One minute I’m half asleep on a tiny 6 am commuter flight, the next minute I’m weed-whacking in the back lot of a non-profit children’s bookstore on the north side of Philadelphia. En route, somehow, I experienced a tiny Vietnamese hoagie shop where I drank one of the sweetest coffees of my life (gotta love Southeast Asians’ fascination with condensed milk), got an interesting tour of an entire south to north strip of the city (Broad Street) in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, and visited a priceless African American doll museum.
All this before noon. We rounded off the day with a spectacular dinner at Osteria (one of the chefs there was recently awarded a James Beard Award) – memorable for me (amongst so much fun stuff) was the stinging nettle ravioli and a bottle of Tuscan Vin Santo.
And it’s typical of my adventures with the close friend I’m visiting. Previous adventures include flying to Atlantic City in a motor glider to visit for an hour, just because (I played ski ball); in London somehow getting into Gunther Von Hagen’s Bodyworlds with press passes before the show got huge worldwide; and getting stuck in downtown Nazareth traffic during a crowded market day with an armed (M-16), jumpy, off-duty, teenage (Israeli) soldier (my sister) in the back seat screaming at us to get the hell out of there. You get the idea. Never a dull moment.
On the recommendation of another friend, today we snagged tickets last minute (reservations in advance required) to the Barnes Foundation,
an extraordinary collection of mostly impressionist and post-impressionist art (dominated by Renoir and Cezanne with Picasso, Van Gogh, Courbet, Manet, Matisse, Seurat, Miro, Modigliani, and a couple others I can’t recall at the moment), some Renaissance and pre-Renaissance religious paintings, and an array of traditional African art works (masks, sculptures).
An exclusive, private collection, much of which was never allowed to be reproduced (we’re talking hundreds of works that could have been displayed in the Musee D’Orsay or similar for the last century and weren’t), the works are soon going to be separated and dismantled for the first time ever. I don’t know the details, but apparently somehow the foundation wasn’t managed well, the city wanted to take over, there was a very long court battle, and I think a building is now being built in the city center for these works of art.
The Barnes Foundation is special. It’s in an old mansion house with the grounds to prove it in Philadelphia’s famed Main Line. Dr Albert Barnes who made his fortune in medicine and pharmaceuticals was devoted to art and education, created his foundation in 1922, made John Dewey (a close friend) the first director of education, purchased the 12-acre property, and commissioned the building for his new organization. Barnes personally arranged the hanging for every work of art on the walls. His wife Laura was devoted to the grounds, the arboretum, horticulture, and to this day there is an impressive formal garden, exotic trees and ferns from around the world, and a quaint pond and tea house tucked away on a corner of the property.
Tomorrow, the Mutter Museum. Medical oddities. Yes. I’m psyched. This is what the museum highlights from the collection:
- The plaster cast of the torso of world-famous Siamese Twins, Chang & Eng, and their conjoined livers
- Joseph Hyrtl’s collection of skulls
- Preserved body of the “Soap Lady”
- Collection of 2,000 objects extracted from people’s throats
- Cancerous growth removed from President Grover Cleveland
- Tallest skeleton on display in North America
Nothin’ beats Philadelphia Freedom.