Seeing Green: A Philadelphia Story

Last Saturday, one day prior to St. Patrick’s Day, I was itching to stretch my legs. The skies were clear, the temperature tolerable, and my schedule was open. A walk was in order. Where, though? My ultra-hilly suburban neighborhood? Nah. I’d made the rounds there on foot a few days earlier, huffing and puffing my ass off as I scaled the slopes. Yo, there’s a limit to the number of hills this old boy is going to attempt to conquer during any given week, you dig?

Anyway, I was in the mood for some liveliness. And because my area is not blessed with lively as its middle name, I decided to do what I’ve done a ton of times before: Board a train in my little town and allow it to transport me to the mostly flat City Of Brotherly Love. I stepped into the choo-choo at about 10:40 AM and arrived in central Philadelphia’s Jefferson Station 50 minutes later.

I was equipped with the semblance of a game plan. I would wander, as is my wont, but with a notion that St Patrick’s Day had put into my head. Namely, I would look for the color green, in all of its various shades. Not just the green clothes worn by St. Paddy celebrants (Philadelphia starts to celebrate way before the actual day arrives), but wherever green might be. Aboard the train, I couldn’t guess how much or how little green I would find.

Well, I wasn’t surprised when some partially-green-clad 20-somethings entered my field of vision a few minutes after the train pulled in. They soon were to begin, no doubt, an adventure focused upon getting truly shit-faced. Ah, it’s good to be young. And shit-faced. I snapped their photo as they were leaving the station. And then I exited too. I looked all around. Green, where are you? I saw none at all, except on the street signs at 10th and Filbert Streets just outside the station. I walked another block. Green? Nada, but for the 9th and Filbert signs. Just about every street sign in Philadelphia is predominantly green, by the way. So, hold your head up high, green! Where would we be without street signs, after all? Lost, man, lost! Even more lost than we, by nature, already are.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrants waiting to enter a tavern in Philadelphia’s Old City section

I spent most of my time in the Old City part of town, where titans such as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson lived and helped orchestrate the creation of The United States. Many structures from the 1700s still remain there. As in most of Philadelphia, the main colors in Old City are in the tan, brown and brick-red families. Earth colors. I knew that, but hadn’t thought about it in a good while.

Treewalk

Now, there’s a lot to be said for an earth-toned palette. It brings a sense of calm, a sense of permanence, both of which you won’t find me arguing against. Still, there’s also a lot to be said for explosions of zesty color. They’re exciting and invigorating, and all my life I’ve given them two enthusiastic thumbs up. Luckily, Philadelphia is home to several thousand man-made examples of such. Meaning, eye-popping murals that have been painted on sides of buildings throughout much of the city over the last few decades, often through the efforts of the city government-supported Mural Arts Philadelphia organization. During my march along Market Street into the heart of Old City I passed one of them, Treewalk. Lush and verdant, the mural slapped me upside my frequently unobservant head.

“Hey, you with the foot-long jowls! How come you never noticed me and my shades of green before?” it asked while it slapped. If I hadn’t been in a good mood I’d have retaliated. Created by Paul Santoleri on an otherwise unremarkable office building, Treewalk faces a courtyard, not Market Street. That’s why it’s easy for passersby on Market to not see it. In any case, this swath of leafy art has got what it takes.

Bladen’s Court

Okay, so what about real trees and shrubbery? Well, the deciduous trees of Philadelphia won’t be in leaf till mid-April at the earliest. And the fauna that remain green year-round ain’t voluminous on the blocks I trod upon. One small rhododendron bush kind of wowed me, though. Bursting with green brightness, that afternoon it was the star of Bladen’s Court, an Old City niche containing a few mid-1700s brick houses.

What else did I notice when it comes to green? Sidewalk kiosks into which you deposit your parking fees when you park on Philadelphia’s streets are green. Ta da! And I liked the rugged looks of a green door on North 2nd Street. And of Brownie’s bar, whose green façade and awning rock its side of its block. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of green to be found. Or, for that matter, of any other bright color.

After racking up a few miles of sidewalk-pounding, I strolled back to Jefferson Station where I had 45 minutes to kill till my train arrived. In the waiting area I twiddled my thumbs, unobtrusively scratched my balls and yawned. Those fruitful activities took up 30 minutes. That’s when I was inspired to take a close look at the tile mosaics that decorate the walls overlooking the train tracks, one mosaic per side. Down the stairs I went to the train tunnel.

