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

Victor’s Cafe, South Philadelphia Landmark


I just love being a travel photographer…I go in search of new and interesting people, places and things.  I always have a camera with me for that unexpected find which happened this past week.  Victor’s Cafe is a landmark restaurant in South Philadelphia.  It is housed in two brownstones located at 1303 Dickinson Street, Philadelphia and it was my first visit and definitely not my last.

Victor’s has a very interesting history :

“One hundred years ago a young Italian immigrated to America bringing with him little more than a great love for classical music and grand opera. It seemed only natural that his way of living would somehow include that love. John DiStefano settled in Philadelphia in 1908 and in 1918 opened his first business: a gramophone shop. Here, friends and neighbors came and enjoyed an espresso and spumoni while they listened to newly recorded operatic arias, symphonies and popular music of the day. DiStefano’s Victor dealership became a meeting place not only for the musically inclined but also a nexus for companionship and advice.

John often took the South Street Ferry to visit the directors of RCA Victor, located just across the river in Camden, arranging auditions and making suggestions of selections to be recorded. Because of his broad knowledge voice and vocal repertoire he earned the respect and trust of those at RCA, and established a lasting relationship with numerous budding artists, some of whom went on to musical renown.

His efforts to bring together artist and recording studio are well documented by the signed photographs and operatic memorabilia which literally cover the Café’s walls. The collection includes thousands of the family’s considerable collection of 78 rpm recordings, treasures of another era. Many discs are rare, out of print, or never published but still earn their keep. A larger-than-life replica of Nipper, well-known canine mascot of “His Master’s Voice” fame, stands sentinel at the front door, mute witness to a century of devotion to an ideal.”

Sylvester Stallone and the production crew filming “Rocky” decided this would be the perfect restaurant to transform into Adrian’s, an Italian eatery.  Throughout the filming cast and crew hung out here and it was the place to come for dinner every Saturday night.

Victor’s is known for the live performances of arias and instrumental solos which used to be performed by its patrons but now, the servers have taken over that role. Introductions were made and David Koh would be our server.  We learned that he was a doctoral student studying opera at Temple. After delivering our first delicious course, a small bell rang and Puccini would have certainly given his nod to the aria David began to sing to us…we were truly transfixed as his amazing talent  lifted us all. Throughout the meal, we were treated to two more operatic arias and while we dined on delicious homemade dessert, “Younger than Springtime” was one more gift David gave us.

I tried to be very respectful of the rule regarding no video but this was just too good !  I was grateful to receive the permission to film just a very limited amount in order to share this unique dining experience.  I would highly recommend Victor’s Cafe for a lovely, romantic dinner  as well as a wonderful evening out with friends. Experience the stars of tomorrow as they stand in the shadows of the great stars from the past…another of Philadelphia’s historic charms!

Just click on Victor’s Cafe to be treated to a bit of our experience.



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


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.

Northern Liberties

Driving along Spring Garden, I did a quick U-turn in order to get this shot. I was drawn to the colors, artwork and thought it conveyed the fun of Northern Liberties!

At the turn of the century, this area was settled by many from Eastern Europe. Presently, revitalization has brought many artists, musicians, and restaurants into the area. For the latest news from Northern Liberties, just click on the link.

Boathouse Row

Last night the weather was perfect and the moon was full.  It was a perfect June night to be down by the river at Boathouse Row.  There is a spot on the West River Drive directly across from the boathouses that provides the opportunity to pull off the road and take pictures.  I was there a little after dusk when the night begins to darken and the lights begin to glow.  A perfect time to capture the colors and the mood of an easy June weekend.