Saturday, 9 April 2011

OUT IN PHILLY!


Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculpture is located in at JFK Plaza across from Philadelphia City Hall. 
Photo by J. Smith for GPTMC
 
I knew I was in the City of Brotherly Love when I sat on a bar stool in the Venture Inn, a comfy gay neighbourhood watering hole in Philly, when, behind me, as I nursed a double vodka on the rocks, I heard one guy shout to another, "Shut your fucking hole, bitch!"

And when I turned to look, they hugged!

Yes, this is the Philly I know and love, hometown of Noam Chomsky, Dick Clark and Bill Cosby (who once told me he doesn't like being called "America's Dad"). I've visited this tough city a few times over the last decade - preferably in summer so I can attend a Phillies baseball game - but I'll be damned if I was going to turn down an invitation to visit Philadelphia last month, a city that's way warmer than snowy Montreal in wintertime.

In fact, you could say Philly is blooming, no more so than at the Philadelphia International Flower Show - the oldest and grandest show of its kind (this year's theme is "Springtime in Paris") - which I attended when i was there, the evening before it opened to the general public.

And let me tell you, this event is gayer than the Gay Games. And way more fun.

"You will lose 1,500 calories per day walking through this exhibition!" Drew Becher, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the event, told me as I guzzled a Philadelphia-brewed Yuengling lager.

But wait - it gets gayer!

The handsome Becher got his PHS gig after a five-year stint running Bette Midler's famed New York Restoration Project, which reclaims old New York City lots
and transforms them into local urban gardens. Their goal is to plant one million trees in NYC because, says Becher, when Midler moved to New York from L.A. some years ago, she exclaimed, "Oh my God, this city looks like Courtney Love!"
Midler was also on hand in Philly last November when she and Jerry Seinfeld helped launch that city's pretty awesome National Museum of American Jewish History, about a block or so away from the National Constitution Center in historic Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Of course, when I'm in town, I get Danny Bonaduce opening the Forman Mills Clothing Factory Warehouse.

Anyway, if Midler wasn't gay enough, when you're at Philly's Jewish museum, make sure to check out a number of costume objects worn by Barbra Streisand in the 1983 film Yentl.

The museum naturally focuses on America's great Jewish cities - New York, Boston and Philadelphia - but it also points out Montreal has also been home to a great Jewish community since the 1700s. In fact, today, Montreal is home to the world's third-largest Holocaust survivor community, after Israel and NYC.

That's not the only Montreal connection here. On this trip I made a point of visiting Benjamin Franklin's grave in the Christchurch burial ground just off Philly's historic Independence Mall. Few folks remember that in 1775 Franklin stayed in Old Montreal's Château Ramezay - then the Canadian headquarters of the American Revolutionary Army (today located across the street from Montreal City Hall) - when he tried to persuade Montreal to join the revolution.

Near the Jewish museum, Philly's red-brick Independence Hall is where George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the U.S. Continental Army, Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

I tried to relive some history myself: 150 years to the day of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural speech on March 4, 1861, I stood on the very spot outside Independence Hall where Lincoln himself raised the American flag (back on Feb. 22, 1861).

"We are not enemies, but friends," Lincoln said that March 4, in a bid for reconciliation with the South.
Today, there is just so much to see in Philly and so little space to write about it all.

So this season, go for the art: Don't miss the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibit at the Penn Museum (runs until June 5); Iraq's Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur's Royal Cemetery, also at the Penn Museum (opens April 30); the 150-artifact Mummies of the World exhibition at the kid-friendly Franklin Institute (opens June 18); and the month-long Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (opens April 7).

 The Peacock Male: Exuberance and Extremes in Masculine Dress exhibition runs at Philadelphia Museum of Art through June 2011.  (Photo by Richard Burnett)


When I booted over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the Marc Chagall exhibition (runs until July 10), I accidentally discovered the superb exhibition The Peacock Male: Exuberance and Extremes in Masculine Dress (runs through June 2011).

Needless to say, it's fabulously gay.

Finally, you only have until July 3 to check out the Barnes Foundation's 1,000-piece art collection before it closes to move to their new downtown digs which will only open in the spring of 2012.

The Barnes "priceless" collection is worth billions and features 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes and 59 Matisses (including his Spirit of Life, worth an estimated $100-million)!

The art here dazzles and overwhelms, which is why I especially enjoyed one painting by local Philadelphian Harry Sefarbi, who died at the age of 92 in Sept. 2009. Decades earlier when Sefarbi was a young man, Dr. Albert Barnes bought one of his paintings and hung it above the door in Room 9, which is packed with priceless Renoirs.

"Until the day Harry died," museum director Andrew Stewart said as he gave me a personal tour, "we'd sometimes see him visit the museum and just sit there [in Room 9, awed], his painting hung next to those of so many masters."
O
Essential buttplug Visit Philadelphia at www.visitphilly.com and gay Philly - now one of America's Top 10 most-visited gay destinations - at www.visitphilly.com/c/gay.

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