Love, The Lovers, And The Race Street Pier

There are coincidences, and then there are coincidences.  The latter type are so weird and unexpected even a fervent skeptic such as myself might be led to murmur a mighty “Mmmmm, I wonder . . .

The most potent examples of unusual coincidences that I’ve personally come across began making their appearances not long after my wife Sandy and I moved into our suburban Philadelphia home. We set down stakes here in 2005 and soon met quite a few of the occupants of other houses on the block. Some of the adults lived alone, but most were couples of the heterosexual variety, with children. Proverbially happy couples, I believed. That’s why you could have knocked me over with a sturdy feather when next-door neighbor Tony [his and all other neighborly names have been changed to protect the innocent and/or guilty] told me in 2006 that his wife Diane had moved out and that they were divorcing. Huh? Well, you rarely really know what’s going on behind closed doors, right? I was sorry to see Diane go.

A few years later things went south fast for the next-door folks on the other side of our house. Tom and Nicole each let me know that they had decided to divorce, but that in the interim they would remain within the same abode. That arrangement went on for a while. Then Nicole moved away. The finalized divorce followed. Sandy and I scratched our heads, amazed that a second couple had gone down for the count.

Well, four years ago love disintegrated once again on my street. The victims were Bob and Yvonne, the pair living directly opposite from Sandy’s and my front door. They too remained within their abode, how I don’t know, while the wheels of divorce spun. A year later they sold their house, each moving elsewhere. Their divorce became legal soon after that.

Holy crap, what was going on? Had Sandy and I moved into Divorce Epicenter? Well, maybe, because the pattern continued. The new occupants of the house directly across the street saw to that. A year and a half after moving in, Horace moved out. Joan is still there. But there’s little chance of the two getting back together. They have divorced.

Incredible, no? But what can you say? Love is a complicated emotion. It ain’t easy to manage. It can be strong as granite. Or not.

A new movie, The Lovers, is a shining example of all of that, except for the granite part. Sandy and I watched it on the big screen a few weeks ago. It isn’t playing in many theaters anymore, but if it hasn’t yet made its way to Netflix and the like, undoubtedly it will before long.

Azazel Jacobs, who has had a nice cinematic career but has yet to hit it big, wrote and directed The Lovers. In the movie, Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) are a very confused, long-married couple that has grown apart. They have tired of one another   Yet they live together. And, strangely, they sleep together, though on opposite sides of the bed, never touching for most of the movie. Each has found romance outside the home — Michael with Lucy (Melora Walters), and Mary with Robert (Aiden Gillen). Both Michael and Mary have promised to their flames that they will move in with them. But first they will have to spill the beans to their legal mates. That process is slow. Painfully slow. And it becomes complicated by the fact that far along the way Mary and Michael rediscover some smidgeons of the feelings that ages ago had brought them together.

Now, I liked The Lovers. But it sure paints a cynical picture of the human heart. Love comes. Love goes. Love can’t make up its mind. Love roils and muddies the waters. Is this the way it is out there for a hefty percentage of people in the real world, or merely a broad and comic exaggeration? I’m not someone with good answers to those questions. But I will say this: Twelve years ago I sure as hell wouldn’t have believed it possible for four couples living within spitting distance of me to call it quits.

That’s enough about love partly or fully on the rocks. It’s time to turn our attention to that which might have the power to keep love whole. And in Philadelphia I know of no better medicine for such than a visit, at night after the stars have come out, to the Race Street Pier. It’s a former commercial dock that has been repurposed and transformed, an example of tax dollars well-spent. Now it’s a public park, full of trees and lawn areas and wide walkways. It opened six years ago. The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which spans the Delaware River, connecting Philadelphia with Camden, New Jersey, towers above the park. When darkness has fallen the bridge looks magnificent, glowing with thousand of lights that decorate its length. What a sight.

Race Street Pier and Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Sandy and I were on the pier a few weeks ago with our pals Cindy and Gene. The skies were clear, a perfect breeze tousled our Sassoon-worthy hairdos, and the bridge presented a commanding presence. For an hour we chatted while looking at the bridge, the boat traffic on the Delaware River and the lights in Philadelphia and Camden.

Race Street Pier is mutedly lit at night, and it’s not overrun with visitors. A more atmospheric and romantic urban place in which to spend some moments you’d be hard-pressed to find. The four of us fell under the evening’s spell, that’s for certain. And the spell was powerful, irresistible. Eventually, though,  we had to leave, what with early morning hours fast approaching and our internal gas tanks running a bit low. We said goodbye to Race Street Pier, till next time. The two couples then bid one another adieu and made their ways to their respective homes.

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(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open)

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A Friday Frolic In Philly

My wife Sandy and I lived in Philadelphia for many years, both before we met and subsequently. The year 2005 was a momentous one for us, because that’s when we made the leap from the city to the nearby northern burbs. In some ways I prefer living where I now do, in other ways I wonder if leaving the city was a brilliant idea. Our house is nicer than the one we used to occupy, the current neighborhood is cuter than its predecessor. On the other hand, automobile traffic around here is as blood pressure-elevating as in Philadelphia. And there aren’t enough fun things for us to do, which is why we head south a few times each month to check out the offerings in various sections of the City Of Brotherly Love.

My overall opinion of Philadelphia is a good one. Yes, the city has plenty of problems, like too much crime and a pitiful public school system. And yet it has so much going for it. Loads of history that we all know or should know about. Great parks big and small. Fabulous buildings from the late 1600s onward. More restaurants, music venues, theaters and such than anyone could wish for. I’m sounding like someone from Philadelphia’s official tourism bureau, but my feelings are legitimate. For physical beauty, culture and food, Philadelphia is world-class.

