Penance and profit

Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End May 05, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As I walked up the idyllic streets in the Arts and Museums district, the suburban landscape opened into an imposing gothic fort complete with towering walls and battlements.  This fearsome structure was the Eastern State Penitentiary.  Built in 1829 it was a revolutionary concept in prison design. Centered on the principle of penitence, the prison was for the first time a place of punishment rather than a holding pen.  The prisoners were to be subject to the mentally harrowing experience of isolation within the almost religious cells and held until they could regret their actions and repent from a life of crime.  As part of this noble concept, the design had to accommodate each detainee individually and provide for their most basic needs with what was pioneering technology of the time - indoor plumbing and central heating. So, despite the psychoemotional torture the criminals were actually held in relative luxury.  Needless to say these visions were prohibitive expensive to maintain and the true success of this system was unrecorded.  So over time the cause that Eastern stood for degraded into the corporal punishment and overcrowding more akin to her modern counterparts.  Nonetheless, in the 142 years it was operational it spawned a new generation of prisons worldwide.
The entire experience was amusingly guided by the voice of Steve Buscemi, former staff and prisoners.  Walking through the now abandoned halls, one can certainly feel the harrowing sense of suffocation and imagine the fear of the prisoners had for this - the first penitentiary.
While in the area, I passed by the Museum of Art whose famed steps were showcased to the world by Rocky.  Ironically, the statue of the slurring boxer is now a major attraction for most visitors, myself included, as I only had time left for the Rodin Museum. This museum houses the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris and includes the original casting of his opus - The Gates of Hell. I was fortunate enough to catch a wonderful guide whose passionate descriptions conveyed a sense a sensitivity to his tortured figures I had not appreciated.
Two fortuitous events happened on the way home from my wanderings.  The first, was a delicious hoagie I found at a corner store ran by a lovely Korean couple. The second was meeting a jazz drummer from Berkeley. She took me to a local jazz bar (Chris' Jazz Cafe) where the musicians were vibrant and the food was spicy - I even had Crawdaddys.  This invigorating night excited me about New Orleans and once again, surprised me about Philly.
Although my plans were humble when I came, Philadelphia has not ceased to warm to me.  My only regret is that I had only one cheesesteak.
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