Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Louvre: An Exercise in Empathy

My daughter Emilia stops by The Louvre to pose with the peeps on pedestals…

Getting Free

Ah, The Louvre! Arguably the world’s most famous museum! Home to the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, The Code of Hammurabi and Napoleon III’s apartments. A building filled with more history and knowledge than even the world’s greatest geniuses could consume. But here’s the catch: it’s all in French.

IMG_0939

I didn’t notice this until I walked into my first exhibit: a room filled with gorgeous scultpures. I realized when I was at the free museums in Liverpool just how much I love sculptures and reading the plaques that come with them so I get a sense ofIMG_0951 what each statue is thinking and living through. But when I went to understand the sculptures better in The Louvre, I was met with French descriptions.

At first, I was a bit disappointed—all these incredible pieces of art, and I didn’t know what they meant? But then I remembered an old mantra: art is…

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Sailing the Milt Ingram to Victory!

Milt Banner 1Picture 2Milt Banner 2

IMG_1346The Matey arrived at 9:30 am on the dock at the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club in Channel Islands Harbor on Saturday morning, July 13th, to join the merry crew of Misfit for the 29th annual Milt Ingram Trophy Race.

It was my first race of the year on Misfit – and my sailing skills were rusty, if not wholly atrophied. So, I was glad to hear from Captain George that my primary duty would be to man the mast: hauling on halyards to raise sails. It’s a job that requires less sailing skill than a healthy bit of blue collar sweat equity.

And, of course, I’d be adding my weight to the rail and doing the kind of hiking one doesn’t do in Yosemite.

IMG_1340In the hour before we embarked for the starting line, the young sailormen, Sean and Andy, got down to the expert business of rigging lines and preparing sails for deployment during the race. I’ve assisted in such work in the past, but I’m not an expert like these guys. If I pack a spinnaker there’s a good chance it’ll fly out of the bag and wrap itself into an unholy tangle. Experienced salts like Sean and Andy make damn few mistakes – which is one of the main reasons why the good ship Misfit has been on a winning streak.

IMG_1356We sailed out of Channel Islands Harbor and made for the Mandalay Buoy, where the race was scheduled to start at 11:00 am.

Instead of the classic Greek epic poet Homer’s “wine dark sea”, we sailed across a slate grey sea under a pewter sky.

The Santa Barbara Channel would mostly stay various shades of grey all day.IMG_1362

IMG_1360As we jockeyed for position among the crowd of racing yachts tacking and jibing between the committee boat and Mandalay Bouy, I was glad to have Captain Eric at the helm. If anyone could avoid a collision and get us off to a good start, Eric would. He knows what Misfit can do – and he’s got nerves of steel. When the gun went off for the start, we were second across the line, just a boat length behind the leader.

Race MapThe course for the Milt Ingram Trophy Race would take us from Mandalay Buoy to oil platform Grace, then around the west end of Anacapa, across the backside of the island, then a final northwest run to the finish line inside Ventura Harbor.

After rounding platform Grace to port, Eric put us on a course for the western headland of Anacapa – through the gap between that island and Santa Cruz. As we neared the passage between the islands, we watched with interest as a large oceangoing freighter churned through the shipping lane past Santa Cruz and across the gap.Ship Passing

IMG_1375Now, I’ve been in this situation before. It’s hard to gauge how fast these big ships are going from a distance – and small sailing vessels like Misfit must definitely give the big boys a wide berth. In the past, I’ve had the experience of guessing wrong on the big ship’s trajectory and having to heave-to at the last minute, dead in the water, and let the leviathan go by. Such a miscalculation can cripple your chances in a race like this.

As it turned out, the large ship crossed safely in front of us and, as we entered the passage between Anacapa and Santa Cruz, a pod of leaping dolphins celebrated our good fortune by frolicking across our bow.

Rounding the western end of Anacapa.

Rounding the western end of Anacapa.

