Philadelphia Has Another Number One!

We arrived at 4:45 pm thinking that would be just fine. It was a gray day with the type of cold that goes right through you and takes up residence. Of course, no one would be standing outside in line! Oh so wrong! There were 6 people in line ahead of us and they arrived before 4:30. I guess when an eatery receives the anointing of “The Best Pizza in the United States” – yes, the entire United States, from Bon Appetit , bad weather doesn’t stop pizza aficionados. My curiosity and craving had to be vanquished. With the best that close to me, how could my friends and I resist?!

Now Pizzeria Beddia has some unique qualities…it is only open Wednesday thru Saturday from 5:30 until 10:30 or until Joe sells out of his 40 pizzas each day. Customers line up in close quarters at this tiny corner mecca and can choose from 3 variations…plain ($20.), seasonal($25.) and spicy ($25.)! Each person may only buy 2 at one time in order to be considerate of all the stragglers standing out in the cold who didn’t plan ahead! By the time we made it to the number one spot (5:45), we were told to come back an hour later. At 5:30, Joe, the chef extraordinaire, began to make and bake each pie individually so wait we must. The good news is that Fishtown, that part of Philadelphia named in the 18th century to honor the German-American fisherman who made their living from the shad of the Delaware River, has gone through a resurgence of “cool”! Philadelphia Magazine provided a must see guide to explore during the wait. A rum distillery right on site with French Press, Chemex and Yama Silverton coffeemakers are just some of what makes La Colombe a fascinating space to be in. It was one of those places that when we were leaving, we had already started to talk about coming back!

The time 6:45! Three large pizza boxes were right there for us but since there was no place to sit, nothing sold to drink, our taste test had to wait. I think they call this, delayed gratification! Anyway, at a little after 7 pm, I finally was able to enjoy the absolute best pizza in the United States! Now to be fair, there are still a few states I have yet to visit and I know I am a born and raised biased Philly girl,so I can’t say with total certainty that it is pizza supreme, but this alchemy of dough, sauce, spices and cheese was definitely worth the price and the wait! I will be back, but in the spring with more than just the IPhone camera!

The Master Chef

The Master Chef

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Rum At Its Finest

Rum At Its Finest

Japanese Tanabata

Tanabata Festival

Tanabata Festival

According to legend, Orihimi (weaving princess) wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (The Milky Way, “The heavenly river”) but was so sad because she could never fall in love and marry. She had to work day and night. Her father took pity on her and introduced her to Hikoboshi (cow herder star) who lived and worked on the other side of the river. They fell instantly in love and became husband and wife. Orihimi no longer wove for her father and her husband allowed all his cows to roam all over heaven. Tentai, the father, was so angry, he separated the two lovers across the river. Orihimi was so despondent at the loss of her husband but her tears moved Tentai to acquiesce and allow the two to meet but one day each year. On the 7th day of the 7th month, if she finished her weaving, Orihimi and Hikoboshi would be reunited. But since every good story/legend has more than one conflict, Orihimi and Hikboshi found no bridge to cross the river. The young bride cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata (the 7th day of the 7th month), the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.

In Japan, people celebrate this day by writing wishes on small pieces of colorful paper known as tanzaku and hanging them on bamboo with other colorful decorations which is known as the “Wish Tree”. Long streamers with Tanabata star ornaments and paper cranes are hung for good luck.

In Philadelphia, in the midst of city noise and frenetic movement lies a serene sanctuary that should not be missed. Philadelphia Magazine named Shofuso Japanese House and Garden the best hidden tourist attraction in this city of “Brotherly (and sisterly) Love”.Shofuso in its present incarnation was built in Nagoya, Japan in 1953, using traditional materials and techniques, exhibited at MoMA as part of “The House in the Museum Garden” series and moved to the temple gate site in Philadelphia.

Three traditional types of Japanese gardens comprise a 1.2 acre site: a hill-and-pond style garden which is intended to be viewed from the veranda; a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden in the style of an urban 17th century Kyoto garden; and a roji, or tea garden, which is a rustic path to our tea house. Visitors can immediately feel the expansive and collective “Ahhhhhhh” as they dwell in pristine beauty and elegant simplicity of design and style. This past weekend, Shofuso celebrated Tanabata with families by sharing the legend and having old and young create colorful wishes to decorate the bamboo trees. It is fascinating to take time out to become immersed in another culture and another world. I am presently working on a series of short videos highlighting out of the way and interesting places Philadelphia has to offer and I can’t resist the opportunity to return for the the tea celebration this weekend …let’s hope the sun shines on the 7th day of the 7th month so that the magpies can work their magic for Orihimi and Hikoboshi!

