A whirlwind trip through Philadelphia and Washington, DC, gave us a piddling one day in each city but you will be thankful to know that true to form I managed a long post.
It is also worth noting our first sight in Philly was a Black Lives Matter protest – the second such protest we have seen, the first being in downtown Brooklyn. Both were in response to police shootings of young black men.
We moved on to see a Philadelphia that is historic and beautiful, navigable and a friendly size after NYC. We gazed through a window at the famous Liberty Bell, shamelessly opting not to wait in line to gaze at it in the flesh.
Highlights – all recommended by Charlie – were the Mutter medical museum where we saw slides of Einstein’s brain! Removed without his family’s foreknowledge in an unauthorised autopsy. Now there’s cheek, helping yourself to Einstein’s brain. Apparently the brain didn’t degenerate as he aged to the extent most people’s do, and several parts of it were much heavier than the lobes of his dumber peers.
Next up was Eastern State Penitentiary, a spooky ruin with a chapel-like feel. The audio tour was narrated by Steve Buscemi! This was were well-meaning forefathers pioneered the idea that constant isolation and surveillance might inspire real penitence and reformation in prisoners. This isolation and surveillance was achieved with the notorious spoked wheel design where a guard in the centre could see down all the corridors just by twirling in his chair.
The place was famous globally, but not everyone thought it was a good idea. Charles Dickens, on his famous American tour that inspired American Notes, was horrified and sure it would send people insane. Whether it did or not, eventually America proved so spectacularly good at incarcerating people, ending up a world leader (Australia ranks surprisingly much better) the one storey wheel design wasn’t economically viable, requiring too much space, and it was this, really, that led to its downfall.
But enough about culture, what about the Philly cheesesteak, you ask? We learned this glorious foodstuff should be ordered in a very specific way, and it should be bought from Carmen’s at the fabulous Reading Terminal Market, not the more famous Pat’s (unless you are drunk and desperate).
DC we felt rather sadder about than we would have two years ago. It’s all, so, well, Trumpy and that was partly why we didn’t bother with the exhaustive application to tour the White House. We kept our spirits up for the day by keeping up the mutual pretense that it was actually Jed Bartlett from The West Wing who was really POTUS.
Later we learned that that day, August 3, was actually Martin Sheen’s birthday – spooky.
Regardless, it wasn’t going to be possible to do DC justice in a day, so we didn’t try. We just gawked past the White House, waved to Bartlett (it IS him in there), then spent some time feeling insignificant at the Lincoln Memorial. We stopped by the Vietnam Memorial too in a nod to Stu’s dad’s service, a black marble slash in the ground that contrasts starkly to the tidal wave of white marble that is the National Mall.
The major stop was the Holocaust Memorial Museum, where we spent nearly five hours and still felt we skimmed it. We thought the 9/11 museum in NYC was hard; this was the worst. But we learned a lot and perhaps comprehended more than high school study can make you. Nothing makes it real like walking through a mountain of greyed shoes taken from Jewish people killed at a concentration camp in Poland, a country my grandmother fled on foot to escape the German invasion.
Or walking through a freight car in which Jews were packed into like cattle to the abattoir and driven to their deaths – if they didn’t die on the journey. Or the videos taken by liberating troops at the camps – some of which needed to be hid behind walls so children wouldn’t see – of front-end loaders pushing mounds of emaciated, naked corpses into pits.
Or the elaborate scale model, stretching across a whole room, of the gas chamber system at Auschwitz showing how they killed up to a thousand people a day by channeling them in under the guise of giving them delousing showers. This produced so many corpses they overwhelmed the custom built crematoria and had to be burnt in pits.
This was the “final solution” to the problem of where to put the Jews when other countries had failed to step up and take the flow of refugees while there was still time to save them. Including Australia, which essentially said it “didn’t have a race problem and didn’t want to import one”.
Later that same day we heard the embarrassing news about Trump’s phone call regarding refugees with Malcolm Turnbull. As I write this we have just heard the news that a young asylum seeker has killed himself on Manus Island. Seems like Australia still wants to distance itself from the world’s problems.
To move on, after the museum we were obviously totalled, so ended our tour with a stroll past Capitol Hill and an indulgence in DC’s signature food: the half-smoke, a hot dog with a half-pork, half-beef snag and creative toppings. Unfortunately no photo. It vanished too quickly.
DC, like NYC, was larger than life, another “centre of the universe” spot. But as we board the bus to a lake in North Carolina, I am ready to leave the centre – in fact, we’re excited about getting back to the middle of nowhere!
StuMobservations Part 6: Philadelphia, DC
- Philly Cheese Steaks left StuMo craving salad.
- It IS always sunny in Philadelphia.
- Some shops have power points in the floor for charging personal devices.
- In Pennsylvania, a foreign DL is insufficient ID to buy booze. Must show passport.
- Medical museums are depressing.
- So are Penitentiaries.
- So are Holocaust museums.
- So are Vietnam War memorials.
- We have a lot to be mindful of and thankful for.
- Washington subway is cleaner and friendlier than New York subway.
- If you butterfly a sausage and fold it back on itself, it stays in the bun.
- Do Presidents watch The West Wing for tips? If not, they should.
- Everything is bigger in America.
- *Blasphemy Warning* Bacon and cheese on your fries is a big mistake I’ve made twice now.
Gallery: click first image then scroll through for slideshow
What we’re reading
Em: A Tangled Web, L.M. Montgomery; Everything that Remains, Joshua Fields Millburn
StuMo: The School of Good and Evil, Soman Chainani
What we’re listening to
Music: Gurrumul, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (RIP)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire read by Jim Dale
What we’re watching
Docos! In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey