Monthly Archives: April 2015

4/28: Philly on Film

I’ve always used movies to get to know a place. When I visit somewhere new, I like seeing it from as many angles as possible — and since a film presents a certain person’s view of a particular place (or places), I feel like it’s a great way to see through another person’s eyes.

Before coming to Philadelphia, I could not think of any films I had seen that were shot in Philadelphia (no, not even Rocky–blasphemy, I know!). I also had no real idea of what the city would look like, what it would feel like from on the ground… so when I first arrived and began to get to know the city in my own way, I also wanted to explore the ways that Philly has been shown on film. So, as one of my TPC-directed objectives for the semester, I decided I was going to watch all the best Philadelphia films I could.

I compiled a list of about 7-8 films that were either entirely or partially shot in Philly, then made a plan to watch them over the course of semester (with the support of my obliging roommates). I had not seen any of them before, so I thought this would also be a great opportunity to bulk up my Film major cred. Now, as my semester in Philly is coming to a close, here’s the list (in order) with a few of my thoughts:

1. 12 Monkeys (1995)

While a bit predictable, this movie was still very entertaining. Since it involves time travel, some of the coolest scenes were shots of the downtown Macy’s–both in the recognizable present and in the post-apocalyptic future. I also loved the scenes shot in Eastern State Penitentiary, which was used as stand-in for a mental institution.

2. Blow Out (1981)

Despite my strong distaste for John Travolta, I really enjoyed this film–up until the depressing end, that is. The best Philadelphia sequence was at the end of the film, when Travolta’s character goes on a thrilling chase from 30th St. Station, into the subway, drives through City Hall, and ends up near Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. By the time we watched this film I was starting to find that I could identify almost all of the major Philly landmarks.

3. Witness (1985)

This film is really just a predictable Harrison Ford vehicle. Though I wasn’t terribly impressed, I liked the scenes in 30th St. Station and the glimpse into Amish life–I had never encountered anything like the Pennsylvania Dutch until coming here, so this seemed like a very quintessentially Pennsylvania film.

4. Trading Places (1983)

Though this was the first comedy we watched, it was also the first that dealt with some of the racial dynamics of Philadelphia. Despite some off-color jokes, I appreciated how this film broached the subject of race and class in Philadelphia. I also liked seeing and recognizing the areas near Rittenhouse Square, where I worked this semester.

5. The Sixth Sense (1999)

More Bruce Willis! Ok, this is by no means a horror film, and in my opinion, it barely passes as a thriller. But I enjoyed it, even though I already knew the ‘twist’ ending. Though this one didn’t have as many Philly landmarks, I was still able to recognize many of the scenes that were shot in Philadelphia.

6. Philadelphia (1993)

The characters and the acting are what really make this film. Though it’s the kind of storyline that we’ve seen again and again by 2015, I can only imagine how this might have affected people dealing with HIV/AIDS in 1993. And yes, I cried at the end. Best Philly sequence? That opening song, which won Bruce Springsteen an Oscar.

7. Rocky (1976)

Ok, being honest here: this movie is kinda cute, but not that much actually happens. I feel like it’s been so hyped up over the years that my expectations were just too high. I will admit, though, that as soon as it hit that famous training sequence, I started excitedly naming all the landmarks I could, and by the end I wanted to run up the art museum steps just like every other silly tourist.

Final Thoughts: The biggest parallel I saw between these films was the fact that City Hall showed up prominently in almost every single one. It seems to be Philly’s true identifier–it’s both the literal and symbolic center of the city, with everything radiating outward from it. And really, though I’ve gotten use to it now since I see it almost every day, seeing it on film reminded me of that first night I arrived in the city. It was dark, I had somehow found my way from the train station to the hotel, and I was tired and anxious. But then, when the TPC staff led us down Walnut St. and we suddenly turned the corner onto Broad St., I literally gasped when I saw City Hall. It was so beautiful, all lit up in the night like a beacon. I had never seen any building like it up close before. And judging by these films which go back forty years or so, it was just as memorable then as it is now.

