Monday, January 29, 2007

The visit

Charles and Camilla flew into Philly from London on Friday night on a British Airways airbus. He didn't want to take a private chartered flight as he was mindful of protecting the environment. They were in town to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Academy of Music and, apparently, it's been one hundred and forty seven years since a Prince of Wales visited the city, officially. They holed up in the Four Seasons hotel on Friday night, then did a tour of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall the following day followed by the event at the Academy.

Coverage of the visit was by our local 'fires, shootings, murders and storm warnings' media and milked extensively, though the number of welcoming American 'royalty groupies' looked to be scant no matter how diligently they tried to disguise it. (We also had to endure a barrage of advertisements featuring an American male actor attempting to speak in a "By Jove" upper-class English accent with the purpose of flogging the Philly Inquirer--I think it was the Inquirer.) One young couple walking briskly past the Four Seasons entrance on Friday evening--the coldest day on the East coast thus far this year and the only people braving the elements--were stopped abruptly by a reporter and asked, "Are you here to see Prince Charles?"
"No," the woman said. "We're going into the bar next door. Why, is he in town?"

Predictably, the local media resorted to every conceivable cliche to highlight the irony of members of the Brit royal family taking a tour of America's cherished sites of liberty and revolution the following day. The national media appeared indifferent though, allocating only a twenty second spot to show a fleeting image of a hatless, smiling Camilla and Charles visiting the Liberty Bell--I thought I saw Camilla tenuously extend her gloved hand to give it a pat or a poke at one point as if taking the measure of the crack's severity--which I guess spoke volumes about the importance of the visit in the eyes of Americans. Also very predictable was the throng of members of the silver-haired 'Brits living in exile' groups waiting to cheer them as they passed by aboard the 'Duck'(Philly's amphibious half boat, half van tourist vehicle), many of the men wearing tartan kilts and head dresses. Okay! Okay, I'm joking about Camilla riding a tacky Duck--there's a limit to being environmental.

From Philly, Charles and Camilla boarded a train--a private one, not the Acela Express--to New York City where they toured a charter high school in Harlem before they dropped by the Harvard Club for a drink and a nosh while picking up an environmental award from Al Gore. At one point, I laughed heartily when a journalist asked a young African American woman standing outside the charter school what she thought of the royal visit to Harlem.

"I'm so happy to be here," she said. "It's historical...I never thought I'd get to shake hands with Prince Charles and the Queen."

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