs and attend the Fairmount Flea Market. Fairmount is a Philadelphia Neighborhood north of the Art Museum district. Fairmount’s distinctive landmark is Eastern State Penitentiary which sits on the neighborhood’s southern border. I used to live in Fairmount on a street right behind the prison. Of course, the prison was no longer operating by this time and the prison grounds were home to bands of feral cats who roamed the large expanse.

When they built the prison, it was located far outside the city in a cornfield. Now, it’s surrounded by busy streets and row houses. The prison was considered an improvement on crowded, violent penal conditions of the day. It was felt that giving an inmate solitude and opportunity to reflect would help rehabilitation. But the road to hell, so the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. And so it was with Eastern State. Solitary confinement proved to have a disastrous effect on inmates who it destroyed psychologically. Charles Dickens witnessed this when he visited Eastern State in 1842 and later wrote about it.

Fast forward 160 years and the inmates are gone. Eastern State has been cleaned up, is open for tours, and beautiful playgrounds and gardens cover the grounds where the feral cats roamed. Funny how these things work. Here are some pictures.

Speaking of cats, I met two of them on the way home and they graciously let me take their pictures.

How Irises Almost Led Me to a Life of Crime

I have always been a sucker for irises. They are my favorite flower. And of all the colors irises come in, my favorite is purple. Purple irises impede my judgment faster than a couple of shots of whiskey on an empty stomach. The closest analogy I can make is to people who turn stupid and gaga at the sight of a cute baby. They struggle to maintain a sense of boundaries and decency as they poke some stranger’s child and go kitchy-coo. I feel the same loss of control when I see a purple iris. I want to pluck it and take it hostage. I am an adult woman and these days, I manage to control myself when I see irises. But when I saw the riot of purple irises you see below during a recent walk in Philadelphia, I was taken back to my youth and recalled the time I did something that could have gone terribly wrong.

I was attending a small college in central Pennsylvania. My dormitory was next to a ramshackle wooden house with a detached garage that was not part of the college. A fence surrounded the house which had a small yard and garden. I never paid much attention to it.

But one day when I was coming back from class, there they were. The irises. Purple irises, bales and bales of them growing like crazy in the yard, under the fence and fairly stuffed into a narrow strip of ground between the fence and the sidewalk. Hundreds and hundreds of irises. I had never seen so many irises. I was gobsmacked.

I decided right then and there to liberate some of the irises. But not in the light of day-no I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to hear the disdainful clucks of any townies or my fellow students who, I felt, were so judgmental and so conservative that they ironed creases in their jeans. So I hatched a plan. I set my alarm to wake me at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning when I figured most people would be sleeping. I threw a coat on over my pajamas and crept out of my dormitory with a pair of sharp scissors, a flashlight, and a paper grocery bag. I made my way down the road and crept behind the garage where the irises where growing profusely. I knelt down and began to saw away with my scissors.

“Do you go to college here?” I heard a voice behind me. My heart jumped. It was a woman’s voice and it sounded pleasant enough, but maybe she was softening me up for the kill before marching me off to the Dean’s office where she would tell the Dean, in a shrieking and not so pleasant voice this time, what I had done. Then the Dean would call my parents. I had visions of drama. Much drama. The kind of drama only my parents were capable of. Followed by my father having a fit of apoplexy and exploding into little bits (which he never did) or screaming and threatening to write me out of his will (which he did all the time.)

I decided to play it cool, and took a deep breath. “Yes, ” I replied trying to sound as innocent as I could, trying to sound like secreting myself behind an old garage dressed in a coat and pajamas, and cutting some stranger’s flowers and shoving them into a grocery sack as fast as I could at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning was a normal activity for a college student.

I looked up and she was holding some small magazines fanned out like a deck of cards. “Would you like one?” She asked. I didn’t dare say no. “Sure,” I replied, “I’ll take one. She pulled one out and handed it to me. When I saw the name of the magazine, I knew I was home free. There would be no visit to the Dean’s office and no drama.