The mosaics are twins, but not identical. One is pure abstraction. The other, though plenty abstract, contains recognizable shapes: trees, grasses, sky. And each mosaic is not only incredibly long — hundreds of feet — but very beautiful. They are among my favorite pieces of public art in Philadelphia, yet they seem to be taken for granted. Information about them is scanty, though it’s possible that they are by David Beck and Verlin Miller, and probably date from 1984.

Part of the tree-filled mosaic
Another part of the tree-filled mosaic

I looked with pleasure at the pure-abstraction work, and then went to the opposite side of the tunnel. There I really took my time investigating the tree-filled mosaic, because its greens couldn’t be ignored. I let them, and the other colors, wash over me. I’d received a smaller dose of green than I’d have liked during the previous two hours, but now that was more than made up for. It was the perfect ending to my green quest.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. I thank you.)

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window.)

105 thoughts on “Seeing Green: A Philadelphia Story

  1. Paddy Tobin March 21, 2019 / 5:05 am

    Standing in a queue to get into a pub (tavern). Now, those were impatient celebrants! To be fair, for many people, drink is a central part of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day here in Ireland. Hope you had a good St. Patrick’s Day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 21, 2019 / 3:58 pm

      Hi Paddy. On a side note: I know that Guinness is extremely popular in Ireland, and in many countries including the USA. The one time I was in your country I drank Guinness, but had a hard time finding Beamish stout, which I wanted to try. On my last night in Ireland I was in a bar that served Beamish, and that made me happy. It was delicious. I’ve yet to find Beamish in the States!

      Like

      • Paddy Tobin March 21, 2019 / 4:58 pm

        I’m with you on Beamish over Guinness. I like Murphy’s. Beamish and Murphy’s are both brewed in Cork – south coast of Ireland – and don’t have nationwide, never mind worldwide, distribution. Beamish and Murphy’s would be regarded as milk stouts and are far milder on the tongue than Guinness and certainly more to my taste.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Annika Perry March 21, 2019 / 5:11 am

    Neil, I can foresee a series of posts going through all the colours! 😀 Great idea and interesting what your focus on green revealed! The last mosaics are wondrous … and imagine just part of everyday life!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 21, 2019 / 4:00 pm

      Hi. I love the train tunnel mosaics. They deserve to be far beterr known than they are. I might do some more research on them.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Annika Perry March 22, 2019 / 6:47 am

        It would be interesting to learn more about them … and make sure to share your findings! BTW I’ve just finished your recommendation of Defoe’s A Journal in a Plague Year. It was a most unusual but rewarding read. I love reportage so the style of the book was to my liking and I was shocked by so many facts – now feel like an expert on the plague! The repetition at times slowed the book quite a bit but otherwise I’m so glad I read a book I would never have considered before. Thank you!

        Like

  3. vprofy March 21, 2019 / 8:26 am

    Fun explore. I recall decades ago doing “blue and white ” while taking a workshop at the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Laurie Graves March 21, 2019 / 8:35 am

    Fun to go on a green hunt. Those tiles are fabulous, but my favorite is the green double door.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. greenpete58 March 21, 2019 / 8:52 am

    Green is a nice color, and in the city, you’ve gotta take what you can get!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 21, 2019 / 4:07 pm

      There are enormous parklands in Philadelphia that will be extremely green once tree leaves open up. Looking forward to that.

      Like

  6. Robert Parker March 21, 2019 / 9:06 am

    That’s a fun project, and you did great! I like mosaics, and although they’re usually pretty grimy, a lot of subways have some nice ones.
    Next year, check the back of the fridge – – in mine there’s some old cheese that was cheddar color, and now Shamrock Green

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Still the Lucky Few March 21, 2019 / 9:50 am

    A notable, and very ambitious quest, given the time of year, mid-March, when leaves on the trees and shrubs haven’t even popped their tiny heads! Too bad St. Paddy’s Day couldn’t be postponed until a month later, when you could find all the green your eyes could absorb, and more! Thanks to climate change, we’ve had a brutal winter in the Pacific North West, until three days ago, when Mother Nature decided we needed to have mid-August weather. So now, temperatures are soaring, and we haven’t even had time to put our parkas away! Oh, BTW, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 21, 2019 / 4:11 pm

      Hi Diane. Winter in my region wasn’t too bad. Pleanty of cold days, but not much snow. Today it’s raining like crazy. See you!

