JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Directions

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I don’t think I’ve written it up on this blog.

In November of 1994 when I moved into a condo in the Old City section of Philadelphia, my parents came to help me with the move, as was their wont. Toward the end of the afternoon, when they were ready to leave, they needed directions to get back to the Schuylkill Expressway. Since I didn’t normally drive a car, and this was a new section of the city for me, we asked the condo sales agent for help.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge

I tried to listen as he described the way to them, as I knew I’d be going that way myself in a few weeks. The next time I spoke to them, they said they had no problem finding their way onto the expressway.

So when the time came to rent a car to visit my parents, I thought I remembered the directions well enough so that I didn’t need a refresher, even though they sounded a bit complicated. After all, I did know my way around the city a bit better than my parents did.

I set out and made a left turn onto 3rd Street, then another left onto Vine, then I was sure he said, now wait, what did he say? Go five blocks to 8th Street? Or eight block to 5th Street? Make another left? Right? And suddenly I found myself on the Ben Franklin Bridge heading across the river towards Camden!

And once you’re on the bridge, there’s no turning back. I went to Camden. Which is located in the mysterious land of New Jersey.

I turned off the main road as quickly as I could and then searched for a way to get back to the bridge. All told the little unwanted detour had cost me perhaps 20 to 30 minutes, which would definitely make me later than the time I had told them to expect me.

When I finally did get to their house, I explained the delay, and there was a rather sheepish expression on my mother’s face. She turned to my father and asked, “Should I tell him?”

He nodded and laughed.

“We weren’t going to say anything,” she continued, “but we ended up in Camden too. We drove around for awhile until we found a policewoman to ask directions.”

Needless to say, when I got back to Philadelphia, I returned to the scene and made sure I knew exactly how to get to the expressway from my new home. It turned out to be quite simple. The sales agent’s mistake had been to mention way too many landmarks along the way, thus over-complicating the directions.

Mark Reed

Mark Reed was apparently quite a character.

He was my great uncle on my mother’s side, my grandmother Tillie (Reed) Zellers’ brother.

Philadelphia City Hall

And here’s the thing. I don’t know if I remember him or not, as he died when I was not quite three years old. They used to tell me that he would pick me up by my ears, and I have this very vague image of being in my grandparents’ middle room with a big man stooping over me and—picking me up by my ears. But maybe that’s an invented image based on being told what he used to do.

I also have a vague image of attending a viewing when I was very young. Based on the timing of his death, I would still have had my arm in a sling from my mishap with the washing machine wringer.

Mark C. Reed was born sometime in 1909 to Charles and Minnie (Coleman) Reed, the sixth of their eight children. The previous year Minnie had given birth to Mark Fredrick Reed, but he didn’t survive a year, so his first name was recycled, a not uncommon practice in those days of high infant mortality.

I don’t have much information about Mark until sometime in the late 1940s when he invited my aunt and uncle Jane and Allen to live with him in his Philadelphia home as Allen worked his way through college and pharmacy school. Mark was an electric welder, and he helped get Allen a part time welding job, which also helped with their expenses.

This death notice from the Lebanon Daily News of April 2, 1952, incorrectly states that Mark Reed died in his home, when he actually died on the streets on Philadelphia

However, Mark’s wife’s increasingly erratic behavior made life uncomfortable for Jane and Allen, so they soon had to find their own place. Not long after that, Mark and his wife separated, and at some point he obtained a divorce.

On April 1, 1952, Mark Reed helped a woman get into the passenger side of his car. He shut the door and as he walked around the front of the car, he keeled over and died of a massive heart attack, right there on the street in Philadelphia.

Allen, being his closest relative, was summoned by the police to identify the body. When the police turned Mark’s body and personal effects over to the family, his wallet, which had contained several hundred dollars in cash, was empty. So corruption in the Philadelphia police department isn’t anything new.

Bartók

This afternoon I attended a performance of the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. I don’t have a subscription this year, so this was the first concert I went to this season. It was a mixed bag.

The last few years that I had a subscription I had box seats that were in the Second Tier behind the orchestra. While this distorted the sound very slightly, it did give me a view of the conductor’s face and I could see most of the players fairly close up. And as I was reminded today as I took my seat in the Orchestra section, there was nobody behind me to cough all the way through the performance.

A few minutes before the performance as the Philadelphia Orchestra is warming up

The first work was one of my favorites by one of my favorite composers, Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. When I came to Philadelphia in 1980, one of my very first concerts featured Eugene Ormandy conducting that work (a treasured memory), and I’ve heard it played at least a couple times since, most recently in 2014 under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski. Today Salonen gave it another terrific performance; I just wish the coughers could have held off just a little bit longer to let the final pianissimo notes (marked ppp in the score) sound without competition. The perils of the live performance.

After intermission came two works by Béla Bartók. I have to confess, as far as I’m concerned, Bartók’s works can be divided into the Concerto for Orchestra and everything else.

I have always thought that Bartók wrote the Concerto for Orchestra in a deliberately easily accessible style, and I think he’s pandering to the audience, so I’ve never really been able to love it like so many others do. Yes, a performance can be enjoyable. But it’s a piece I tire of very easily.

Then there’s everything else.

For example, today’s pieces, the Viola Concerto, performed by Choon-Jin Chang, and the Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin.

They just don’t sound like music to me.

Let me explain.

Of course, they are music. I’m using a very loose definition when I say they don’t sound like music. What I mean is as far as I’m concerned, if the orchestra had played a bunch of musical notes that had been randomly generated by a computer instead of the notes that Bartók presumably painstakingly notated on his score, I feel I would not have been able to tell the difference. There just didn’t seem to be any coherence or logic to the series of notes. And I’ve listened to these pieces in advance, in the case of the concerto, many times.