“I’ve heard of The Watchtower,” I said, “but I never read one. I’ll take a look at this. Thanks.”

“Do you think any of your classmates would be interested?” she asked, pressing the rest of the magazines into my hand. “They might be, ” I replied, “I can put these in the student union lounge.””Thank you, she replied, “and have a blessed day.

I returned to my room, and put my purloined irises into a jar. I can’t remember if I put the magazines in the student union building. I probably did, after my heart stopped pounding. But that is the last time I ever helped myself to anyone else’s flowers. Not that I haven’t been tempted.

Spring’s Blossoms

Every Spring for a week or so, the flowering trees in Philadelphia burst into bloom all over the city.

The view from my bedroom window

Everywhere you look, the trees are showing off their blossoms like they’re in a competition to see who can be the showiest.

The party lasts about a week and then it’s over. Enjoy it while you can.

Want to see more? Check here and here.

A Winter’s Day

Winter dumped a load on the East coast this week. I’m glad I didn’t have to be anywhere. Still, it’s fun to go out and explore.

One of my favourite murals is a snow scene!

A little South Philly humor. I have yet to meet a poop fairy.
Local basketball court under snow
Bob’s garden is closed for the winter and turtle is fast asleep in the heated Koi pond dreaming about sunny days ahead.

Mushrooms and Fairys

I’ve been seeing crops of mushrooms sprouting up in the city everywhere I go. They look like little fairy worlds to me.    Makes me want to reread The Blue Fairy Book.  You too?  You can download it on Project Gutenburg.

Remember: We’re Resilient

This is the second week that I have been “sheltering in place” with Boris and my spouse (who has been doing the grocery shopping and duly sanitizing household surfaces.)  We are probably getting some things wrong, but doing our best.

oneway

The stay home order in Philadelphia does allow residents to go outside for, among other things,  exercise so long as we observe social distancing rules.

yophilly

We’ve been having some beautiful weather here, so I’ve been trying to get out when the weather is nice.  The streets are nearly deserted.  Most of the people we encounter are cheerful and careful to keep the prescribed distance.  Perfect for an introvert who just wants to take a walk.

lombardSt
Lombard Street near dusk

Moshulu
Moshulu Penn’s Landing

turtle
Turtle, who lives in Bob’s koi pond, catching a few rays on a sunny afternoon

Boris
Boris relaxing on his cat tree with his stuffed cat, Sweetie.

Martha
I got a new hair cut courtesy of my husband, and made some masks in case friends or neighbors need them later on.

And now for some useful stuff.  Press here for information on sites offering longer free trial video streaming.  I’ve cut my cable, but I might actually try some of these.   I already have tried the live streaming from the Metropolitan Opera.  If you think you hate opera, try streaming one of the Met’s operas complete with subtitles.  For more information, press here. Or explore some  art museums online here.

And finally, a recommendation by my friend Olivia.   Even if you are a non-believer, this is sure to lift up your spirits.  We are nothing but resilient and need a reminder from time to  time.

Cats, Cups and Cutters

This week, I went with a friend to feed the cats who live in the feral cat colonies along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia.
There’s a lot of disagreement on how to deal with these feral cats.
People dump they cats by the river to fend for themselves. A cadre of dedicated volunteers trap and spay the cats, feed them and provide shelter. The cats are grateful but being ferals, they are not approachable and will probably live out their lives in the colony unless they are trapped when they are very young and can acclimate themselves to living with a human family.
And now for the cutters part-a shipment from wish.com. Can’t wait to try the cloud cutters.




And some mugs in the pottery studio. Getting back into the swing of things.
If you are interested in cat rescue but don’t have time time or resources to volunteer or foster a cat, you can still help. Press here to donate to the Stray Cat Relief Fund.

Happy New Year!

Look at these incredible rainbows I saw yesterday in South Philadelphia. May they be a harbinger of the year to come.