      Like

  8. Alyson March 21, 2019 / 10:10 am

    What a great idea for a game plan – Must try that out sometime in my town. Such a variety of candidates with the colour green as well. Great pictures.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Jacqui Murray March 21, 2019 / 10:30 am

    I would never in my life have thought to do that. I often wonder what I would do if I didn’t write. I am gobsmackingly terrorized by boredom. Maybe I could walk. Hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Almost Iowa March 21, 2019 / 10:44 am

    Hey, after this winter, I am so for leafy green that I order salad just to gaze at it.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. tylerus March 21, 2019 / 12:58 pm

    I’m green with envy – you write such wonderfully entertaining posts. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Ann Coleman March 21, 2019 / 1:04 pm

    Who knew you’d have to go to a tunnel to see lots of green? But those are beautiful murals and much more fun to look at than the street signs!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. viewfromoverthehill March 21, 2019 / 2:37 pm

    You live in a historically important and beautiful old city. Lucky you! I am jealous of this latest walk. Keep walking! Cheers, Muriel

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 21, 2019 / 4:20 pm

      Hi there, Muriel. For sure, walking around interesting areas is one of my favorite things to do. Have a great weekend. Bye till next time.

      Like

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 21, 2019 / 4:23 pm

      I really have to make a note to myself to try and get info about the mosaics. Maybe someone at Philadelphia’s public transportation system knows the scoop.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. tanjabrittonwriter March 21, 2019 / 10:14 pm

    What a fun way to get in touch with your Irish forebears, Neil. I am sure they would have been proud of you. 🍀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 21, 2019 / 11:06 pm

      Evening, Tanja. It was a fun walk around the city. As far as I know, though, I don’t have any Irish blood in me. I’m from Russian and Eastern European stock. Enjoy the upcoming weekend. Spring is in the air!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mellow Curmudgeon March 29, 2019 / 11:24 am

        No Irish blood?  Where I grew up (in the Boston area), it’s amazing how many people with last names like Giacometti or Goldberg or Wong are Irish.  For one day of the year, anyway.

        Seriously, the murals are all wonderful and nicely captured by your photos.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, Another Blogger March 29, 2019 / 12:06 pm

          Hi there. One of these days I’m going to devote a piece entirely to some of Philly’s outdoors murals. There are many, many of them on the sides of buildings.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. sniderjerry March 22, 2019 / 10:06 am

    Hey Neil, another great essay. I would love to someday go with you on a walking adventure.Have a green day. Jerry

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter March 22, 2019 / 3:31 pm

    Great idea, which I should copy! Sometimes I like to go for a walk just to get out, but it can be so boring walking the same places. A self-challenge would be just the job to make it more interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. alhenry March 22, 2019 / 5:37 pm

    What! No green beer? Just pulling your Irish-loving leg, Neil (Though we do have a purveyor of green ale in our humble town on St. Patrick’s Day). Well, you really can’t say enough good or green things about a country that elected Leo Varadkar prime minister and then set him loose on Mike Pence.

    May the road rise up to meet you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 22, 2019 / 9:04 pm

      Hi. If I ever had green beer it was forever ago. Had a tasty IPA tonight. It’s called Flower Power, and it’s brewed in Ithaca NY.
      Have an excellent weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Silver Screenings March 22, 2019 / 9:12 pm

    The tree mosaics are beautiful!

    I was surprised at how much green you found on your adventure, and all the different places you found it. A great photo essay!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. selizabryangmailcom March 22, 2019 / 10:45 pm

    I used to love exploring Brooklyn when I lived in NYC because a lot of it looks just like your buildings and streets, and I was completely starved for the texture and color and emotion and weight that comes with the historicity of old cities and neighborhoods–something terribly lacking in L.A.
    Thanks for stirring up memories of all those crooked bricks and cobblestones and green everywhere!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 23, 2019 / 7:00 am

      I was born in Brooklyn! But I don’t really know the borough too well (my family moved to the burbs when I was 7). Have an excellent weekend, Stacey. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  20. America On Coffee March 23, 2019 / 2:05 am

    As always Neil a very nice share. I love looking back at America’s beginnings. Even as the new mixes in with old, the statements of historic facts shall always prevail.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 23, 2019 / 7:02 am

      You would love the old parts of Philadelphia, AOC. They are beautiful and fascinating.

      Like

      • America On Coffee March 23, 2019 / 12:57 pm

        I am sure. I love the embodiment of the Quakers too. The Amish of today sort of remind me of them. William Penn and I go way back. Enjoy your weekend Neil. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  21. johnlmalone March 23, 2019 / 8:02 am

    is it okay to be old and shit-faced? 🙂 Good to hear from you. Go green 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  22. cincinnatibabyhead March 23, 2019 / 1:17 pm

    Come on Neil. You know I’m going to dig that post. Good stuff. Come visit some time and Ill show you some of that “green” that gold old Mother Nature paints. At least the Irish picked a cool color

    Liked by 2 people

      • cincinnatibabyhead March 23, 2019 / 3:49 pm

        Neil, where I’m at it is absolutely beautiful and “Springing” all over the place. I’ve been using a lot of shoe leather. Had a great stroll with my Gal yesterday.

