If you dig music, Philadelphia gave the world The Roots and Patti LaBelle and Oates and Hall (though that order remains in dispute), and each summer the Ben Franklin Pkwy is mobbed for Jay Z's Made in America festival. If you dig art, the city boasts an unrivaled mural program that attracts some of the best artists in the world. The Walnut Street Theatre is believed to be the oldest continually running theater in the English-speaking world. If you're into something stranger and more macabre, the Mütter Museum is home to slides of Einstein’s brain. And the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third largest in the country. The Rodin Museum has one of the biggest collections of work by Auguste Rodin in the world. And the Barnes Foundation features 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, and seven van Goghs.
Fun fact about that last part: Albert C. Barnes -- namesake of the Barnes Foundation -- was a stuffy, wealthy dude described as an "omnivore art shopper." He kept his collection outside the city on the stuffy, wealthy Main Line, partly because he openly hated Philadelphia. He reportedly called the city "a depressing intellectual slum" and described the Philadelphia Museum of Art as "a house of artistic and intellectual prostitution." Jolly fellow. He died in a car crash in 1951. Despite his wishes, his collection, valued at approximately $25 billion, was moved into a new home in 2012 -- just down the Ben Franklin Pkwy from the "house of artistic and intellectual prostitution" he so loathed. Over his dead body, as it turns out. As Philly stories go, that one is close to perfect. Fuck him.
If Philadelphians have a chip on their collective shoulders, it’s always been more endearing than off-putting to me. There is a real sense of community, an us-against-the-world (or at least an us-against-the-rest-of-the-East Coast) mentality. Being from Philly means not just tolerating the house-pissers and all the other assholes, but defending them and even embracing them. Because they're ours. Because being from Phillly means acknowledging and willingly accepting the fact that even if you aren't a house-pisser, you'll be lumped in with them by the outside world anyway, so fuck it. That's fine. Because whatever people think about Philly and Philadelphians -- positive or negative -- they'll never truly understand or appreciate the place the way the natives can, and do.
My wife and I were in Greece last summer. We went to Athens, and Santorini, and then Mykonos for a wedding. The islands are staggering in their beauty. We stayed at a place in Santorini that was nestled into the cliffs and overlooked the bright-blue Mediterranean below. It was breathtaking. On our way back, at the airport in Athens, we talked to a random couple from Philly. I met the guy in line while buying wine for the plane. He was easy to pick out -- a Phillies hat and a distinctive accent. They told us they had also been in Santorini. We all agreed how marvelous it was. But mostly we talked about our favorite places in Philly, about grabbing burgers at Royal Tavern or beers at New Wave, or watching the fireworks over Penn's Landing on the Fourth of July. We had just spent more than two weeks in an approximation of paradise, but the conversation was almost entirely about our affection for Philly. It should have been a strange conversation, or at least ill-timed. But it wasn't. It made sense to us. Because, really, where else would we want to be?
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