*Side note: The 8th film I watched (which was after The Sixth Sense and before Philadelphia) was The Philadelphia Story (1940). While a great movie, I realized afterward that it was pretty much all shot in Hollywood and that the title was really the only thing connecting it to Philly, so I excluded it from the final count.

4/10: A Day in the Life

Ok, countdown time: only 20 days left here in Philadelphia! That means it’s time to get down to business and finish checking things off my Philly to-do list. But before I spend the next few weeks busily finishing final papers for class and frantically running around to all the city’s must-see spots, I wanted to take a brief pause. Most of my posts have focused on my overall experiences in Philly, but I thought it would be good to write about what the more micro-level, daily experience is like. So here it is–my recounting of a typical day (in this case, mainly based on yesterday, 4/9):

7 am: Alarm goes off. I wait a bit before rolling off my air mattress, grabbing my laptop, and heading out to the living room so as not to wake my roommate. I check email and surf around the web a bit, then make a quick breakfast (maybe some avocado toast or yogurt with fruit and granola). I also pack my lunch, then go to get dressed, brush teeth, etc.

9:05 am: Running a few minutes late, I grab my bag and my lunch and head out the door. I take the elevator down and walk outside. It’s brisk, so I decide not to walk the full 35 minutes to work. Instead, I walk three blocks to the Race-Vine subway station on the Broad Street Line. I ride the subway two stops to Walnut-Locust and walk the 15 minutes to the Rosenbach museum. My walk takes me along Walnut St., which is the ritzy retail/shopping area, to Rittenhouse Square, which is a very wealthy area with nice apartment buildings surrounding a small park-like square.


The Rosenbach entrance on Delancey St.


9:40 am: I buzz at the door to get let into the museum. I head down to the basement kitchen to unpack my lunch and hang up my coat. Then I head up to the 4th floor to my desk, which is arbitrarily situated in the Registrar’s office. I check in with Alice, my supervisor, who gives me some projects to work on for the day. This includes writing a press release for an upcoming event, scheduling some posts on our Twitter and Facebook pages, and brainstorming ideas for social media content related to our upcoming exhibitions (which include Bloomsday, the day celebrating James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the Alice in Wonderland 150th Anniversary).

12:30 pm: I head back down to the basement kitchen for my lunch break. I chat with the museum staff while we all eat.

1:20 pm: I switch gears and head to the Reading Room on the 3rd floor to do some work for my other supervisor, Kathy. I sort through old 1920s and ’30s letters and newspapers to find anything interesting related to the original Alice in Wonderland manuscript, which was purchased by the museum’s founder (Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach) in 1928 for £15,400. The manuscript is coming to the Rosenbach later this year for Alice’s 150th anniversary, so the information I’m gathering will be used for that exhibition.

4:30 pm: With work done for the day, I grab my stuff and start the walk back to the Walnut-Locust station, where I will take the subway back up to Race-Vine. I’m feeling a bit homesick for Seattle, so I listen to Death Cab for Cutie’s new album as I walk. Check out one of my favorite songs below:

5:15 pm: I arrive back at the loft, and my roommate Liz gets home soon after. We’re going to a Sufjan Stevens concert tonight at the Academy of Music, so we each take this break to make dinner. I make pasta with veggies and pesto, then sit down to watch half an episode of X-Files (which I’ve been bingeing on Netflix).

7:30 pm: We walk 20 minutes to the Academy of Music at Broad & Locust and go in to find our seats. We’re up on the third level, but we have a great view being right on the front edge of the balcony. After the opener, Cold Specks, Sufjan Stevens and his back-up band come out on stage. They play song after song (all beautiful and heartbreaking, typical Sufjan) with some very cool accompanying light and projection effects.


10:30 pm: After an amazing and uplifting concert, Liz and I walk home. I end up going to bed late, though, since I find that my air mattress has a hole and is quickly deflating (sigh). I try to patch it up, deciding I’ll deal with it tomorrow, and settle in for a good night’s rest after a long day.


4/5: Not Just Cheesesteaks

As one of the TPC staff told me, “Philly is a food city.” And she was right–Philly is a great city for enjoying food. I don’t think I’ve been to a bad restaurant so far — a few overpriced ones, maybe, but the food has been good everywhere.