As we sailed past the backside (or ocean side) of Anacapa, I saw the day’s very first bit of blue sky above the island’s white, bird-poop covered cliffs.

IMG_1400As we neared the eastern tip of the island, there were just two boats ahead of us. However, due to the arcane rules of yacht racing, those two boats had ratings that required them to “give” us time. In other words, even if they finished ahead of us, they needed to finish a good deal ahead of us to win. So, we were very possibly, under the rules, actually leading the race.

IMG_1408Note: This rating system apparently has to do with the size of the boat, the length of its waterline, its design and the amount of sail it can legally raise to the wind. There may also be other factors. I have no clue. I just haul the lines I’m told to haul, help to frantically gather in flapping sails, haul on the working line when we jibe, and shift my bulk from port to starboard on command. Ratings are above The Matey’s pay grade.

IMG_1413After rounding the eastern end of Anacapa and that sea-carved rock arch featured on a thousand postcards, Eric put us on course for the finish line in Ventura Harbor.

Now, we were sailing into the wind – and the choppy swells started splashing up against Misfit’s bow.

Captain George and Tom on the rail.

Captain George and Tom on the rail.

It was just a matter of timing and geometry before the rail meat – George, Tom and me closest to the bow — would be drenched by a sudden cascade of cold salt water.

It didn’t take long.

But ultimately, that salty baptism was like an early champagne celebration – because Misfit won the race.

Arriving in our home port after the victory.

Andy, Tom, Sean and Eric arriving in our home port after the victory.

Here are the final race results: another victory for Misfit — and another exhilarating adventure in the Santa Barbara Channel for The Matey — thanks to Captain George and his crew!Results

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Ms. Maura at The Whiskey A-Go-Go!

MMLFatWhiskyAug7postcardMy daughter Maura and her guitarist Lynz Floren are playing the world famous Whisky A Go-Go on Wednesday, August 7th at 7:15 PM. The show is a release party for Maura’s latest CD.

IMG_2626bIt’s going to be a great night: a chance to enjoy Maura’s wonderful, soulful, powerful voice as she sings a selection of her own songs. Plus some promised surprises.

Tickets are $10 each or two for $15. Reserve your tickets today by emailing:

ms.maura@me.com

The two for $15 discount is only available via email.

Hope to see you on the Sunset Strip to party to the sultry, groovy, bluesy sound of Ms. Maura.

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Liverpool: so much more than the Beatles’ old hometown

Daughter Emilia’s continuing adventures in Liverpool…

Getting Free

When Aleah and I first arrived in Liverpool, one thing was clear: locals were always disappointed to hear we’d only come in search of Beatles sites. Every time we said, “We came ’cause we’re huge Beatles fans!” we’d get a groan and an, “Alright,” and we’d always feel a bit awkward. But after spending 4 days in Liverpool, we now know how justified the groans were. Liverpool is so much more than Paul McCartney’s childhood home (though that is quite the resume builder). Here are some things you might not know about Liverpool that make it an incredible city regardless of its Beatles heritage.

1. The Museums

Liverpool is home to tens of fabulous museums, all of which are free, and all of which are interactive, informative, beautiful and fascininating. While Aleah and I were there, we made it to The International Slavery Museum, the Tate Liverpool, The

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Penny Lane: Then & Now

My daughter Emilia is traveling in Liverpool, the home of John, Paul, George and Ringo:  The Beatles.

Getting Free

The monumental Beatles fan I am, the moment I got to Liverpool, England, was the moment I made sure I got myself to all IMG_0716the Beatles’ landmarks: Paul McCartney’s childhood home, John Lennon‘s childhood home, Strawberry Fields, St. Peter’s Church, and, of course, Penny Lane. I, of course, know all the lyrics to Penny Lane (as any halfway-decent Beatles fan should), and all the while I roamed the Lane, the lyrics were bopping through my head. How does the Penny Lane of today hold up to the Penny Lane McCartney immortalized in song? Well, let’s have a look at the lyrics.**

Verse #1:
In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello

Now, in my travels on Penny Lane, I found 2 barbershops, neither…

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Midsummer 2013: The State of Things

Statebanner1190440_138806032971926_1893066145_nHappy Fourth of July!

