Thursday, October 8, 2015

Love: A Philadelphia Affair

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a reading, interview (conducted by Marciarose Shestack), and Q&A for Beth Kephart's new nonfiction collection, Love: A Philadelphia Affair.

Paging through the book before the event started, I noticed that one of the essays was about Hawk Mountain, which I just blogged about myself the other day. (The book covers the Philadelphia region--the Delaware Valley--rather than being limited by the city limits.) During the event, Beth talked about walking through Philadelphia--and walking and walking. Walking from University City to the Delaware River when a college student, which I used to do myself. (We attended different, but nearby, schools: she the University of Pennsylvania and I the University of the Sciences. I used to walk over to Penn sometimes and read in the grass, because their campus had bigger and more beautiful grounds. Also, for some reason, it had a large sculpture of a broken button, but that was just a bonus.) Yes, Philadelphia is a great walking city--I am with Beth on this. In fact, it came out during the discussion that Beth was even walking through Philadelphia during last Friday's nasty, wind-whipped rain. Which made me laugh, because I was also walking through Philadelphia during last Friday's nasty, wind-whipped rain.

A man in the audience noted that Beth is a keen observer, and loves much of what she observes. She loves the Philadelphia area, which is and has always been "home" to her. Wouldn't she love any other city if it had been her home, he asked? Couldn't this tendency to love fasten itself around another place?

Probably, she said. But the Philadelphia region is her home. And so we have this book. Which is full of places I have been, and places I have heard of, and places I want to go.

Philadelphia is my adopted home. I came here at the age of seventeen and, except for six months in Atlanta, I never really left. New England, where I spent the earlier years of my life, is home in a different way. But I've lived in the Philadelphia area far longer now--more than a decade within the city limits, more than a decade in the suburban fringes. I know the routes of trains and buses and trolleys. I know the Delaware River and the Schuylkill River and the wetlands in the wildlife refuge near the airport. I know the refineries in the south, and the art museum steps that Sylvester Stallone so famously mounted in 1976. I know the big parks with their nature trails, and the tiny little parks tucked in between historic buildings. I know cobblestones and trolley tracks and brick sidewalks. I know the old jury-duty room in City Hall, and the view from the top of the City Hall tower. I remember visiting the Liberty Bell at night, in its old glass box. I know the thrift stores and the bookstores, and I remember the ones that aren't here anymore. I was in West Philadelphia the night the MOVE house was bombed, and I remember hearing the sirens. And there is more, still more, much more, always more.

Sometimes a place just grabs you. Beth Kephart loves Philadelphia the way other writers have loved New York City, and Maine, and Chicago, and the Mississippi Delta, and San Francisco, and Paris, and Provence, and Alaska, and New Orleans, and Virginia, and Boston. Beth invites the reader to love Philadelphia, too. Or at least, get to know it.


  1. Hey. Thank you for this. I loved looking out and seeing my fellow Walker, fellow Keen Observer, and friend. To Our City! xo