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Sunday, 30 March 2014

FRIENDLY PHILADELPHIA




During my stay in the United States, I intended to visit my ex Rob in New Haven, however I have never got hold of him, so I decided to go to Philadelphia instead and I bought a cheap bus ticket online. The meeting point was at the 88 East Broadway and Olaf had suggested that I should have taken the Express Train to Canal Street at 8am to be there on time for departure. The day after I was ready to get off at Canal Street but the train did not stop there, in fact, Canal Street was the Express Train stop for the M line but not for the line I had taken. I got off at Brooklyn Bridge and run all the way back to East Broadway and when I reached Manhattan Bridge out of breath and with the ticket in my sweated hand a Chinese lady called me: “Mr Zani! Mr Zani!” – “Yes?” I replied confused. “Please follow me, that is your bus!” I am still wondering now, how the lady knew who I was. 

Two and a half hours later the bus reached Chinatown in Philadelphia, where I got off on the 11th Street. The temperature was much milder than in New York City, I took off my jacket and I walked around. Φιλαδέλφεια, 
The City of Brotherly Love, that’s what its names means. The mix of modern architecture and the historical colonial buildings was fascinating. Once in Chestnut Street I could admire the beautiful Georgian Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was debated and later adopted on the 4th of July 1776, whose garden was adorned with American flags possibly due to the imminent election time. In the early afternoon I walked to the Sister City Plaza with the landmarks dedicated to Philadelphiasister cities, among which I could see Florence. After a short break I followed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which reserved me another surprise: Rodin Museum and its Gate of Hell, the amazing copy of the original plaster, I had seen in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. La Porte de L’Enfer depicts a scene of the Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy by Dante. “No wonder, Philly and Florence are twins”, I thought. After Rodin, I reached the majestic Museum of Art, where I sat on the steps and I ate my sandwich under a delicate winter sun.



After my tiny lunch I walked to the Eastern State Penitentiary, which had held the likes of Al Capone and Willie Sutton. “Let the avenue to this house be rendered difficult and gloomy by mountains and morasses. Let the doors be of iron, and let the grating, occasioned by opening and shutting them, be increased by an echo that shall deeply pierce the soul” wrote Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Quaker reformer about the construction of the State Penitentiary and that surely was the idea that that building gave me. I decided to follow to Philadelphia Waterfront and in the late afternoon, I went to see the house where Edgar Allan Poe lived with his family and where he wrote “The Black Cat”, “...Yet, mad am I not - and very surely do I not dream...” It was dark outside and it was about time for my bus, I left the spooky location to go catch my Chinatown to Chinatown bus.
(From Mattia's diary)






New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC October - November 2004

I had not been in New York City since September 2001 and I was extremely excited to spend a couple of weeks in the Big Apple. It was the 23rd of October 2004, over three years had past since the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center killing thousands of innocents, but I was still pretty tense on the plane. The screen showed we were somewhere over Wales, I looked outside the window, but the night was too dark to see anything and I could not find the moon either. The hostess was announcing the time for the duty free shopping, when suddenly the lights went off, she stopped talking, she run back to her seat and the plane started shaking, provoking terror among the passengers. I was paralyzed: I could see objects flying from one side to the other and I could hear people screaming and crying but I could not move.

“We are going to crash!” I told myself. The turbulences went on for a few minutes and the pilot was definitely too busy to tell us what was going on. Eventually the lights went back on, the plane stopped shaking and one of the hostess started distributing some red coloured plastic bags. When she gave me one, I smelled chlorine on its surface and I imagined that there was a lifesaver inside. I left the bag lying on my knees, unable to open it, because of my tension and I tried to think how an emergency sea landing would have been. Suddenly the lady next to me stood up, took a toothbrush and toothpaste out of the red bag and walked towards the toilets. “I must see a shrink when I am back in London” I thought smiling.

Once outside J.F.K. Airport I smoked a cigarette post flight trauma and I gave a short call to Olaf to let him know that I had arrived. Then I took a cab and I asked the driver to take to my final destination: “1st Avenue corner East 60th Street, please”. It was great to be in Manhattan again, the city that never sleeps had always fascinated me. Olaf’s apartment was at the 30th floor of a skyscraper facing the Queensboro Bridge, whose tunnels east of the 1st Avenue were converted into the Bridgemarket Grocery, a pretty convenient supermarket. The porter run at the door to open it for me and to wish me a very good morning, which sounded rather forced than convincing, I wished him a pleasant day as well and I quickly took my bags to the elevator.

***

Olaf had to be at his company’s office in the 6th Avenue from Monday to Friday, from 9am till 6pm, which gave me a lot of spare time. However I found plenty of things to do in the Big Apple to keep me busy during my two-week stay. On Monday I went to the ticket office in the Subway station at the corner of 59th Street and the Lexington Avenue to buy a weekly travel card. New York City’s subway is unbeatable: it takes one practically everywhere 24/7. I paid the ticket fee and the lady at the desk gave me my yellow card with the blue printed M.T.A. acronym, which stands for Metropolitan Transportation Authority. I was finally ready to start my sightseeing day. “I’ll go to the American Museum of Natural History first…” I was thinking while inserting my travel card in the machine. A few seconds later, the card got spat back but the gate did not open. I tried again a few times and at several machines but I had no luck, so I went back to the lady at the ticket desk. “Excuse me, the card I’ve just bought doesn’t seem to be working.” I told the M.T.A. employee politely. “It’s not possible!” She shouted back. “Of course it is possible! It does not open the gate!” I replied. Then the lady took out a portable ticket swipe machine from a drawer and she asked me to test my card with it. “As you see, it is not working…” I confirmed when I saw the red light blinking. “It is not possible!” shouted the lady again, with a voice volume that could probably be heard even at street level. Eventually she asked the man behind me in the queue, who was complaining about the stupidity of some tourists, to test the card for me. Finally both the man and the M.T.A. employee agreed that the card was indeed demagnetized and I was given a brand new one. “Surely New Yorkers aren’t famous for their manners!” I thought. After my trip in the Dinosaurs World, where I got to know the Apatosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus Rex, I went shopping on the Fifth Avenue, I continued shopping at Macy’s Department Store in Herald Square and on my way home I called at Bloomingdale’s. In the evening Olaf took me to an Italian restaurant in what was left of Little Italy and he made me upset, keeping on giving me tips on well manners at the table. “You should leave the knife and fork on the right side of the plate between three and four o’clock when you are finished…” After that, he managed to cheer me up again and he took me to some bars in Greenwich Village and Hell’s Kitchen.

