Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Farewell to Phillie

My last night in Philadelphia. I'm just going to try and finish a report on an article tonight, then pack up in the morning, and get an early afternoon train to New York. The rest of the family are on their way, and they'll arrive there tomorrow evening.

When I think of Philadelphia, my image is that of Liberty Place. I'll paste it in again.


Of course at street level, or at the tenth floor level of my apartment, it looks nothing like this. I can't see the building from here; just some other apartment blocks and glimpses of 1930's office towers. Walking along the street you're just as likely to be huddling into your coat against the wind, or fighting with your umbrella to stop it from folding inside out. The shops are smart; the food is pretty good; the little neighbourhoods within the city are neat, too. But there are people living on the street, asking for money, or sleeping in doorways, or even just curled up on the street. People just step around them.

Last week I was in Boulder for a few days to give a talk. You fly into Denver and drive along some very very flat, low industrial terrain for about forty minutes, and then suddenly the mist clears and you can see the foothills, and then the Rockies behind them, still snow-capped, and stretching along, wider than you can take in. From everywhere you look, the mountains look quite different, and if you get to drive up into them even a little, they will take your breath away with their beauty. Cliffs, rocks and trees, with little by way of undergrowth — quite unlike the bush or the tropics. You are 5430 feet above sea level, so you feel a bit dehydrated and dizzy.

But it's a different world, in other ways, too. Boulder is a small, affluent and white city. It's sporty and outdoorsy, but also a bit of a haven for hippies, organic farmers, etc. A lovely farmer's market on Saturday morning. Extremely pleasant for people like me, though there is still poverty. We'd had a spectacular meal, indulging in the best of local produce and organic foods, and then spilled out into the streets. We saw a homeless man in a wheel chair, and I remain haunted by his face: brown skin drawn tight around staring, vacant eyes. Beth gave him some money, but I still hesitate to do so. There are good arguments for assisting organisations, rather than individuals, but I haven't done that either.
I stayed with two different friends in Boulder. One lives out in a new suburb. Eerily quiet; with very few people around, though the house was a beautiful warm and golden place inside, and surrounded by trees and trellises. But because it's only just very early spring, the trees are mostly still all white. We walked around the new estate, with houses ranging from large to enormous, and came to the rise of the hill where the old farmhouse still stood, and looked over at the mountains. It was mid-morning, and the air and the light and the mist were all a stormy blue grey; and the trees and mountains white and cloudy. Ethereal, silent and still.

My other friend's house is much closer to campus: an older, more cluttered house, and an older street, and I think a bit more neighbourly, so she has colleagues who live over the road, for example.

When I travel, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to live in the place. I could see myself in either Philadelphia or Boulder — and both universities, while quite different in style, are also very good ones. But while I sometimes hanker to be in a place where I might have more medieval colleagues, I'm very pleased to report that being here hasn't made me particularly dissatisfied with my lot. I'm also very pleased to say I've not felt too homesick, or beset by anxiety about my work.

And something of a revelation, too. Jeffrey gave me a copy of Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three, and I keep picking it up and turning up some new, or some familiar gem. Follow that link and check out the contents page if you want to see what "romantic and postromantic poetry" looks like these days.

Now, on with that report, then a little preliminary packing.

Bye, Philadelphia

1 comment:

crapcyclelanes said...

I live there for a few months and taught as an adjunct at the Uni. A strange town. I had trouble leaving, but when you look back, you realize is is a 'bubble' surrounded by reality. If it is any consolation, the newspapers and blogs reveal is is actually not a terribly nice university to work in, given the various vested interests in the CO state system, political interference, low salaries, the high cost of living, and the perils of the tenure system (entrenched people). My friends there have had a not so nice time of things.