Cities are playgrounds, and Philadelphia is no different. After attending and reporting on (over at the PLA blog) my last session at PLA 2012 on Friday, I knew my remaining time was for pure fun. That’s not to say that the educational sessions are not fun (they are), but after 2 days of going from session to session, which involved traversing what seemed like miles inside the convention center while carrying a too-heavy conference bag, it was nice to travel light, outside, and do a few things where note-taking and thinking were not necessarily required.
First thing I did was take a short walk to nowhere before the All Conference Reception. It felt good to be outside with only a camera in my hand and without five pounds hanging on my shoulder. I was going to post my favorite photo from that walk; however, I just noticed that my photo is a video, not a photo. Ever since I got my iPhone, I’ve had trouble with unintentionally switching between camera mode and video mode. I know there must be a way to turn a frame of that video into a photo, but I’m too tired to figure it out. So I will settle for this one-
In all the conferences I’ve attended over the past year (and there have been many by my standards), I have never attended an all conference reception. So even though I was by myself and since I had time to kill while waiting for my husband and son to arrive for dinner, I decided to see what it was all about.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess I wasn’t expecting a party, and that’s what it was! As I walked into the room, the band happened to be playing Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69. If there is background music for segments of our lives, then Bryan Adams tunes would pretty much be the soundtrack for my early 20s, when I was dating and then marrying my husband, who was and is a Bryan Adams fan. So it was just funny to me for some reason to hear that song (a favorite) being played by a generic band in the ballroom of a hotel at a library conference. Guess you had to be there. Anyway, I took a leisurely tour of the room. There was dancing (maybe 5 or 6 people) and conversation, an impressive array of food and, perhaps most importantly, a couple of bars. Sometimes it’s fun to be part of the crowd, and sometimes it’s just as fun to be an observer. This was one of those times. It was most definitely a festive atmosphere, and I can’t help but wonder if the dance floor filled up as the evening progressed.
Then it was off to dinner at Fogo de Chao, which was just a short walk from the hotel. At Fogo de Chao, it’s all about the meat. After a trip to the side/salad bar (a nice assortment of salads, vegetables, breads, and cured meats and aged cheeses), it’s time for the show to begin! Everyone gets a two-sided card–red on one side; green on the other. When the green side is turned up, the meat keeps coming. Waiters carrying skewers of at least 10 kinds of beef, pork, chicken, and lamb, hurry to your side and deliver freshly sliced portions onto your plate. When you’ve had your fill, turn the card to red and the meat train stops until you turn your card back to green. It was fun, but as novices, I don’t think we had the rhythm down because it felt a bit frenzied–like we had to be on our toes in order to keep up the pace. But I think the secret is that there is no pace other than the one you set for yourself. If there is a next time (I would go back in a second because the food was delicious, but it was quite expensive), we will know that we can take our time and enjoy and savor the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in taste. My only word of advice would be to skip lunch that day and go hungry.
The conference ended on a high note with Betty White. It feels condescending to say that she is a remarkable woman for her age because her age is not what makes her remarkable. What makes her remarkable is that she doesn’t let her age define her. At 90, she said she has “no idea” what’s next for her and asked the audience for suggestions. To still be open to all possibilities after almost a century of living reflects a kind of zeal for life that many people never achieve at any age.
She was charming and insightful and funny, sharing stories from all phases of her long, public career and from her childhood. She was a friend of John Steinbeck. She took regular walks with an elephant, who was also a longtime friend. She was a driver during the war. And of course, she was and is a writer, actress, and animal rights activist, too. She said that hosting Saturday Night Live was probably her “best experience” in show business. I wouldn’t be surprised if her best experience in show business is yet to come.
Our last stop in Philly was Eastern State Penitentiary, an imposing structure housing a complex piece of history. The prison was built as a “grand and noble experiment” according to our tour guide, and it was the first time the word “penitentiary” was used in naming a prison. Built in 1829, the structure was designed to frighten outsiders into a crime-free life while inspiring inmates to reform and give up their wicked ways. However, the inmates never actually saw the structure of the prison. The only thing they saw during their entire stay (which was usually 3-6 years and for non-violent crimes, although this changed over the course of the prison’s history) was the inside of their own cells and their individual exercise “runs.” Prisoners were kept in isolation not as a means of punishment, but in order for them to reflect quietly upon their lives. They took all meals in their cells and all “exercise” alone, in their own, small exercise cells. If they had to be taken to a different part of the prison, they were hooded so that they could not see their surroundings. While the intent was good (Benjamin Franklin even played a part), the result was not. The isolation was not effective and not conducive to reform.
Circumstances required the philosophy of the prison to change drastically over the course of the ensuing years, and the history of that change and the ultimate demise of the institution is fascinating. I will provide you with some images from the tour, but I’ll leave it to you to investigate, or better yet visit yourself, for the whole story. It would definitely be worth your time, as would a trip to Philadelphia, conference or no conference.