Philadelphia starts to crumble into a post-industrial wilderness only a little north of its midpoint, and just about there looms a rusted, drawn and hollow factory that signals and epitomises this decay. It’s a building we’ve often seen from afar by car, and won’t drive past again as we dropped off the Audi this week. Footing it back afterwards, we happened to walk right by, in a first and last chance for a close-up look. Despite a strong sense of having done what we came to this city to do, learned what we came to learn, these final few weeks still bring new encounters of this kind, which are somehow all part of the farewell. There will be many more goodbyes in the days to come, which amongst all the planning of our return are spent largely in a leisurely wander across the city.
Wearing four socks at a time has begun to feel quite normal, and we’re so used to the less-than-zero life now that we’re sweating as we skid across the sidewalks’ frozen memories of half a dozen snowstorms, which embrace each other in forgetfulness of who is who. Though the buds already swell upon the trees, it’s hard to believe that soon the city will burst briefly into spring, before blazing out into a thousand degrees of summer. But by then we will be gone, slipped gently back into the kind and even grey of England.
“BETTER NOT TELL YOU NOW” – what kind of a useless answer is that, to give to someone seeking serious life advice on a projected family relocation? Well, hmm, that’s what you get for asking the Super 8 ball on the counter in the 4th Street cafe, natch. But since more rational methods at decision making haven’t yet resolved the question, let’s give it one more try. “Shall we go back to England?” and a shake produces “WITHOUT A DOUBT”. Well, that’s pretty definite. But was it the answer we were looking for? (And should one really listen to a Super 8 ball’s advice?) A quizzed cappuccino and a short walk later, it dawns that the question was not specific as to time. OF COURSE we should go back to England EVENTUALLY. On that, the ball’s words resonate with our gut strings. But now? Or… later? It’s been a long time in limbo.
(Image shot from Urban Outfitters’ campus at the Philadelphia Navy Yard)
"My hands are hot!" complained the Little One as we trudged to school; that didn’t seem right. True, it had warmed to a balmy minus four this morning, but icicles still hung all down Pine Street and the sidewalks narrowed between crunchy hillocks of boot-stamped ice. Yet sure enough, before the day was out we were stripping down to single coats as we skipped around the steady drips of melting snow from rooftops; the mercury edged at last above zero. It’s been way too cold for way too long… This isn’t the end of winter, not even the beginning of the end, but it’s probably the end of the middle. By spring, we may be somewhere else entirely. It feels like time for change, in more ways than one.
It seems like much more than a week ago that we flew back from London, to find ourselves sucked into a polar vortex chilling the whole of the States to unprecedented lows. The past seven days have been mostly about just trying to keep warm, with occasional forays to fetch provisions and admire the icicles.
Distance need not tear us apart; it may be nothing at all, or even bring us closer. But it’s possible to discover you’ve travelled too far to find your way back home - and you won’t see that line until you’ve already made that journey. Although we may soon be home again, we wonder sometimes if we really ever will be. But perhaps that’s just because home isn’t somewhere you visit; it’s simply where you are.
Philadelphia’s first snowstorm of the season produced a respectable six inches and a day off school. The savage East Coast cold is on another scale from England’s vague chills; one coat at a time would always suffice back home and we almost never saw icicles - which here abound but never fail to delight the children, who snap them off to take to school or store in the freezer along with our resident snowman. Another few days and he’ll be all alone, as we head back to London for rainclouds and comfort.
"I’ve never seen such a bloody mess in this boardroom!" Lord Sugar may not be everyone’s idea of eye candy, but after eighteen months starved of British TV there could be no sweeter sight than his crevassed visage, riven in exasperation. Homesickness at a high, we’ve been hitting YouTube hard of late with a bingewatch of The Apprentice dominating our Thanksgiving weekend. Between episodes, we squeezed in a subzero trip to NYC in a parallel assault on the Philadelphia blues, with Christopher Wool at the Guggenheim a pronounced highlight of our visit.
"It’s better to wear a bad dress than no dress at all!" exclaimed the Little One as yet another scantily clad lady leapt across the stage at the Academy of Music. The abundance of underwear on show, even if attributable to forgetfulness, wasn’t quite what we had expected in such a venerable venue, even if this was "Flashdance, The Musical". Our choice of outing, based on an entire day’s online scouting, was determined as ever by weighing the attention span of a seven-year-old against the scornful ennui of a teenager.