Japanese Gardens

Tanabata Festival

Tanabata Festival

Japanese Legend

Japanese Legend

Japanese Garden

Japanese Home

Come and Visit

Japanese Beauty in Simplicity

Summer Days and Farmer’s Markets

Maple Acres Farm Market

Maple Acres Farm

Think fresh. Think vibrant colors. Think delicious and homemade. Think your local farmer’s market. I love to make weekly visits and come home with food that explodes with flavors. One of my favorites is Maple Acres Farm Market. It all began in 1912 with Millie McKeown and her husband on 12 acres of land and a little farm stand. Over the years, it has grown to 30 acres and is still family run, just the nicest people to stop and talk with. Right now they have fields and fields of multi-colored zinnias. The fields and the family just call out to let people wander through and cut their own fresh flowers (without having to do any of the gardening work!). Today I left there with fresh blueberries, a sweet, sweet golden watermelon and 45 fresh cut flowers all for just about $15.00!

My other favorite spot to visit after kayaking in Bucks County, Pa is Tabora Farm and Orchard. I would highly recommend their fresh baked goods but this is the only spot that I have ever found which sells the best homemade lavender ice cream.

Tabora Farm and Orchard

Tabora Farm and Orchard

Tabora Farm and Orchard

On these lazy, hazy days of summer, I so appreciate all those who work so hard to cultivate the land and bring forth the delicious and vibrant gifts of summer!

Woodlands Cemetery and Mansion

The Woodlands _MG_6496

It is summer with red roses all around me  but until yesterday, I had no idea that the person who brought the red rose to the US lived right here in Philadelphia.  William Hamilton inherited 356 acres of land in West Philadelphia in 1766 and I made a visit to the venerable property yesterday in anticipation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book,  “The Signature Of All Things” (but more of that later). Erica Maust is the Program and Communications Coordinator and Jessica Baumert is the Executive Director and they could not have been kinder in sharing their vast and oh so interesting knowledge of the man, the mansion and the cemetery. (How wonderful to meet you both!)  Mr. Hamilton amassed over 9,000 species of native and imported plants in America…the rose, the hydrangea and the ginkgo biloba plant are just a few. He had friends in very high places and Thomas Jefferson made sure that he was one of three who were able to procure the seeds brought back by Lewis and Clark.  Sadly, with no children, his nieces and nephews were unable to afford the upkeep after his death in 1813.  The property was bought by The Woodlands Cemetery Company with the purpose of preserving this beautiful and scenic building and land in 1840.  Park like green space remained in the midst of a rapidly developing urban neighborhood.  Today, one can walk along the meadering pathways seeing the graves of notable persons, unique monuments and rare and unique trees in the arboretum. I visited the final resting place of Francis Drexel, as in Drexel University, Thomas Eakins, as in the painter of “The Gross Clinic“, Joseph Campbell (yes, those delicious soups!), Jessie Wilcox Smith as in the famous illustrator of children’s books and so many more with a weathered gravestone serving as the touchstone to once vibrant lives.  The largest funerary obelisk in the US stands so tall among the trees and marks the grave of  Thomas Evans who was Napoleon’s dentist  and the founding force behind the University of Penn Dental School.  Trust me, it is so easy to find!

And now,

“The Signature of All Things: A Novel” by author Elizabeth Gilbert will be coming out on October 1st. The story spans the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with one of the main characters becoming a gifted botanist, According to Amazon.com , “It is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.”
Elizabeth’s research took her to this mansion in Philadelphia. Since I am anxiously awaiting the release of this novel, I thought I would make the same visit and see what I could discover.   In order to capture a bit of this historical site with mood, I used the vintage movie camera app.

Also, if you visit and take this fascinating walk back in time and become very hungry, I would echo Erica’s and Jessica’s recommendation to eat at the “Gold Standard Cafe” right down the street – delicious food with the owners dedicated to enhancing the community.

Today, the cemetery, mansion and landscape all form The Woodlands National Historic Landmark District…”a site where Neoclassical and Victorian ideals coexist to create a visual, living history of Philadelphia and the United States.

 

Philadelphia: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Drive Into The City

Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia Graffiti

Philadelphia Graffiti

Philadelphia Graffiti

Philadelphia Graffiti

IMG_2335

Baltimore has the Inner Harbor. New York has the High Line. Providence has Water Fire. On a recent drive down to the Philadelphia waterfront, the conversation centered on all of these other areas. There was a yearning, a longing from us all for so much more in our hood. The above mentioned cities all exhibit a cohesive, clear vision in city planning that Philadelphia is definitely lacking. First off, I95 runs right next to the waterfront, cutting it off from the city proper. There are parcels of land which are walkable and lovely. There are sections where restaurants have set up shop to buttress a few hotels, a casino and a skating rink but next to these wellsprings of life, lies abandoned factories and this decaying open air building that we stumbled upon which is surrounded by the water on three sides. The local graffiti artists have obviously found their canvas for expressive color and creativity but our city planners have yet to bring their creative talents to this prime waterfront property. We cannot be complacent with abandoned crumblings which speak of demise when we don’t have to look very far to find excellent models of vibrancy.