Okay, I’ll be honest. I’ve neglected my blog for most of this year.

wewonLast year, inspired by the exciting political pageant of the Presidential Election and touring with my very funny wife in our comedy revue, I was posting an article on something or other once or twice a week.

This year I’ve barely eked out one or two posts a month.

So, why is that?

I could lay the blame for my sporadic blogging on a number of factors.

pretty-wicked-momsI could blame a very busy winter and spring working on the new reality television series Pretty Wicked Moms, which now airs Tuesday nights on Lifetime right after Dance Moms.

Since the show began airing in early June, I’ve too often fallen into the trap of following the catty back and forth sniping on the Pretty Wicked Moms Facebook page: hours of online time lost to a guilty pleasure.

IMG_1248I could blame my bad blogging habits on the fact that my youngest daughter Eva graduated from high school on May 25th. (She’s the one in the center of the photo at left.)

Eva’s graduation was the culmination of a months-long, celebratory parade of proms, dress fittings, awards night, a baccalaureate mass — and finally, a commencement ceremony resplendent with white gowns and red roses.

I could blame my poor posting on the fact that my daughter Emilia graduated from college on June 21st. That proud and wonderful occasion took us to Evanston, Illinois for a week of moving events: some were emotionally moving and some involved actual moving.

IMG_1278Emilia was leaving her apartment, so all of her belongings had to be boxed up by mom and dad and her furniture – including two cumbersome couches — hauled out of her second-floor unit and trucked back to her aunt’s house on the South Side, nearly 50 miles away. Luckily, I was aided in these exertions by Robert Rashid: an athletic 20-something friend of the family.

We all recovered in time for a glorious weekend of parties, toasts, beloved friends, commencement ceremonies and receptions. Then it was time to lug several heavy suitcases stuffed with our daughter’s college detritus to O’Hare Airport for the flight home.

blakegriffin1I could blame my lack of Internet interfacing initiative on the fact that my second-favorite NBA team, The Los Angeles Clippers, made it to the second round of the playoffs.

Following the fortunes of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and company became a near obsession and, were it not for my wife’s infinite patience and understanding, my basketball jones might easily have caused domestic discord.

imagesI could also blame my failure to faithfully blog on the fact that my favorite NBA team, The Miami Heat, won their second straight NBA Championship. I’m one of those rare native Clevelanders who has remained a LeBron James fan – so watching the Heat’s progress from their 27-game regular season winning streak through their dramatic, buzzer-beating odyssey in the playoffs consumed many of my evenings from January to June.

But distracting and demanding as all of these events have been, I can’t truly blame any of them for my lack of attention to this blog.

images-3The fact is that politics and current events have become maddening – and seeing how important stories (and totally bullshit stories) are covered in the mainstream media makes me want to scream. The daily, mind-bending inanity of the network talking heads – especially those employed by the incredible, shrinking CNN – has gotten the best of me.

I’ve been too intellectually and emotionally exhausted to shout down the unrelenting, inexorable stupidity and vapidity of mainstream television and newspaper reportage. So, I’ve focused on the things I can actually control: my professional life, my family life – and the NBA Playoffs.

However, now that high school and college diplomas – and the Larry O’Brien Trophy – have been handed out, I’ve gotten my second wind.  And now it’s time to let off some steam on a variety of topics that have dominated the news so far this year…

The Snowden Affair

images-1Let me begin with a simple question.

Were any of us really and truly surprised to learn the vast extent to which our government was collecting information on us? What do Americans think the Patriot Act was all about back in 2001?

It was like watching some absurdist comedy to hear all those earnest voices in the press and on Capitol Hill react to Snowden’s leak as though he was finally shining a spotlight on something shocking and heretofore unknown.

