Before I even been there, I have a good feeling about this city. According to my prejudice, most North American cities are completely exchangeable, given a few exceptions (N.Y., S.F., and New Orleans), though somehow I have got a positive feel for this town. The movie with its name was brilliant, even the title track by Bruce Springsteen was worth it and I once I saw Boudewijn Buch one of my favourite Dutch authors, do an excellent tv-show on the city, this should be enough for the 28 hours I intend to stay here.
The first impression is good as well. Even the lady at the counter told me she wasn't on duty yet, she did take time to explain exactly where I had to go with my backpack and what I would like to see. The independence area was the most interesting. She was right. 2 hours later I had walked through it, read all the signs, explaining a lot of the backgrounds, seen someone put a flower on a commemorative sign where JFK once held a famous speech and I had done the guided tour through Independence Hall.
Especially that tour was worth the effort. According to the guide, an army professional who played a sort of question and answer game with his audience, this was ‘the most historic room in the most historic building in the most historic square mile in the history of the United States of America’. He definitely knew what he was talking about, was witty as well and told us all details of the signing of the ‘declaration of independence’ and ‘the constitution’ without becoming boring in the meantime.
The city does not seem very big at all and has a European atmosphere. Not all houses are brand-new, not everyone is in a hurry and the harbour decided where the old town started. Philadelphia breathes history, something lacking in nearly all other cities here. Only the next day do I realise that there is a different Philadelphia as well. Walking out of town center in a different direction, I suddenly find a very American town. One with big buildings and people rushing. A completely different Philly from the one I encountered yesterday.
This is a city with two faces. In the old town the pizzeria is called Luigi and Rocco. In the new one one finds Pizzahut. The profession opposite the distributor of food. Opposing the houses (especially in the harbour region one could easily consider one self in the United Kingdom, even the Christmas decorations are on the outside of their houses) in the old town are the flat buildings and office towers of the new city Instead of a real shop, one belonging to someone who learned a trade, you'd see branches of big chains, where exchangeable employees with nametags earn a living. Cars are not parked on the side of the road, but drive around, six lanes at the time, on their way to a suburb or the opportunity to gain a place in one of these suburbs someday.
In the shop at the church the volunteer takes time to help you, she tells about the church itself, the town and asks about the rest of my journey. Drops in a few hints for Baltimore as well, the city she is from herself. Someone, who would be in the organisation of rural women, had she been Dutch. Just a tad too curious, just a bit too friendly. However, all from a good heart. At Dunkin' Donuts the guy at the counter is so incredibly fast that it is my turn, even though I am standing on the second row, the first row is being served already, but is still busy putting away change or hide the donuts in their briefcase.
In the old town you'll meet the homeless. One with a big shopping bag on his regular seat. Another is reading a book, sitting in the rain. The water doesn't hurt him. It is not cold, and nobody wants to read the book after him anyway. Outside Burgerking, another is almost too lazy to ask for change. He just about manages to utter the word when someone walks past him. He can't be bothered to use a full sentence anymore. Only when the police appears you can see him move, then again 2 minutes later he reassumes his position. In the mean time in the new city, they are shooting with Mickey and Mini Mouse. Obviously, Goofy is there as well. Standing in front of a fountain, they have to wave enthusiastically towards the camera. They are shooting for Christmas obviously. They have to shoot again as two mentally handicapped Goofy supporters wave back, while shouting out his name. The cameramen looks a bit disturbed towards the couple, but they are having the times of their lives, seeing their idols!
The biggest difference I encountered, where some of the shop windows I saw in an old building, near the harbour, is a bar that's never open. At least I never saw it open. Two artists get the chance to use the window for their work. One chose to provoke a bit. A couple of hundred Polaroid's are spread out, waiting for a reaction. Men in women's underwear, a close up of a nipple, a piercing, two people kissing. A mile further down the street the window of a big warehouse is being redecorated. Next to a partially undressed mannequin (a doll) I read a sign: “We apologise for our appearance, while we change the window”. An apology for exposing a piece of plastic! I cannot think of a bigger contrast.
Just before I continue my journey, direction Baltimore, I take a tourist trolley. In this little bus you can go from one 'til the next attraction. I'd seen most of them anyway, but for a dollar and a half, it gives me a nice review and because it'll take about fifty minutes to return to the place I started, it is a good time killer. Apart from that a chance to check my theory. The contrast is easily visible. As if somewhere between 14th and 15th street, an invisible line divides the 2 parts. Th new, cold, city, where money and appearance are important and the old, somewhat gone town. A part with it owns character and a nearly European atmosphere. Philadelphia, a city with two completely different faces. And that's two more than most cities around here.