From PA to NYC

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No, this is not New York City. This is South Philadelphia.

Greeting from Manhattan! I have arrived to the Big Apple and if Heathrow made me feel small, I am now tiny. Because Emily had to work and gets in late, I had had to master the first challenges alone: getting to the hotel (text to Emily: “Exactly how aggressively must one signal to the cab drivers?”), checkin (text to Emily: “They want to put 900 dollars on my card, I don’t even think that’s possible”) and finding a grocery store (text to Emily: “What do you mean, Trader Joe’s closes at 10, I thought stores in the US are open all the time!”)

I suceeded in all three endeavors and I tried very hard to look confident. After my wallet was stolen in Copenhagen, I am now paranoid that if I appear like a tourist, mean people will snatch my belongings. To blend in, I already jaywalked twice going to the store and back. By now I have really learned that Americans in that regard are a little like Italians: traffic lights and rules are recommendations, often you follow them, and many times you do not. It’s a free country. It’s the freeest country!

Pretending to be local worked so well for me in D.C. that already on my first day someone approached me asking if I work at the African American museum and on my birthday, three tourists asked me to take their photo in front of “the White House”. Unfortunately, they were standing in front of the building that houses the Department of Treasury and I could totally not bring myself to telling them that. Maybe they were testing me anyway, I mean the White House is WHITE. The Treasury is not white.

On my second day in Philadelphia, I went to the American Swedish Museum. I am immensly intruiged with migration (historical, not current) at least since I read Vilhelm Moberg’s “Emigrants” and so I absolutely wanted to learn more about the first Swedish settlers who came to the U.S. as early as 1638. The museum was not very, as Emily says, “transit accessible” which is why much of my time was spent waiting for the bus, riding the bus and walking from the bus stop. The American Swedish museum was, however, rather impressive for being dedicated to such a niche subject and even has special exhibitions, this time on Scandinavian spirits.

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In the “Skål” exhibition, they teach you how to properly clink glasses in Sweden. Trust me, it’s something you wanna know how to do.

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I enjoyed the Golden Map Room (click to enlarge the panorama). I first thought someone who had never been to Sweden painted it because Härnosand is next to Stockholm but understood later that its painted from the perspective of standing in the Baltic Sea.

I also learned that the Swedish who travelled to the New World on ships with funny names like “Katt”, cat, and brought many textibles with them, especially bed linens,  had very friendly relations with the Native Americans. They learned their language and assisted William Penn in land negotiations. The Swedish first arrived with Peter Minuit who was appointed to establish the Swedish colony. That man was actually from Wesel, a small town close to Düsseldorf. He is also the man who bought Manhattan from the Natives! I assume in the 1600s, he was Your Man in America.

After a good two hours my attention span was severly reduced because I was so hungry. As I didn’t know that the museum would be in the middle of nowhere, I had presumed to find a nice Pret a manger on the way for breakfast, but no. I ended up at a very American diner. At first I thought that’d be a great real American experience. When the food came, I realized it was not. Seriously, why does everything need to be drowned in cheese?

Starving German in Swedish American Museum / Death by cheese

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My last stop was the University of Pennsylvania, an ivy league school. I checked out their bookstore (great!) and realized the Danes and their spreading of hygge is getting out of control. They have clerarly copied this kind of fika nation branding from Sweden.

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Just outside the central station in Philly, there are swings!

 

Trivia

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Which country has the second most Olympic medals in swimming? Which is, after Russia, the largest former Soviet Union state? Which state was the first to be admitted to the United States in the 20th century? Who did Ted Kennedy lose the presidental primaries to? Which movie was Drew Barrymore’s biggest commercial success?

You don’t know that? Well, Emily’s friends do – in less than 10 seconds. On her birthday, we went to her usual Tuesday night activity: trivia. The trivia team completely overturned any presumptous idea I might have had about Americans’ general education. These people knew everything! And it seemed they could not even really tell me why they knew so much. Of course we, the team, won that night’s pub quiz. Apparently the team is so used to it though that they didn’t even celebrate. But the prize was getting 50 dollars off the tab so I got my soda for free. Even though all I contributed was being amazed by them.

Answers: Australia / Kazahstan / Oklahoma / Jimmy Carter / E.T.

 

The City of Brotherly Love

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This is where the Declaration of Indepence was signed

Chilly Philly! Ever since I stepped out of my airbnb host’s little rowhouse, I’ve been freezing in this town. I was supposed to visit my host sister (from when I did exchange in high school a million years ago) but she got sick so that didn’t work out. Still, I wanted to see Philadelphia because people also go on about how great it is.

I have to admit I still can’t quite grasp what they’re so excited about. It might be that due to the weather my experience was hindered and also, my European taste does not work out well with the celebrated Philadelphia cheesesteak (I felt a little sick afterwards). Not even the Liberty Bell or the Indepence Hall could wow me. I will say though that their train station is rather grand! I arrived by train this morning – it was such a smooth journey. Emily’s friend had an upgrade he couldn’t use and gave to me which was so nice! I travelled in business class, got priority boarding and a seat that could have fitted two people at once, and when I got off with my giant suitcase, the train attendant carried it for me.