And it’s not just these pieces. I’ve tried listening to his opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, several times in several different recordings, and I attended the concert performance a couple years ago that Yannick conducted with the Philadelphians. That opera leaves me cold.

I’ve listened to Bartók’s string quartets, his second Violin Concerto, his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and a number of other pieces. Many times.

The only works of his that sound like music are the third movement of the Viola Concerto and the opening of the second Violin Concerto. Everything else sounds like random gibberish to me.

I guess I have to conclude that Bartók’s music is just not for me.

The Dinosaur Place

Dinosaur Hall in the Academy of Natural Sciences

So I was walking along the Parkway this morning on my way to the Reading Terminal Market when a fellow wearing a Ron Paul cap asked:

"Do you know the way to the dinosaur place?"

I assumed he meant the natural history building, but I couldn't even remember the name of Philadelphia's natural history museum; haven't been there in over ten years. But I knew it was somewhere along the Parkway, near the Franklin Institute.

"See that building straight ahead?" I asked him. "That's the Franklin Institute. The dinosaur place is near there on the left." And he thanked me and was on his way.

When I had the chance to look it up later, it turned out I was pretty close and he should have had no trouble finding it. Oh, and it's called the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Later, on my way back from the market, I came upon a woman standing at a curb waiting for the light to change. Before I could warn her, a car came barreling down the street, its left wheels strategically aimed at the water puddle directly in front of her, and she was drenched from head to foot. I had miscalculated too as the splash caught me just below the knees. It was a bigger puddle than I had expected.

She jumped back, but not far enough, as a second car rolled along and gave her a another helping of street water.

"They'll always find a way to get you," I said.

That they do. Say what you will about Philly drivers, when it comes to water puddles, they seldom miss.

A different car and a different puddle..

The Pop-up Concert

The Philadelphia Orchestra's opening night concert at Carnegie Hall was cancelled because of a stagehand strike, so Yannick Nézet-Séguin brought his musicians back to Philly for an informal, free concert at the Kimmel Center. 

The festivities began in the lobby where folks were invited to conduct some orchestra musicians in the opening bars of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, with the winner to have the chance to conduct the full orchestra during the actual concert.

One of the people trying out to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra

The concert itself was a subset of the program for Carnegie Hall, with things like Chaikovsky's Marche Slav and Ravel's Bolero. The winner of the conducting contest (pictured above) got to perform the rare and challenging William Tell Overture by Rossini.

And there was even an encore, Chaikovsky's Polonaise from Eugene Onegin. Yannick encouraged the audience to record it and send it to social network sites. 

Yannick Nézet-Séguin played Chaikovsky's Polonaise from Eugene Onegin as an encore at the Philadelphia Orchestra Pop-Up Concert

I decided to sit behind the orchestra so I could watch Nézet-Séguin's face as he conducted, and I discovered that I really like that location. The balance of the sound is a bit odd as you hear less of the cellos and basses, but otherwise the sound is terrific. I think I'll search out those seats in the future.

This photo was taken before the Pop-up concert started, but by the end nearly every seat was filled. 

Perils of the Parkway

I've mostly enjoyed these last few months living near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It's a great central location in Center City, only a 15 minute walk to the Reading Terminal Market, etc.

Fireworks over the Art Museum during the Independence Day celebrations

During the Independence Day celebrations, I even had a nice view of the fireworks right from my window.

But I've been looking forward to a quiet Labor Day holiday. Unlike Independence Day, Philadelphia has no special connection to Labor Day, so many of the inhabitants spend the weekend down at the shore, leaving the city a virtual ghost town. 

For some reason ($$$, no doubt) Budweiser is trying to change that. Apparently this is the second year that they've sponsored the Made Deaf in America festival, the object of which seems to be to hasten the hearing loss of anyone who gets anywhere near the Parkway. Perhaps deaf people drink more Bud?

According to the publicity, they've invited the best musical groups to perform. Someone named JZ picked each one.

Now there's a problem right off the bat. Never trust anyone who goes by initials. I mean, you don't see me going around calling myself JT---

Uh, never mind.

Anyway I question the selection of performing bands. Certainly not the best. There's no Beatles, for one thing. Not even any second tier groups like the Rolling Stones or The Band. Maybe they had better things to do. 

Then there's some group called Bee-Yawns, or Bay-Yahns, something like that. Never heard of them. 

Now I wouldn't much mind this whole event, except-- 

--except my window faces the Art Museum, and although the nearest loudspeakers are at least four or five blocks away (roughly half a mile), I can hear the damned thumping bass in my apartment. <sigh>

I ran into one of my neighbors in the elevator yesterday after the "festivities" had started and asked if he could hear the music in his unit (which faces in a different direction). No, he couldn't, but he was planning to go out there shortly. He was surprised (maybe even impressed?) that I could hear the music in my place.

Mack's Ultra Ear Plugs, or Sleep Savers as I think of them

Anyway, I did find a solution. Mack's Ultra Ear Plugs, which reduce the noise by 32 decibels. That was enough to let me get a good night's sleep. 

I ran into my neighbor again this morning and told him that the ear plugs had worked. He didn't get home until after midnight, as he had stayed to hear the group Beyoncé--he pronounced it with three syllables, which seems a bit affected to me, but never mind.

"How was it?" I asked. 

 "Loud--and I wasn't even that close." I could have told him that.

Anyway, I understand one of the purposes of this noise fest is to keep folks in the city for Labor Day. I think next year I'll make plans to visit Canada or some other cool spot for the weekend.