DownloadedFile-1Didn’t anyone in the White House press corps or on Republican congressional staffs – or reporters working for a CNN or CBS or ABC news show or website – ever bother to read the many articles written for Truthout, Common Dreams, Daily Kos, The Nation or Talking Points Memo about the vast information gathering network being assembled by General Michael Hayden, Director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005?

That anyone in America thinks Snowden’s revelations are shocking proves what a miserable job mainstream media does of informing the public. In fact, we can only assume that public enlightenment is not big media’s true purpose. Keeping us entertained between advertisements is what they’re really all about.

images-2However, when we sit down on the couch to watch Pretty Wicked Moms, we know we’re just being entertained. Yet, we expect that serious looking, gravely intoning Wolf Blitzer is truly giving us the news from The Situation Room. Let us disabuse ourselves of that quaint notion. Ted Turner is gone. Peter Arnett is gone. Walter Cronkite is gone. And Wolf Blitzer has not replaced them.

images-5As for Mr. Snowden, I’m not sure how big a hero he is. I’m glad he stirred the pot with his leak – but his flight to Hong Kong and then to Moscow is curious at best. How does a person who portrays himself as a champion of openness and transparency in government find himself seeking refuge in China and Russia? Now, that’s a conundrum I’d like to see Wolf Blitzer puzzle out in his fuzzy, constipated brain.

The Trayvon Martin Affair

My bottom line is this: if George Zimmerman isn’t armed with a gun, he doesn’t have the balls to approach Trayvon Martin in the first place.

images-10Zimmerman’s deadly, concealed weapon gave an average guy with a hero complex the false courage to pretend that he was some kind of vigilante crime fighter. I’m almost surprised George didn’t dress up in a “Kick Ass” hero costume. Zimmerman was playing out a macho fantasy – with tragic results.

I don’t care who had the upper hand in the fight that preceded the fatal gunshot. Zimmerman on top or Trayvon on top – it doesn’t matter to me.

Why not? Think about it.

images-9Imagine if it was okay to end every fistfight, bar brawl or dustup at a nightclub by shooting the other guy with a gun. I got into my share of fights when I was a kid, some when I was a teen. But, lucky for me, none of the guys I got the upper hand on decided to quickly even the odds with a handgun. If Zimmerman is such a macho man – why did he need a gun to defeat a 17-year old kid?

I believe it’s sound practice not to pick a fight you can’t win without shooting somebody.

images-8Neighborhood watch citizen volunteers should not be armed. I don’t remember the old lady next door on Spokane Avenue coming out at night – packing a rod or not — to confront suspicious people in the street. She called the cops. That’s what amateur crime fighters should do: call in the trained professionals. George Zimmerman should have called the police and let it go at that — as he was directed to do by the emergency operator.

DownloadedFile-2Stay in your car, George. Phone it in. Nobody dies.

Alas, I do think the local prosecutors overcharged Zimmerman with second-degree murder due to public pressure. Manslaughter would have been a more appropriate charge. And I’m not sure whether under Florida law the jury can find him guilty of the lesser charge. (I hope they can.) But, whatever the verdict, it’s a pathetic tragedy: yet another bad situation made far worse by a gun.

The Obama Scandals

Benghazi-gate? IRS-gate? Reporter-gate? And now Snowden-gate?

gty_obama_address_kb_121216_wgOh, please.

Am I shocked that American embassy personnel were killed in a hotspot like revolutionary Libya? And am I surprised to learn that the Obama administration was careful about how they dealt with the aftermath? The answer is no.

DownloadedFile-3But does the fact that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows to recite carefully-worded (and somewhat inaccurate) talking points pale in comparison to the bald lies that Vice President Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice peddled on those very same Sunday shows to dupe our nation into war? The answer is a clear and emphatic yes. Then there’s this:republican-hypocrisy-on-benghazi

april-tea-party1I’m also not shocked that the Internal Revenue Service would do its job by scrutinizing alleged non-profit organizations on the right or left. And now it turns out the IRS wasn’t just going after right wing Tea Party groups — it was looking into organizations on the left as well. (Though you won’t see that in a screaming banner headline on FOX News or scrolling by on the CNN crawl.)