***

During my stay in the United States, I intended to visit my ex Rob in New Haven, however I have never got hold of him, so I decided to go to Philadelphia instead and I bought a cheap bus ticket online. The meeting point was at the 88 East Broadway and Olaf had suggested that I should have taken the Express Train to Canal Street at 8am to be there on time for departure. The day after I was ready to get off at Canal Street but the train did not stop there, in fact, Canal Street was the Express Train stop for the M line but not for the line I had taken. I got off at Brooklyn Bridge and run all the way back to East Broadway and when I reached Manhattan Bridge out of breath and with the ticket in my sweated hand a Chinese lady called me: “Mr Zani! Mr Zani!” – “Yes?” I replied confused. “Please follow me, that is your bus!” I am still wondering now, how the lady knew who I was. Two and a half hours later the bus reached Chinatown in Philadelphia, where I got off on the 11th Street. The temperature was much milder than in New York City, I took off my jacket and I walked around. Φιλαδέλφεια, The City of Brotherly Love, that’s what its names means. The mix of modern architecture and the historical colonial buildings was fascinating. Once in Chestnut Street I could admire the beautiful Georgian Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was debated and later adopted on the 4th of July 1776, whose garden was adorned with American flags possibly due to the imminent election time. In the early afternoon I walked to the Sister City Plaza with the landmarks dedicated to Philadelphia sister cities, among which I could see Florence. After a short break I followed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which reserved me another surprise: Rodin Museum and its Gate of Hell, the amazing copy of the original plaster, I had seen in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. La Porte de L’Enfer depicts a scene of the Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy by Dante. “No wonder, Philly and Florence are twins”, I thought. After Rodin, I reached the majestic Museum of Art, where I sat on the steps and I ate my sandwich under a delicate winter sun.
After my tiny lunch I walked to the Eastern State Penitentiary, which had held the likes of Al Capone and Willie Sutton. “Let the avenue to this house be rendered difficult and gloomy by mountains and morasses. Let the doors be of iron, and let the grating, occasioned by opening and shutting them, be increased by an echo that shall deeply pierce the soul” wrote Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Quaker reformer about the construction of the State Penitentiary and that surely was the idea that that building gave me. I decided to follow to Philadelphia Waterfront and in the late afternoon, I went to see the house where Edgar Allan Poe lived with his family and where he wrote “The Black Cat”, “…Yet, mad am I not - and very surely do I not dream...” It was dark outside and it was about time for my bus, I left the spooky location to go catch my Chinatown to Chinatown bus.

***

It was Halloween night and Olaf and I went to Roxy NYC, the popular nightclub located at 515 West 18th Street in Chelsea, where hundreds of six-pack guys were dancing showing off their unnatural muscles. A couple of hours later, we got tired of the scene and we went walking around the city. It was a magic night, we admired Manhattan sparkling skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge and we went on walking to Brooklyn, where most of the houses were adorned with pumpkins and spider webs. I saw a middle age woman wearing bat wings crossing the street and steam coming out thunderous from the holes of a round drainage pit. “Gotham City Scenery” I smiled. Some kids were still ringing bells and shouting “Trick or Treats” in the street and I was wondering how could their parents let them out so late in Brooklyn, when I received a message from Jørn: “Help me - I’m in Jail...” I was still upset with him and as I did not believe a single word he had written. “It must be one of his tricks!” I thought while deleting the message. Olaf stopped a taxi, which was driving by and we went home.

***

On the second and last weekend of my American vacation, Olaf and I traveled to Washington DC. It was the first time for me in the capital city of the United States of America and there was much to discover. We walked first to the White House, which was surrounded by high fences to keep the antiwar protesters away and hundreds of Stars and Stripes flags were waving in the wind. The presidential elections were around the corner and the majority of the Europeans and quite a few Americans hoped that the Texan guy would go back to his ranch. The Vietnam war memorial, the Lincoln memorial, the pond were also in our sightseeing tour that ended at sunset with the view of the white capitol, which had turned orange through the light of the sun rays. On Sunday we visited the Arlington War Cemetery with its thousands of white graves and we had a short walk around the Pentagon with the intention to take a picture of its huge concrete walls. Unfortunately because of security reasons and the war against terrorism it was not allowed to the photos of the grey walls.


London November 2004, January 2005.

My American break was over, I was back in London and I had to try to get the estate agents find a seller for my house, so I lowered the price again. Towards the end of the month Jørn gave me a call and told me about how he got arrested for drug possession and how he had tried to reach me for help. “Sorry, I was shopping in New York City” I defended myself. London had become my prison, I just wanted to move away and start my new life in Germany, but the Bank of England did not seem to cooperate with the interest rates. On the 14th of January Olaf and I decided to drive to Wales for a long weekend and we were having a break in Stonehenge when my mobile rang. “We have an offer for your house. He is a first time buyer and chain free.” Said the agent. On the last week of January the sale was completed, I could finally spend a couple of weeks in Milan and move to Berlin.