by Nell Pratt
Philadelphia don't get no respect.
Seriously. I know it's got some nasty slums, and the city almost went bankrupt back in the 1980's, but it's still the place where this country was born, when all those patriots back in 1776 locked themselves in a room, nailed the windows shut, and hammered out the Declaration of Independence. It's got some terrific history, and even the restaurants are better than they used to be.
I'm Nell Pratt, fundraiser the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, so it's my business to keep history alive and to help sell it to the public. The Society has survived for over a hundred years (no, I haven't been working here quite that long), so we must be doing something right.
I love the city, but I don't live there–I live in the leafy green suburb of Bryn Mawr, close to the regional rail line so it's easy to commute. I spend enough of my time in the city–like a lot of ten-hour days–and I need a place to retreat to and to recharge my batteries. That's my little (former) carriage house. It's big enough for me because I don't share it with anyone (although there's this FBI agent who's shown some interest lately...and I kind of wish he'd investigate me!)
Just like Philadelphia, fundraisers aren't exactly popular, mainly because we ask for money. But I love the place I work and I want to keep it going for another hundred years. I love being able to roam through the historical collections–I can spend my lunch hour looking at letters from George Washington or leafing through William Penn's Bible (that's the one they use to swear in Pennsylvania governors). And I want to give other people the chance to enjoy the collections as much as I do, which means we have to find the money to keep the lights and the heat on, and the doors open.
There's a lot of good stuff in Philadelphia. One of my absolute favorites is a real Philadelphia treasure: the Reading Terminal Market. The Reading Terminal used to be the main station for the Reading Railroad (remember that from Monopoly?). The trains are long gone; in fact, the old "train shed" is now the main hall of the Philadelphia Convention Center. But the market underneath has been there from the beginning and is still going strong. It even survived the construction of the convention center over its head.
But enough about history. Let's talk about the food. Did I mention I work within walking distance from the Market? I try not to go too often, because I always come back with much more than I planned. Where to start? Fresh vegetables. Meats, from a lot of Amish butchers (how many kinds of sausages do you think there are?). Incredible fish you usually see only on the Food Network. Candy (ah, yes, candy!). Bakeries. Spices. It's a treat just to stand in the middle and inhale all the wonderful smells.
And don't forget Bassett's ice cream–it's incredible. It should be: since they were established in 1861, they've had almost 150 years to get it right.
If you visit, say hi to Philbert. He's kind of the mascot for the Market, and he sits right in front of the central food court. Maybe he's trying to send a message about not overeating. But since his back is turned to the tables, maybe he's giving you permission to (pardon the pun) pig out.
So Philadelphia has something for everyone–history and food are just the beginning. You're going to be hearing more from me about the city, and I guess about those dead bodies that I keep running into.