Besides, why shouldn’t the government agency charged by Congress with collecting our taxes investigate whether radical groups dedicated to avoiding taxes — and ultimately abolishing the IRS — truly qualify for the tax breaks granted to non-profit organizations?

imagesholder-1I’m not thrilled that the Obama administration went after the Associated Press to find the source of government leaks. I’d like to see Attorney General Eric Holder as aggressive going after white-collar criminals on Wall Street as he is putting the screws to reporters to reveal their sources. (And, while I’m compiling my Justice Department wish list, I’d like Holder to lay off the medicinal pot clinics in California, too.)

ISSA-articleLargeIn a post 9-11 world I can understand a heightened sensitivity to security leaks. But while I’d love it if “reporter-gate” would inspire our political leaders to have a serious debate over national security, government transparency and freedom of the press, I don’t hold out much hope that a wingnut like House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa will do anything more than hold a series of show trials in hopes of driving down Obama’s poll numbers heading into next year’s mid-term elections.

ieaThe mainstream media loves these pseudo scandals du jour. It’s clear they’d would rather not cover something truly scandalous – like the environmental catastrophe revealed in a stunning International Energy Agency report on June 10th that said:

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday.

 PR-log-smokestacks-coal_news_featuredThe agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned “would be a disaster for all countries.”

 Wait. What’s that? You haven’t heard about this shocking, absolutely frightening report issued a month ago? The human race is demonstrably on course to destroy itself – and the mainstream media spends it’s time yakking about Obama’s “scandals”, hawking gossip tidbits about Kanye and Kim’s baby, and debating what’s worse: The N word or “cracker”.

paula-deenWhich brings us to the Paula Deen Affair.

On second thought, forget it. She’s not worth the space on this blog. Anyone who thinks it’s fun to have a “plantation style” wedding deserves all the vilification she’s getting. With sugar – and lots of butter – on top.

So, there. I’ve unburdened myself.

Now, let’s see…

standingsOh, look! My Cleveland Indians are in first place!

Could this be the year we win our first World Series since 1948?

Here I go again…

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The Third Day at Gettysburg: 150 Years Ago Today…

The final installment of a series of blog posts on my 2010 visit to the Gettysburg battlefield.“The enemy is there, and I am going to attack him there.”

On July 3, 1863 the exhausted armies of the North and South faced each other across a mile of undulating farmland in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — preparing to commence the final violence of their epic battle. Though Confederate General Robert E. Lee planned to strike the Union center early in the day, the thunderous cannonade preceding General Longstreet’s assault did not begin until 1:00 in the afternoon. If Lee had placed my wife, Victoria Zielinski, in command of the attack, things would have gotten started much sooner. Indeed, Victoria and I were up and ready to go by 9:00 AM.

Our third day at Gettysburg would be a brief affair as we were due in Philadelphia later that same day. Victoria had planned a reunion in the City of Brotherly Love with a group of her closest college sisters (Northwestern University alums, of course). Therefore, we’d have to leave the Gettysburg battlefield before the climactic action — legendary “Pickett’s Charge” — began 147 years ago. But we’d still be leaving long after the day’s fighting began.

Few remember that the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg started at dawn as Union guns opened fire in the defense of Culp’s Hill on the Federal right flank. Soon afterward, Union troops drove the Rebels off the hill, and by 11 o’clock, Billy Yank was once again in possession of the earthworks they’d lost to Johnny Reb the day before. The third day’s battle on the Union right was over almost before it began. Undaunted, Lee was determined to attack the Union center.

“Storm Over Gettysburg” by Mort Kuntsler. Lee and Longstreet confer before the third day’s fighting.