Other interesting things I noticed in The City of Brotherly Love (that’s what they call this place):

a) Laywers are trying hard to get clients. I saw three large advertisements for law firms, the best one being “Justin Bieber Law, no fee before I win you money”.

b) They have an interesting transportation system: when you buy a ticket on the bus, you actually don’t get a ticket. You put money into the machine and walk in. A ride costs 2.25 dollars and if you only have 3, like me, that’s your loss. You don’t get change.

c) There is a Mexican consulate located in a food court. I am not even kidding.

d) They have interesting shops: one was for dogs called “Doggie Style” and another one (not for dogs) offered “Chocolated Laxatives”. The best shop was the book shop I randomly stumbled into in an attempt to avoid death by hypothermia. It was a second hand store that had everything: Paris Hilton’s “Heiress Diary” in which you could fill in “When I work out I wear the following”, a book on dating asking, “Did you write in your holiday cards that you are open to meeting Mr Right?”, a compilation of messages from moms that advise things such as “Please clean up your Facebook. Sex, drugs, lesbian stuff, no religion. People look at that before they hire you. President Bush gets reports about that too. Have some good Christian values. Your mother”. My favorite book, however, was “The Good Citizen’s Handbook”. I never buy books, but this one was irrestistible. It took me a long time to figure out whether the content was for real or ironic. (Spoiler: it’s actually both.) It’s a great book that leads you in every aspect of life:  “Drink no tea or coffee”, “Keep good posture when sitting, standing or walking”, “Don’t peel the skin from the apple before you eat it”, “One of the most important rules on the family is for the time of all meals to be set”, “The happiest families are those that do things together. Try taking turns reading aloud a book, like Tom Sawyer”, “Be loyal to your school and learn its songs and cheers”, “Penmanship matters”, “It is not right to leave posion about for cats or dogs”, “The Constitution is your business”. I could go on endlessly quoting from this brilliant book and will start adhering to its rules from now on. (Except the part that women must stay home and attend to the plants.)

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William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, stepped ashore here at Penn’s Landing. But why the ugly tower?

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I went into the American Jewish museum because it was free and I am freezing. I enjoyed their IKEA armchair section with comic books.

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My host has an adorable cat

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Kitty is now my friend

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Famous Philly specialty, cheesesteak

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Elfreth Alley is widely known because it has buildings from the 18th century. First I was like, “So…?”, then I remembered how young this nation is

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Actually, more walking in Washington

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In a nutshell

 

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Texting or praying? In the largest Catholic Cathedral, seat of the Archdiocese of DC

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Such poor boxes!

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At the wonderful Renwick Gallery. This is all carved from one piece.

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Visiting Emily’s office was really fun! They all have mirrors to see who’s coming in (if you are not seated facing the door). Also, Emily won the 2017 chili cooking competitio at her office.

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Georgetown

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“Die Korrespondenten der ARD – für Sie aus aller Welt!”

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The city’s administration planting cauliflower-like flowers as decoration seems to be the latest trend in DC and Philadelphia

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Well, that’s reassuring.

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I haven’t figured out if this was for changing babies, assisting the elderly or something else.

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The museum stores held many patriotic children’s books.

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View from the Library of Congress which is an impressive palace of books

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President Roosevelt writing memos to his cook

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If you want to take your bike on the bus, you don’t put it inside, instead you put it bike rack kind of thing at the front of the bus

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The Smithsonian American Art Museum commissioned Janet Echelman to create an artwork to transform the Renwick Gallery’s iconic Grand Salon. Echelman created a soft, voluminous net sculpture that surges through the air of the hundred-foot length Grand Salon, intersecting with its historic cove ceiling. The complex form is composed of many layers of twines, knotted together in vibrant hues that interplay with colored light and “shadow drawings” on the walls. A carefully choreographed lighting program subtly changes the experience of sculpture with every perspective. Visitors find themselves transported into a dreamlike state, gazing skyward at an ethereal choreography of undulating color.

A 4,000 square-foot textile floor echoes the organic topography of the aerial form in monochromatic hues, providing a playful contrast to the vibrant hues of the sculpture’s 51 miles of twine above.

The work’s title is 1.8 Renwick, which refers to the length of time measured in microseconds that the earth’s day was shortened as a result of a physical event, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan with devastating effects. The forms in the sculpture and carpet were inspired by data sets of the Tsunami wave heights across the Pacific Ocean. The artwork reminds us of our complex interdependencies with larger cycles of time and matter. Its physical presence is a manifestation of interconnectedness – when any one element in the sculpture moves, every other element is affected.

