R.A.H. (againstathorn) wrote,

Wednesday - Eastern State Penitentiary, Mutter Museum, and Monk's Cafe

So yesterday morning we caught the Westminster train down to Philadelphia Suburban Station. From there we ventured up Benjamin Franklin Parkway to 22nd and then over to Fairmont Ave where we reached our first destination, the Eastern State Penitentiary. We took a self guided audio tour, narrated by none other than Steve Buscemi, and explored the grounds. Visitors are allowed to walk down certain cell blocks and even check out individual cells. I was surprised to discover the prison at one point had a synagogue for Jewish inmates. The general outlay and design is quite incredible, and as you’d imagine the prison has a rich history spanning from its opening in 1829 to its eventual closure in 1970, after which efforts began to preserve it as a historic landmark. Since then it began guided tours and it has been featured in a number of films, most notably 12 Monkeys. If you ever find yourself in Philadelphia I’d highly recommend checking out the Eastern State Penitentiary. I guess I can add this to the list of prisons I’ve toured, which includes Alcatraz in San Francisco and the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin

Afterward we took a stroll down 22nd and arrived at our second stop, the Mutter Museum. First thing I noticed upon walking into the lobby was a large scale portrait of a physician painted by none other than Thomas Eakins. Anyway, the museum itself holds of number of bizarre medical anomalies, such as the famous Soap Lady. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. The collection features a combination of actual specimens and wax models. The craftsmanship that went into some of the more intricate wax models is quite impressive, and reminded me of selections from Taschen’s Encyclopaedia Anatomica. Their exhibit on injuries from the American Civil War is nothing short of fascinating. To be honest I wasn’t terribly interested in medical deformities, and in fact I find it truly sad that individuals where brought into this world under such conditions. I guess this would be an appropriate time to mention that the museum has no rules of conduct, so it’s not uncommon to overhear large groups of kids laughing and exclaiming nonsense like “ahhhh … look his business be all wide open.” The museum has somewhat of a sideshow spectacle appeal, so I guess such behavior just goes with the territory. Another thing which irked me is that the audio tour requires you to dial a number on your cell phone, which is just stupid. With a $15 admission fee I’d expect something more organized, but I guess issuing individual headsets at the door would be too much of a hassle. I can’t really recommend this museum except to individuals with either an interest in the grotesque or a fascination with anatomy and medicine.

The museum also featured an exhibit of still life photography comprised of Mutter specimens and artifacts. Much of the work appeared for have been shot medium format which provided for highly detailed prints. The compositions were adequate, but as far as the lighting is concerned it seemed as if the photographer just simply set up a softbox at an angle. I would like something more involved, perhaps more shadows as well as an emphasis on different textures. It just goes to show that subjects alone do not make an intriguing still life.

Afterward we ventured over the Monk’s Café in Rittenhouse Square. A couple years ago while vacationing in Denver we stopped in Falling Rock Tap where a patron told us that Monk’s Café was a must-see destination for any beer enthusiast, especially for those who dig Belgian ales. Well, it took us awhile, but we finally made it. I had two drinks at the bar, Sierra Nevada’s Knock on Wood and the Sierra Nevada / Russian River collaboration known as Exportation. Note that the latter was made specifically for Philly Beer Week, which we’d just missed. The Knock on Wood is one of the best chili beers I’ve experienced and also includes notes of chocolate, vanilla and oak. Very tasty. The Exportation, described as a smoky porter which aged in Pinot Noir barrels, made for an interesting drink, however any subtle notes were undoubtedly overpowered by the wine flavor.

From there we went down to South Street where we spent some time checking out the eccentric shops. I stopped in Passional to see if they had a particular Catherine Coatney vinyl top which I’m looking to replace, but unfortunately they no longer have it in stock. My current one is starting to flake in certain areas and is quickly approaching retirement.

We also went down 4th Street to take a peek in Digital Ferret. Nice to see they're still in operation.

Afterward we met our friend Eric for dinner at a neat little organic eatery called Fuel, located in Washington Square. Oddly enough, Fuel bears an odd resemblance to Diesel in Peoria in that it has a penchant for thumbing club beats and flamboyant music videos. The difference is Fuel serves healthy-minded food instead of watered down alcoholic drinks, and you have less of a chance of getting hit on. Anyway, I had the eggplant and Mozzarella cheese wrap. Very good.

And from there we headed home. End of day. Nice to see Philly again!

Tags: summer vacation 2012
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