Which brings us to Friday, July 3. Sandy and I were itching to get out of the house. Not much that we knew about was going on in the burbs. Philadelphia it would be. Where in the city though? Sandy had noticed in the paper that July 3 was First Friday in Philadelphia’s Old City section. We hadn’t been to a First Friday in a year or two, and we decided to go.

Old City's Church Street is paved with grey bricks.
Old City’s Church Street is paved with grey bricks. They contrast nicely with plastic recycling bins.

Old City is a part of town that was full of homes, businesses and people in Colonial days. It still is, and many of those 1700s structures are with us today. The area is quaint and often lively, and plenty of streets retain their ancient paving bricks and stones. There are quite a few art galleries in Old City. In 1991, attempting to lure customers and imbue Old City with needed panache, some gallery owners began keeping their doors open in the evening on the first Friday of each month. They spread the word and a monthly mini-festival, a kind of happening, was born. All over the world, events similar to First Friday are taking place. They can be good.

You never know what you’ll come across on Old City First Fridays. Painters and crafts people and assorted vendors set up tables for their wares on the sidewalks and in alleyways, which are also where musicians set up their instruments and wail. And many art galleries, the original driving force, are open. Sandy and I strolled around Old City without a plan. Not having done advance research, we ended up missing a few blocks with galleries we’d have liked. Next time. Most of the action that we caught was on a two block stretch of 2nd Street between Market and Arch Streets, and on Arch between 2nd and 3rd. A small chunk of territory, actually, but enough.

Brass band wailing away in Old City.
Brass band wailing away in Old City.
The human caterpillar.
The human caterpillar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our eyes were open for human creations and human activities. Who wouldn’t have loved the brash New Orleans-style brass band occupying a niche where Cuthbert and 2nd Streets meet. Or the long-haired White dude who, catching some zzzs, was draped like a caterpillar over one of those large and ubiquitous green utility company sidewalk boxes. He was Mr. Flexibility personified.

Lady in blue with her colorful wares.
Lady in blue with her colorful wares.

Or the head-scarved lady in blue on 2nd Street whose tables and racks held as eye-popping a collection of pillows, fabric trivets, shoulder bags and cloth drapings as one would ever see in a 30 square foot parcel of sidewalk. Middle-Eastern and Asian patterns and color combinations burst from her goods, clashing outrageously, looking great together nonetheless. Henri Matisse, who threw wild design combos into so many paintings and never met a color he didn’t like, would have loved this lady’s display.

Artworks by Keith Sharp at 3rd Street Gallery.
Artworks by Keith Sharp at 3rd Street Gallery.
Artworks by Bettina Clowney at 3rd Street Gallery.
Artworks by Bettina Clowney at 3rd Street Gallery.

There were beautiful paintings, sculptures and crafts to be seen in the galleries. I’ll mention a few places. We liked just about everything we saw at 3rd Street Gallery. Two artists were showing there. Keith Sharp’s dark and dramatic photographic manipulations were intriguing, some a bit ominous. They were very different from Bettina Clowney’s spare paintings. Clowney uses a lot of whites in her depictions of fruits, of people, and in non-representational designs. Gazing at each other from opposite walls, the Sharp and Clowney artworks made a good marriage.

Leora Brecher with some of her sculptures at MUSE Gallery.
Leora Brecher with some of her sculptures at MUSE Gallery.
Paintings by Charles Newman at F.A.N. Gallery.
Paintings by Charles Newman at F.A.N. Gallery.

MUSE Gallery was filled with Leora Brecher’s small fired clay sculptures, all in white. Many were abstract suggestions of human movement, open and flowing. Very lovely.

F.A.N. Gallery on Arch Street is one Sandy and I visit occasionally. I wasn’t knocked out by its smorgasbord of works by gallery artists on this First Friday visit. We both liked the oils by one artist though, Charles Newman. He paints Philadelphia street scenes, focusing on old buildings, very well. The perspectives from which he views his brick and stone subjects are off-angle, giving the pictures a quiet tension, and his earthy subdued color choices are just right.

Prime Stache, where we had dinner.
Prime Stache, where we had dinner.

Dinner time. Off to Prime Stache, a few blocks from First Friday, on Chestnut Street. Atmospherically, it’s for lovers of exposed brick and stone walls, which Sandy and I are. A pubby place short on wines but decently long on beers, its food is good. Prime Stache has some fancy offerings, but we weren’t in a fancy mood. We both enjoyed our simple burgers, Sandy’s of the salmon ilk, mine of the turkey.

Race Street Pier and Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
Race Street Pier and Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

The best part of the evening lay ahead. We strolled northward from Prime Stache to Race Street Pier, one of my favorite spots in Philadelphia. I’ve been there in daylight and late at night, and late night is better. The pier lies near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and in darkened hours the illuminated bridge overhead is breathtaking.

Jutting into the Delaware River, Race Street Pier once was a commercial municipal pier. It has been converted into a serene and intimate two level public park with long walking paths, a lawn and oak trees. Much of the Philadelphia region’s population has yet to discover this park. It opened four years ago, the first and still the only of its kind in Philadelphia. At the tail end of our First Friday evening, Race Street Pier bewitched Sandy and me. We walked romantically. We were inspired by views of the Delaware. We shook our heads marveling at the beauty of the massive Franklin bridge. And then it was time to head home.

(All of the photographs in this article were taken by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open)