Much has been made of the dispute between Lee and his “Old War Horse” General James Longstreet on the third day at Gettysburg. Longstreet argued that the wiser course was to get behind the Union army’s left flank and threaten the roads to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. – thereby forcing the Union army off the high ground on Cemetery Hill to give battle on ground of the South’s choosing.

Lee, however, was determined to strike – and break – the Union center. “The enemy is there, and I am going to attack him there.” After all, Lee’s army had never failed to break the Federal lines in an all-out assault. But at Gettysburg, there was a critical difference: for the first time, Pennsylvanian Generals George Meade and Winfield Scott Hancock and the Army of the Potomac under their command were defending home turf. There was nowhere to run. As Hancock rode his lines that morning, he no doubt reminded every subordinate officer of the need to hold firm and give no ground to the enemy.

With the fight on Culp’s Hill essentially over, Lee ordered Longstreet to attack the Union center – to drive toward the infamous “copse of trees” at the heart of the Federal line on Cemetery Hill. Longstreet attacked with three powerful divisions, led by Generals Trimble, Pettigrew, and Pickett. The three brigades of Pickett’s division were led by Generals Garnett, Kemper and Armistead. Armistead was a close friend of General Hancock, who waited for him across the open killing field.

General Pickett

Pickett’s brigade commanders would pay a heavy price that afternoon: Garnett and Armistead died in Pickett’s Charge, and Kemper was severely wounded. Once again, it’s good to be reminded that general officers in those days of close combat led from the front.

As Victoria and I had to leave for Philadelphia before Pickett’s Charge, I refer you to The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

“Lee’s Old War Horse” by Mort Kuntsler. Longstreet and Lee prepare for Pickett’s Charge.

“Hell for Glory” Pickett’s Charge by Keith Rocco

Shaara does a great job of bringing the conflict between Lee and Longstreet to life – and his account of Pickett’s Charge is well worth the read. I won’t give anything away to say that Pickett’s Charge failed and that of the more than 13,000 Confederate soldiers who made the assault, more than 7,000 lay dead or wounded on the field afterward. The Union won the day – and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Presudent Lincoln (center, without his hat) shortly before his Gettysburg Address.

A little more than four months later on Thursday, November 19, 1863, President Lincoln came to the battlefield to dedicate the military cemetery — and the “few appropriate remarks” he uttered that day would cement the worldwide fame of Gettysburg for generations to come.

Secure in the knowledge that the Union would ultimately be saved, we drove east to Philadelphia to meet up with Victoria’s college mates. I left Gettysburg knowing that I would certainly be back again, perhaps in 2013 – the 150th anniversary of the battle. (Come to think of it, I’d better book our hotel room now.)

It was a glorious, sunny drive through rural Pennsylvania and we arrived in Philly with plenty of daylight left. (General Zielinski drove us hard for good reason.) We rendezvoused with our hosts in South Philly, Mary Bartlett and Roy Backes, and began the second stage of our honeymoon adventure.

Vic’s friend Mary’s husband Roy is the Production Manager of the Walnut Street Theatre – the oldest operating theatre in America. So, while Vic joined Mary, Roy, and her college roommates at the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, I met up with my own dear NU friend, Jim McCutchen – now one of those damn Philadelphia lawyers you hear so much about. (Actually, Jim clerks for an appellate court judge. His work entails more life and death responsibility than I’d want to deal with.)

Jim McCutchen, Esq. & Me

Jim showed me around the historic heart of the city, especially Independence Square, the site of Independence Hall, on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets. Every school child should know (though, alas, they probably don’t) that Independence Hall is the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were born. Completed in 1753 as the Pennsylvania State House, it became the home of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783 and the site of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It’s one thing to read about this place – it’s another thing to actually be there. It’s a pilgrimage every American should make.