        Liked by 1 person

  23. marilynyung March 23, 2019 / 6:15 pm

    Living in an area of the country with little mass transit, the mosaics and other subway art in NYC blew my mind. So Philadelphia has some, too, huh?! Is this an urban trend… is tile the medium of choice due to its ability to withstand moisture, heat?! So much to wonder about. I took lots of photos in NYC. Stay tuned! Thanks for posting this!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 23, 2019 / 10:41 pm

      Hi. I think that in general there is more public art than there used to be, regardless of the medium. That’s a good thing. See ya!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. George March 24, 2019 / 5:06 am

    Wonderful stuff! I love how you set off with a mission to look for a particular colour. You’ve done this before, I seem to recall. A simple idea which can make you see a familiar place in a totally different way. I shall have to try this myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 24, 2019 / 7:37 am

      Hello there. It’s pretty amazing that there are so many colors in nature, and so many that humans create in imitation of nature. It’s an unbelievably colorful world. Have an excellent day!

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Isabelle March 24, 2019 / 3:14 pm

    St Patrick’s day isn’t a big event in Norway, I didn’t notice much green during the day. It’s good to follow your steps Neil. The green walls are marvellous!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 24, 2019 / 4:57 pm

      Hi. And you know what? — I saw the train tunnel mosaics again last night (my wife and I took the train into Philly. Then we had dinner and went to a jazz concert). Have a great week, Isabelle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Isabelle March 25, 2019 / 5:27 pm

        What a lovely evening packed with good food and jazz concert, not to mention the eye-catching mosaics…✨ Have a great week you too, Neil!

        Liked by 1 person

  26. Joe March 24, 2019 / 6:37 pm

    I am surprised you didn’t see more Eagles jerseys, Neil. I lived in Philly for 18 months in the early 90s to attend Wharton. My cohorts and I were all there for the color green!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger March 24, 2019 / 7:40 pm

      Hey there, Joe. Probably there were a lot of Eagles jerseys around town, in sections I didn’t go through. Go Eagles!

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Brockelman March 25, 2019 / 8:18 pm

    I just read this post for the second time, and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for writing. More often than not you cause me to read and smile—and that’s a pretty special talent.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. cath March 26, 2019 / 9:45 am

    Interesting, because when I think about it, you’d probably have a similar situation in any of the towns and cities I regularly visit. They’re pretty drab in the months when they might just benefit from glimpses of green.

    Love the mosaic.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Carmel Bendon March 27, 2019 / 1:23 am

    Reblogged this on Carmel Bendon – author and commented:
    This post is practical exercise in mindfulness and observation, I think. It’s also inspired me to think about the many meanings of the colour Green in medieval times – it will be the topic for my next post. Thanks Neil.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. annika March 29, 2019 / 9:03 am

    I may need to carry out such a venture myself… April is around the corner and no green in site here… instead, snow in the forecast! A pleasure to read as always Neil. Have a wonderful weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Esme upon the Cloud March 30, 2019 / 6:33 am

    “Ah, it’s good to be young. And shit-faced.” – Hahahaha, I go with the latter these days, though not through choice. The treewalk mural is a stunner.

    “Hey, you with the foot-long jowls!” – I’m keen to see proof of this and become your manager so we can tour the country – circus life calls.

    Most enjoyable piece, green is one of Esme’s top two favourite colours – the other is purple, as it turns out and her great, great grandfather was an Irish boxer. (Trivia time).

    – Esme wishing Neil the top ‘o the mornin’ and waving from upon the Cloud

    Liked by 1 person

  32. pjlazos March 31, 2019 / 12:50 pm

    Ah a green tour. Next time make it an green tour as in sustainable, New Deal green. You’d be surprised how much our little Philadelphia has done, Neil.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Basia Korzeniowska April 17, 2019 / 9:07 am

    I love your take on life. While reading this I was having my very green lunch – peas, falafel and courgettes!!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Loreen Finn , aka Kenzie O''Hara April 18, 2019 / 5:44 pm

    Thank you for the colorful excursion of a quite interesting town.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger April 20, 2019 / 7:42 am

      Hi Jane. That bright green bush really caught my attention in Bladed’s Court. It stood out! Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the day.

      Liked by 1 person

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