Sabrina’s Cafe


Huevos rancheros from Cafe Lift



Sandwiches are big here. There’s the cheesesteak, of course, but there’s also the roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s, the amazing grilled cheeses at Meltkraft, the egg sandwiches you can find at nearly every bodega and corner cafe. Brunch is also popular, and there seems to be no shortage of places to get it. For breakfast burritos and tasty huevos rancheros, the hipster-y Cafe Lift (two blocks from our loft) is one of my favorites. For super creative and fun breakfasts, Sabrina’s Cafe is the way to go (when we were there they even had a special girl-band-themed menu).

In my opinion, the crown jewel of Philly food culture is Reading Terminal Market, a large indoor market with dozens of restaurants, delis, grocers, and other specialty food purveyors. I’m slowly working my way through the market, and I might even be able to try everything before my time is up. The record so far:

  • Salami sandwich with lettuce, herb mayo, and pickles at Wursthaus Schmitz
  • “Brielle” grilled cheese with brie, cranberry sauce, caramelized onions, and pine nuts at Meltkraft (A-MA-ZING)
  • Italian hoagie with fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, artichoke, and basil from Mezze
  • Roast pork sandwich with provolone from DiNic’s
  • Grilled cheese with spinach, goat cheese, and caramelized onion at Molly Malloy’s (see a pattern yet?)
  • Veggie eggs benedict at Pearl’s Oyster Bar
  • Salad, hummus, pita, and tabbouleh from Kamal’s
  • Chocolate chip cannoli from Termini Bros. Bakery
  • Hand-rolled apple fritter from Beiler’s (my first hand-rolled donut…so good)
  • Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies from 4th Street Cookie Co. (made me actually appreciate oatmeal raisin for once)
  • Fresh-squeezed orange pineapple juice from Lancaster County Dairy
  • Warm baguette from Market Bakery (ate it with fresh mozzarella and pesto from Claudio’s…mmmm)

Pizza at Bufad (5 min from our loft!)

Some other tasty spots around the city? King of Tandoor for Indian food, Bufad for pizza, and Citi Market for my favorite cheap, fast sandwiches around the corner from TPC.

To be honest, though, I haven’t eaten out a ton here in Philly because I’m on a pretty strict food budget. I’ll typically buy groceries every weekend, which uses up most of my budget, and I might have $10-20 left over for eating out during the week. I’ll usually get myself something to go on Tuesday nights becuase I have to go straight from work to class, but I try to keep it as cheap and fast as possible. My favorite spot so far to pick up a quick dinner? Le Bus bakery, near Rittenhouse Square, is just a tiny hole in the wall, but recently I got a container of vegetarian chili and a poppyseed bagel (a filling dinner) there for only $4.50. $4.50!!! Compared to the $9 I spent on a sharp cheddar and chutney panini at Metropolitan Bakery around the corner, it was the deal of the century.

As I’ve mentioned before, despite the abundance of tasty restaurants in Philly, grocery shopping is a major hassle. Though we live on the edge of Center City in a pretty busy area, the closest grocery store is Whole Foods (a 20-minute walk). Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Whole Foods, but it’s earned its nickname (“Whole Paycheck”) for good reason. Plus, 20 minutes is about the furthest I’m willing to walk to get groceries on a regular basis. Though Reading Terminal is closer (10-minute walk), it has limited hours and selection. The best place for groceries is by far Trader Joe’s, which has a good selection and reasonable prices, but it’s a 35-minute walk. I typically go there every 3 weeks or so to pick up some of my favorite items, but as I’ve learned, carrying 30 lbs of groceries home is a pretty miserable task. Though there are a few other grocery stores in Center City, they all require a subway, taxi, or bus ride from where we live, which effectively eliminates any savings on food prices.

Nevertheless, I’ve been making it work. And I have to say, I think I’ve made myself some pretty damn good meals, considering our tiny kitchen, limited supplies, and the trek to the grocery store, including curry, vegetarian chili, pasta primavera, baked eggs in tomato sauce, broccoli and tofu stir fry… Yum! But now I’ve gone and made myself hungry again… *sigh*