The next evening I arrived again in Philadelphia to participate in the Formats are for Losers forum, hosted by Kevin Smokler at Voices and Visions Bookstore in The Bourse. Having arrived in town early, I decided to go to the Reading Terminal Market and walk about the place taking in the sights and smells of the farmer's market. This is a Philly gem, a must visit.
The market's underneath an old railway terminal and it's just like an Irish town in the variety of small shops. There were no garish T-shirt outlets, no record stores, no cheap necklace and lurid poster stalls. I walked about like a child in a candy store, engrossed by the colors of goods and aromas and sounds of the place. There's well over a hundred stalls, not including restaurants, and one can purchase meats from an old fashioned ruddy-faced butcher, or chicken, turkey and fresh eggs from another specialty vendor, or inviting breads, veggies and preserves from Amish farmstores (which were unfortunately closed that day). There's also a collosal variety of European and American cheeses, enough to make you momentarily consider walking up to the displays and start tearing open the packaging and devouring the contents.
I was truly spoiled for choice as to where to have supper, whether to sample something at an old fashioned sausage store, or dine on something aromatically Moorish, or traditional perhaps Japanese or Chinese, etc. In the end, still guilty because I've put on a couple of pounds due to rich eating while our New Orleans friends stayed with us, I selected a salad bar and tucked into a mound of greens and some of the most delicious tuna and crab salads I've ever tasted. At the next table was an elderly African American gentleman talking to an elderly white lady and I couldn't help evesdropping because he was telling her how his North Philly neighborhood was changing, how people were buying up home and prices were going up. She was from South philly, Italian I thnought, and all she did was shovel down the rest of her dinner and then start in on a collosal bowl of ice-cream. And all about me the same sort of thing was happening, office workers and people of all races, ages and classes were chatting and eating their suppers.
My will power crashed shamelessly fifteen minutes later while strolling on 13th Street. As soon as I looked inside the window of Capogiro Gelato Artisans and saw the tumult of gelato in the openfaced fridges I knew my self-denial was over. I should say here I am from a family quite fond of Gelato. Mum spent my siblings and my childhoods hunting for the most perfect gelato in any place we ever visited. Ireland did not have much to offer, let me also say. It was an obsession, a still as yet unfulfilled attempt to relive her girlhood experience of first tasting what she considers the true nectar of the Gods during a visit to the shore.
Caught up again in the hunt, I frantically pushed open the door and charged up to the display. I'd have called Mum if I'd had a mobile phone and am absolutely sure she'd have been fully absorbed within seconds of my describing the decedant bounty before me. A smiling young Goth--yes, smiling--whose arms were awash in tattoos smiled as I greedily satisfied my eye hunger, then asked what I'd like to try.
"Try...what, for free?" I said.
"Sure." She whipped a heap of colorful plastic spoons from a bucket.
"What would go with that bitter chocolate?"
"Everything goes with bitter chocolate," she said. "And we've just gotten in our Fall samples today."
I felt like I was in a boutique, which of course I was.
"Try the Thai coconut, and the mango, the banana foster, and the candied Russet apple."
In the end, I purchased a cup of bitter chocolate and a new fall flavor, Italian plum, took a seat by the window and watched Philly life stroll by. It was good, though I can honestly state she's wrong. Not everything goes with bitter chocolate.
The forum was fun and we discussed how contemporary writers are not confining their writing to books nowadays. Quite a few are blogging, some are writing for radio, and yet others are writing screenplays and/or adapting their work for the stage, myself included.
Rita-Anne, a lady who'd emailed me some time ago to say how much she'd enjoyed my novel, showed up with her friend Nick and we chatted before the event began. (Actually, I posted her email expressing how she felt about my writing because I felt it was something worthy of sharing.) Later, I bumped into the pair again outside and Rita Anne and I went for a drink to a pub called Lucy's Hat Shop. Isn't that a neat name for a pub?
We chatted up a storm over a pint of really, really hoppy tasting beer (I love hoppy beer and I love micro-breweries and cannot understand why Americans drink stuff like Bud, Coors or Miller); subjects covering included her forthcoming marriage, life in Philly, and her thoughts about moving to suburbia upon her nuptuals. We also shared our thoughts on sex, monogamy, and our views on the give-and-take in relationships. I love it when I meet a kindred spirit and Rita-Anne was one such spirit. I'm sure her previous contact with me and her love of and frequent trips to Ireland shortened the time needed for us to get deep into our psyches. She shared with me a story that brought home how truly small our world has become today. Recently, she was on the internet at her home in the States scanning the crowd in her favorite pub in Belfast who just happen to have a video cam streaming to the internet. To her surprise, she saw her best friend walk in and watched as she sat with a pint of beer at a table with some friends. For a laugh, Rita Anne called her mobile and told her to put down her beer. Her friend was stunned because she hadn't known the pub had a video cam streaming to the internet.
Finally, I looked at my watch and realized I'd have to hightail it to the station or I'd miss my train. In the end I did miss it because every damned door to the station was locked and I had to go out to the street again and go to the main door. But it was worth it. There's nothing like spontaneously doing something, and going for a drink with Rita Anne was just the perfect way to end my Philly jaunt. And that's what Philly represents. It represents down to earth people, real people, people who don't get all hung up on the rat race and other nonsense, and that's why I can see why it's a city on the rise. So, cheers to Philly and hoppy beer.
[technorati: 215Festival, Kevin Smokler, Philadelphia, Reading Terminal Market]