The Gritty Sincerity of Philly

Posted on
Oct 23, 2013

Self-portrait, Magic Gardens, Philadelphia.

We spent a week in Philadelphia, and halfway through our trip someone asked me what I thought of it.

We were in a neighborhood bar, dark and cozy, the breed of which sadly does not exist in my town. Everyone knew everyone by name, and no one seemed to give a damn about tabs or checks or crafted cocktails.

“I like it,” I said, pausing to come up with the right words. “It has this sort of … gritty sincerity.”

She stared at me for a beat, and I was worried I’d offended her with my description of her hometown. I was about to explain that I meant it in a complimentary way, but before I could, she spoke.

“Oh, man,” she said. “I love that.”

Perhaps the phrases that we ourselves coin shouldn’t stick in our own heads (because, really, we shouldn’t be fans of our own cleverness, right?), but this one did. It followed me throughout Philadelphia, as I hopped on and off subways and buses, and wandered from museums to parks to old prisons.

Gritty sincerity.

Something else stuck in my head, too. This time it wasn’t my own – ahem – brilliance, but a comment someone made after seeing my photos from Eastern State Penitentiary.

“There is so much TEXTURE there,” she wrote.

Texture. Such a good word. After hearing that, I could focusing on nothing else in the penitentiary.

After I left the prison, I fixated on it still – the texture of Philadelphia.

 

It was worn, and beautiful, and so, so real.

Trials and hardships and history, etched on the face of the city.

The gritty sincerity of Philly. The texture of the town. I liked it all so very, very much.

 

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