Your RDA of Irony

How I Spent My Vacation

You may have noticed that I enjoy history. I have been known to disturb the quiet of a crowded elevator with a monologue on songs of the Jacobite Rebellion. Professors find me pedantic. It is amazing that I have never been sued for textual harassment. I have fantasies about going on archaeological digs (perhaps with Uma Thurman but my wife needn’t know that). So people are surprised that I had never visited Philadelphia. For a person so enamoured of history, it was an incredible omission.

My wife (Karen, not Uma) decided that we needed a vacation and that I really would enjoy Philadelphia. Of course, she was right. The city enthralled me. History lives there, not as a scattering of monuments and museums, but in still thriving neighborhoods. On the cobblestone streets, along the row houses, you are in the early 19th century. The newspapers might also give you that impression. The society names of early Philadelphia–Biddle and Shippen–remain the social page favorites of today. A colonial debutante named Margaret Shippen would have made Paris Hilton seem innocuous. Miss Shippen married beneath her–a tradesman named Benedict Arnold–and thought of a way for him to raise his social standing. (To equal that, Miss Hilton would have to run off with Kim Jung Il.) There was a bit of scandal, and Mr. and Mrs. Arnold had to retire to England, but the Shippen family was too well-established to be bothered by a mere lapse of treason.

Karen and I did have a wonderful if too short a time in Philadelphia. We never did have a Philly cheesesteak or a pretzel. However, we did see the statue of “Rocky”; so we do officially qualify as tourists. Of course, we visited Independence Hall and the Constitutional Museum. The Hall can’t help but be interesting: IT HAPPENED HERE. The Museum really was very informative, poignant and entertaining. Reflecting this generation’s X-Box education, the museum had dozens of interactive exhibitions. “See if you can help James Madison get past the evil wizard Hamilton and create a Bill of Rights.”

Since we were in the neighborhood, we felt obliged to see the Liberty Bell. Judging from the waiting lines, it is a herd instinct. However, if I may voice a self-evident truth, is anyone actually impressed with the Bell? It is just early American kitsch. Other than its age and proximity to the historic events, the bell is completely irrelevant. It did not peal for the signing of the Declaration of Independence or for the adoption of the Constitution. If we could find a chamberpot used by Ben Franklin, it would have more claim to historical importance and our patriotic reverence. “A great man went here!”��

But now I am back in Chicago, a city that is 150 years younger than Philadelphia. Our idea of history would be WGN’s reruns of “Friends”.

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