The Liberty Bell is housed in a groovy new glass and steel building across the street. I don’t care for the setting. Somehow, that proud, historic bit of brass doesn’t fit its modern surroundings. The bell looks out of place, out of time, an anachronism. I’m sure that’s not the message that the Park Service intends. But while the Park Service has housed the Gettysburg Cyclorama in a setting that adds to it’s dignity and power – The Liberty Bell is diminished by the manner in which it’s exhibited. Alas. Where’s Davy Crockett when you need him?

Jim and I hoisted a few cold ones and caught up with each other (after a quarter of a century) before meeting Victoria and her NU pals at the Walnut Street Theater, where Mary’s husband Roy gave us a private backstage tour of his historic domain. The Walnut Street Theater, which has stood at the corner of Ninth and Walnut Streets for two hundred years, bills itself as the nation’s oldest theatre. If so, there must be a lot of eminent theatrical ghosts haunting the place. Roy took us all around the stage and backstage – and into a room filled with fabulous old handbills and theatrical notices.

NU friends and goddesses Bea Rashid, Mary Bartlett, Betsy Dowd, Jean Marie Pla and Vic in front of the Walnut Street Theatre.

The Walnut Street stage has seen the likes of Edwin Booth, Edmund Kean, the Barrymores, George M. Cohan, Will Rogers, The Marx Brothers, Helen Hayes, Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Jack Lemon, William Shatner – and the Practical Theatre’s own Louis DiCrescenzo in a long-running production of “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” There’s even a picture of Louis in the balcony lobby – right up there with all the other theatrical luminaries.

The next day, was July 4th – and there’s no better place to be on the Fourth than Philly. That’s what made this whole trip so special. Vic and I were at Gettysburg on the exact dates of the battle in 1863, and now, on the Fourth of July, we were headed out to the spot where the newly signed Declaration of Independence was first read aloud to the crowds outside Independence Hall in 1776.

As a group, we walked from Mary and Roy’s townhouse to Independence Square and enjoyed the sights and sounds of a Park Service July 4th ceremony complete with a male choir, a color guard, and what looked to be several dozen aged Sons and Daughters of the Americas Revolution. (A few looked to be no more than a couple years too young to have served at Lexington and Concord.)

Not far off Independence Square stands a statue called “The Signer”, representing all those brave patriots who chose to hang together rather than hang separately. However, my personal interest in the statue was magnified when I read a plaque that revealed “The Signer” was modeled after signer George Clymer of Pennsylvania. Few but historians remember George Clymer – but if, like me, your mother hails from the tiny coal country borough of Clymer, Pennsylvania – that name is far more significant. I just love connections like that: discoveries that let you know you’re in the right place at the right time.

We headed back toward Mary and Roy’s house by way of South Street. Our hosts were eager for us to see something called Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – which lay somewhere down South Street. I loved South Street right away. From the moment we started down this funky urban artery, its mix of Starbucks coffee culture, punk ethos, hippy vibes, and Rastafarian island groove captivated me. But wait, said our hosts, the best – and the grooviest – was yet to come.

After we’d walked a few blocks, we began to see what they were talking about — storefronts, buildings and alleyways adorned with glittering mosaic murals: the unique and stunning work of Philadelphia folk artist, Isaiah Zagar. I was immediately reminded of Antoni Gaudí’s work in Barcelona – and Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles. (I am ashamed to say I have yet to visit the Watts Towers. See Sally Nemeth’s blog for her visit to this incredible Los Angeles art treasure.)

The transcendent highlight of our South Street trek was our exploration of Isaiah Zagar’s masterwork, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – a work of art that must be seen and experienced to be appreciated. We were surrounded by it, engulfed in it, and astounded by it. Like the monuments of Gettysburg, these amazing artworks by Isaiah Zagar are timeless testaments to the better angels of our nature.

Later that night, we took in the July 4th fireworks from Mary and Roy’s townhouse rooftop. But I’ll let the brilliance and color of Zagar’s art stand in for the rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this 4-part account of our honeymoon journey through history.(Zagar photos by Steve Rashid. Thanks, Steve!)

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