A Brief Trip to Philadelphia and a Book (14 cents)

It was a very brief trip.  I arrived at 10:30 a.m., and returned home on the 4:55 p.m. train.  I don’t get to Philadelphia very often, less than once I year, although it is right up the road.  And, because I find it a very stimulating place, I am not sure why I seem to stay away.

Yesterday, I went for a short business lunch (like 12 to 2:30) at the Union League of Philadelphia.  I knew it was a private club, but that is about all.  I did not know that it was in an 1862 building right in the heart of downtown, on South Broad Street, and that it is a very attractive building, inside and out.  I now know a little more about the “Union League” movement, of which Philadelphia had the first branch and one of the only remaining ones.  The Union League was started during the Civil War to support the idea of keeping the union together, of opposing secession. The Union League of New York established the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and built Grant’s Tomb and the base of the Statue of Liberty.  In Philadelphia, the League has always been philanthropic in its activities.

The Philadelphia League also owns an 84 room hotel, open to the public.  The League has  a dress code (particularly for men), where jackets are required in the restaurants (which I do not believe to be open to the general public), although the advertised code seemed to be ignored by at least three tables of men in sport shirts.  There is a lot of art on the walls, and in the main dining room of one of the restaurants (I understand there are two or three separate restaurants), there are large pictures of nude women, which makes me wonder why jackets are required.  But, there you go……

I have found that, as a rule, food in private clubs are not up to par.  The Union League was no exception.  My modest Caesar salad with salmon turned out to be fresh, but uncut, leafs of romaine lettuce sort of stacked in several piles, croutons large enough to require more than one bite, a paltry amount of parmesan cheese, and a nice large piece of salmon on the top.  But the salmon seemed to have been drenched in salt, and the Caesar dressing was on the side, not tossed with the salad.  Not very good, although I ate to be polite (and because I was hungry).

I did a fair amount of walking in a short time – from the 30th Street Station to the used book store behind the main Library on the Ben Franklin Parkway at 20th, to the Union Leage, and then reversing my steps.  The book store was fun, although it is overpriced for what it is, so mostly I looked (and looked hard), coming out with just a few books (such as a signed autobiography by the Duchess of Bedford, and the “unauthorized autobiography” of David Slavitt.)

I am always impressed that, in Philadelphia, virtually every building has something about it that makes you want to spend some time looking and thinking, and that I never have time to do that.  On the other hand, I wonder how a city with so much outdoor public sculpture, can have virtually no sculpture that it worth looking at at all.  I think they need a new way to approve their public art.

Congratulations to Amtrak – comfortable and on time both ways.  I got a chance to finish Nelly Rosario’s Song of the Water Saints, an engrossing novel of four generation of women in the Dominican Republic (spanning the 20th century), four quite different women, none of whom could break out of their seriously restricted environments, and to start Chris Bohjalian’s The Law of Similars, a mystery novel about homeopathic medicine.  I hope that the rest of the book is as enjoyable as the first 100 pages.


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