Like many Penn students, I aspire to “explore Philadelphia.” Aspire being the operative word in that sentence. It’s not for a lack of desire, it’s for a lack of time, or energy, or initiative.
So with a miraculously midterm-free week, last Wednesday I jumped on the opportunity to spend an afternoon with a friend immersing ourselves in a different part of the city. I discovered that the vibrancy and diversity of the “City of Brotherly Love” is surprisingly easy to encounter.
A 15 minute car ride from campus brought us to 9th and Bainbridge, just a block below South Street. From there we walked south on 9th, enjoying the beautiful weather and taking in the sights of the wonderous Italian Market. It’s a very simple route, and not a very long stretch.
The first thing that jumps out at you – the place is all about FOOD.
(I even spotted some chocolate covered bacon!)
I’d call it food mixed with nostalgia – it feels a bit like stepping into a time capsule, though if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to place it in a specific era, just some sort of simpler time.
Of course, it’s always hard to gauge how much “nostalgia” is authentic and how much is manufactured – DiBruno’s is delicious, but you get the sense they know you’re coming here for “an experience.” As in other parts of Philadelphia, the lines between hipster and authentic, between poverty and bohemia become blurred in interesting and confusing ways.
But, nevertheless, the area exudes a sense of bygone eras that you won’t find a few blocks away near Rittenhouse Square – a mixture of peaceful quietude and mild decay.
And, perhaps most strikingly, the atmosphere is infused with a comfortable diversity – not the stilted kind we see in the glossy photos of Penn admissions materials, but the kind in which people exist like interconnected puzzle pieces, their rough edges and corners worn smooth from use.
You see it in the people, and you see it in the built environment of the neighborhood – the unmistakable traces of a wide variety of intertwined cultures, each retaining a distinctive heritage and history.
Another bonus to stepping off campus –you leave behind the breakneck schedule of classes, meetings, and homework. You get to be around people living life at a normal pace, unconcerned with the definitions of “diversity” I form for their neighborhood – maybe a tendency I developed from my Penn courses to try to impose academic theories on everything I see in the wider world.
And really, just to reiterate – the FOOD!
Ultimately, though, you can’t trust me. You’re better off exploring this fascinating area for yourself and drawing your own conclusions. In a single afternoon, you could encounter an endless number of thought-provoking moments and delicious surprises.