On a positive note, Philadelphia beat out NYC for America’s best coffee shop! US Today declared the Ultimo Coffee Shop as number one in the United States. After photographing the graffiti mecca, it was the perfect spot to bring the day to a close.

According to the news article, “We scoured for the best independent coffee shops and chains that have changed the way we drink coffee. Our criteria? The best quality in coffee and food, atmosphere, customer service, and the “unique” factor. (Case in point: a DeLorean car in the back of one shop. You just can’t top that.) We then asked our coffee experts — coffee bloggers, roasters, shop owners, baristas, and educators — to nominate the shops they loved. Our panel then voted on a list of nearly 150 coffee shops from coast to coast. In the end, we narrowed down our list to the most highly ranked (and most talked about) 33 shops and chains that are riding into the fourth wave of coffee and beyond.”

Maybe the city planners could meet here for some coffee before their next meeting to get into the energy of being number one.

Chinese New Year 2013

Philadelphia's Chinatown

The Friendship Gate

Woman in Waiting

On His Father's Shoulders

Store Owner Hoping for Good Luck

Lettuce, Red Envelope and Explosions

Preparations

Hoisting Up Hopes

Reflections

Mirror to Scare Away Evil Spirits

Little Buddha

Little One

All Set and Ready to Go

Going for the Riches

Explosions and Movements

Bringing in the New Year

The Crescendo

End of the Party

Firecrackers exploding to scare away evil spirits, lions dancing, the rhythmic beating of drums and lettuce symbolizing prosperity…The Chinese know how to do it so well; celebrating the New Year over 15 days and inviting everyone to join in this huge feast! February 10th was the start of grand scale festivities with the annual Lion Dance which dates back thousands of years. This creature signifies courage and stability. A mirror is placed on the face of the lion so that evil spirits will be scared by their own image and disappear. The movement of the tail sweeps away bad fortune. A procession starts at the temple and proceeds through the streets, going door to door to each business. Buddha teases the lion while gongs, drums and cymbals spur this massive animal on as it moves in a zig zag pattern (since everyone knows that evil spirits walk in a straight line)! According to Nations Online, “The dramatic climax of the Lion Dance is the “Cai Qing” or ‘Picking the Green’. The green refers to vegetable leaves which are tied to a piece of string which also has a red packet attached containing money. The string is hung above the door of the business, shop (or home), and the lion ‘eats’ both, the leaves and the red packet. Lying on the floor the leaves are ‘chewed’ by the lion while the musicians play a dramatic rolling crescendo. The lull is broken as the lion explodes back into activity, spitting out the leaves. This is a symbolic act of blessing by the lion, with the spitting out of the leaves signifying that there will be an abundance of everything in the coming year.
A shop, business (or household) being visited by the performers of the Lion Dance will have good luck in the year to come.”

May that be for us all!

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia






I am presently working on a video focusing on the Masonic Temple located at One North Broad Street. Philadelphia is known as the mother city of Freemasonry in America and this architectural marvel is “unlike anything else in the nation or the world, according to architects and artists.” The entire temple is a tribute to the Master Builders yet each only provided one mark of identification – a thumb print which when combined add to the entire aesthetic vision. The unique designs of the lodge rooms speak in the language of architecture from Egypt, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Scotland and England. The library and museum have one of the finest collections of Masonic treasures and artifacts in the world. One can see the Masonic Sash worn by Benjamin Franklin when he was the Worshipful Master and the Masonic Apron
of George Washington. A visitor cannot help but be so struck by the beauty, intricate details, rich historical information and the commitment of this brotherhood to the four cardinal virtues- temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice.

Shaping and Capturing the Light



Several weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the presence of greatness.  I spent the day with David Tejada in one of Philadelphia’s “must see” sites – The Eastern State Penitentiary.  David is truly a master of lighting and he developed a workshop entitled, “Small Strobes, Big Results”.  Exploring spaces of muted peeling paint, texture and historical character in each cell with vaulted sky lit ceilings, David shared his expertise in controlling, modifying and shaping the light using only small strobes.  Along with the faint voices of the prisoners past, one could hear the collective sigh of relief that amazing results could be achieved without having to carry huge lighting equipment!  Three to four small strobes attached to a hot shoe with a pocket wizard coordinating the firing served to create the big results David promised.  The goal of every photographer is to continually become more attuned to the light and at the end of this day, our goal had been achieved.

To see more of David’s work, visit www.tejadaphoto.com   
Belito Garcia was the model in the photo above.  His entire presence was one of strength, character and intensity…what a pleasure to work with him!