(http://www.echelman.com/project/smithsonian)

A People’s Journey

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While its history and present holds a lot of tragedy and drama, I also, or maybe therefore, think the US is an extremely intruiging country and culture. The immense diversity never ceases to enthrall me, so many cultural expressions, beliefs and identities that still all unite in one huge, huge country. When I went to school, we were studying the US a lot, manifest destiny and the American dream were our daily conversation topics, but still it feels that I never fully grasp all there is to the Land of Liberty.

Going to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture was thus an excellent way to add to my knowledge and understanding. It was at the same time an overwhelming exhibition that is hard to recount, with three chronological floors packed with information, and three thematic floors full of facts.

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The entire museum goes in an almost solemn brown and gold theme and its architecture is simply beautiful. The first thing I learned was that Portugal was a major player in slave trade, something I definitely had no idea about. It doesn’t seem like the Portuguese are very keen on discussing their role, but they transported nearly 6 million African captives to the Americas, only England outperformed them. The stories of the trip are heart-breaking, on some ships 350 out of 700 passengers died and many killed themselves by jumping into the Ocean.

It is impossible to deny that the bigger part of the museum is somewhat depressing. It tells the story of mothers who kill their children to spare them a live in slavery and of a new nation establishing a serious paradox with its Declaration of Independence that declared all men equal, but not quite all. The museum takes you all through the Civil War, mentions famous activists and – I find this worth mentioning as it sadly is not yet something you can take for granted in museum work – highlights in particular the women who were part of the movement. It continues in great detail about segregation and integration, sit-ins and the Civil Rights Movement, accompanied by many poignant quotes on the walls. When the chronological third floor ends with Obama, it’s hard not to be affected by what the museum calls A People’s Journey.

The three thematic floors were about sports and music, media and military, theater and travel. Because it took me so long to get through the lower part, I only had limited time to see those floors but I did learn about the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute, it kind of occured to me that Oprah Winfrey is black (I guess I don’t think of her primarily as a person of color) and I realized how heavily influenced music was by African Americans.

Not only is this collection enormous and well-displayed, it is also entirely free of charge. The museum is a Smithsonian museum and I actually had to look up who this awesome Smithson person was who has really blessed the American people despite never having set foot on US soil himself. He was a British scientist who left all his wealth to his nephew, stipulating that it be used “”to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” The Smithsonian Institution was created and is today running nineteen museums, nine research centers, and a zoo. And you get to visit all of them for free!

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Nobody seems concered about plastic waste.

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Outside the museum

 

I love the supermarket

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At Target (love Target!), you can buy empty pretty egg cartons. Because…well, there probably is a demand.

In Europe, we kind of think of the US as the place where you can find and buy anything. My co-workers were actually very surprised to hear I did not travel with a half-empty suitcase. Despite my having done shopping many times at Kroger back in the day, I was still, or again, extremely amazed by going to the store with Emily. Generally, I like going to supermarkets abroad because it’s so interesting to see what is sold, how it’s presented and what advertisement techniques there are. But America is really Consumer Heaven, and I have to admit I do like to buy things.

I must have seemed a bit like a person that left the Soviet Union for the first time in her life as I marveled at the selection in the dairy display case, just disappeared for some minutes into the stationery aisle and requested we have to go look at the bread section. But I mean really who wouldn’t be flabbergasted at the fact that you can buy a card specifically tailored to someone who has lost their son and who is religious? (In Germany, you just buy a sympathy card and have to adapt it yourself inside with your message.) Who wouldn’t be stunned to find that you can buy nine different designs of muffin paper cups? I wish I could stay here for eight weeks to familiarize myself with these cultural supermarket differences because I am so fascinated by them.

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Sunday Picture Parade

“It’s such a typical Sunday!” Emily commented on our schedule yesterday. Because my phone decided 8:30 a.m. was the right time to wake me (wth?), we had time to do almost an entire hour of Yoga with Adriene together before heading to church. Then we took a walk in the park, cooked Sunday dinner and facetimed with our fiancee. Eh, her fiancee.

So relaxing!

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Emily in front of her house. I love her house!

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People bring up politics all the time and they are not happy. This is also reflected in the many posters and statements in the windows, on shirts and tote bags.

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The awesomely colorful street!

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In Meridian Hill Park, they put up statues of all kinds of people including Dante and Joan of Arc. Her sword is very popular and regularily stolen which is why she is currently unarmed.

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We also watched Melodifestivalen during which I identified 5 out of 7 dialects correctly. It’s only Gothenburgian that I always get wrong.

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Emily wondered how many Swedish consulates there are in the US and so we found out the NC consul is called “Mr Day and Night” (which is supernobility from Sweden)

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We turned the living room into a morning yoga studio!

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Saturday night we went to a bar where one of Emily’s friends was having a good bye party. On the way back, we passed lots of nice houses. Obama lives close to this neighborhood!

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Germany is often called a forest of signs but I think the U.S. deserve that title. Not only are there loads of street signs, they are also very elaborate. It seems that signage without text is not a thing here, instead they spell out everything.