Thursday, December 29, 2005

Small Town Philly

My first year in the City of Brotherly Love I uttered a dismissive “pshah” whenever my father tried to convince me that Philadelphia was just a “small town.” Though I’m admittedly obsessed with the Big Apple and refuse to acknowledge suburbanites and Long Islandites’ claims that they are “from the city”—I somehow didn’t want to give into what I perceived as unjustified egotism. Afterall, Philly has its “downtown” business district—that resembles the 50s around Lexington more than it does the financial district. It’s abundantly rich in cultural resources—in theaters lining the recently named “Avenue of the Arts” on Broad Street, in literary societies, museums and restaurants. In fact, in the 1840s, Philadelphia was dubbed the “Athens of America.” In comparing Manhattan and Philadelphia I just made the distinction that while in New York City I would never possibly know or be able to keep track of the hot restaurants, hip bars, changing exhibitions, let alone go to all of them—in Philadelphia, I still certainly wouldn’t get to everything but might have a better grasp on what was out there.

But you start to feel the small size of Philadelphia around the holidays. While I was here for a few weeks over the summer I wanted to go to a small Moroccan restaurant a college friend had raved about called Café Sud. But it was closed—closed for the month of August, if I remember correctly. Does this ever happen in Manhattan? Perhaps the closest comparison is a pizza place on the Lower East Side that’s only open several days a week and closes when the kitchen runs out of dough. But I think that has more to do with the peculiarities of the owner—or realization that he’ll do a good business no matter what time he’s open—than anything to do with his clientele. During the Philadelphia summer, particularly in the neighborhoods outside of Center City, the streets become quiet. People pack their bags for the Jersey Shore and the restaurant owners follow suit. And it’s the same this week. As I took a cab to the train station last weekend the driver told me business dropped off the week between Christmas and New Years—and he wasn’t just talking about a few minutes of down time here and there.


Anonymous eszter said...

That's interesting. While Philly may get too small or quiet at times, NYC can be overwhelming. It's hard to stroll down a street in the Big Apple when everybody around you is rushing around like crazy. Downtime has upsides.

I like Philly, to me it has a European feel, which is appealing given my background.

6:39 PM  
Blogger citylover said...

I would agree that it does have a European feel--particularly around Center City. There isn't any park or "square" in NYC quite like Rittenhouse. Though I do *not* recommend the appalingly bad documentary that came out in the fall about the square.
Per the comment about downtime--I always think that the seeming lack of places to relax is what makes non-natives think it would be impossible to raise a family there. Of course when you're from there you know what it's like to have an apartment on a street pretty much devoid of action other than people walking their dogs and stopping into the tailor shop.

7:05 PM  

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